Pseudo Shame at VMI

by Phil Leigh

Virginia Military Institute graduates familiar with the drumming out process know that real shame is emotionally one of the most painful experiences we can have. It makes us want to hide like the white-collar criminal covering his face with a newspaper during a perp walk. It is soul destroying and even the stuff of suicide.

As at other military colleges, VMI cadets must pledge that they will not lie, cheat, or steal and will not tolerate those who do. Decades ago, anyone convicted of such offenses by the school’s student-run Honor Court would have been drummed out at a midnight ceremony before the entire corps. As his classmates looked-on, each of the banished would be escorted to a taxi, which he would board to leave the campus forever. Recently I had breakfast with a 1960s-era VMI grad who described the process. He shuddered when telling the story and at the end frowned, paused, and shook his head in silence before changing the subject.

Today, VMI is flogging itself for the imagined sin of racism. But the actual experience of the mea culpas by virtue-signaling whites, including VMI grad and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, is not one of shame. It is really the opposite of shame. It is display. It is preening. It is an act of separating themselves from supposedly unaware whites. By embracing an ostensible shame, the self-flagellating whites are showing how superior they are compared to the rest of us. In their minds, each has transformed himself into a kind of honorary black person. Therefore, they reason, the guilt does not attach to them but only to other whites. . . and it is completely fake.

VMI’s new Superintendent, Cedric T. Wins, is a 1985 graduate of the school where he was a star black basketball player. Even as far back as 1982, VMI was eager to demonstrate that it did not single-out blacks for punishment. Although none of them were members of the Honor Court, Wins and three other black athletes were invited to observe a trial from start to finish for a fifth black athlete. During the trial they merely observed and talked things over among themselves. Afterwards, however, Wins agreed with the Court’s guilty verdict, an opinion he was invited to express during a “decertification” process.

VMI has long attracted scholarship-seeking black athletes more interested in playing their sport than in getting a military education. Since it is a Division One school, VMI offers players a big stage upon which to exhibit their skills including televised games on ESPN and other channels. Consequently, Ian Shapira of The Washington Post discovered that blacks account for 43% of VMI’s code-related expulsions whereas they represent only 6% of the student body. Predictably, he concludes the imbalance is due to racism, although he admitted in an interview with Emily Richmond that many VMI black athletes don’t care “a whit” for a military education. There are more likely other causes Shapira overlooks. A student with a fully funded athletic scholarship, for example, may be more tempted to cheat on exams if his pre-admission academic preparation was deficient. That is not unusual for star basketball and football players, particularly concerning mathematics.

Nonetheless, due to a biased exposé prepared by Shapira for the Post, Superintendent Wins is looking at ways to water-down the Honor Court standards. His goal is to strictly maintain the code against cheating, lying, or stealing, while simultaneously giving some of the convicted a second chance. His challenge is to structure the procedures in a way to primarily give blacks a second chance without incorporating race as a selective standard.

It’s a Fool’s Errand demanded mostly by so-called enlightened whites seeking to make amends for non-existent systemic racism. Chief among them is Governor Northam who was himself once a VMI Honor Court officer. Later in medical school in 1984, however, he was evidently photographed wearing either a KKK costume or blackface outfit. At first, he admitted to being in the photo, but later about-faced during an unseemly news conference. After his belated denial, Northam promised to deliver clarity on the origins of the photo, but he never has. It is the most conspicuous photo on his page in the applicable medical school yearbook.

The Honor Code standards of the 1980s would require Northam to stop pretending and tell the truth. Perhaps one reason he allocated one million dollars of Virginia taxpayer money for a racism witch hunt at VMI is to give himself a second chance with a diluted Honor Code. If he can give himself a second chance, he will be able to rationalize a third, fourth or Nth chance. If he instead remains loyal to the code upon which he judged others when at VMI, he will simply tell the truth.

Phil Leigh is the author of “Causes of the Civil War.” This column has been republished with permission from his blog, Civil War Chat.