The Only Thing “Systemic” About VMI Is the WaPo’s Cherry Picking of Data

by James A. Bacon

Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira was up to his old tricks in an article published over the weekend about Governor Glenn Youngkin’s appointments to the Virginia Military Institute Board of Visitors. Predictably, he portrayed the divisions at VMI as between rival camps of those who “support change” and “those resisting it” — a vacuous description of the controversies dogging the military academy. It is more accurate today to characterize the rival camps as those who believe VMI needs a good dose of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion to redress past racial wrongs versus those who regard DEI’s raising of racial consciousness as antithetical to VMI’s socially egalitarian culture.

Be that as it may, Shapira frets that Youngkin’s appointment of four Republicans to the 17-person board “would roll back some of the efforts designed to make VMI more inclusive and diverse.” Only 6% of the Institute’s 1,650 cadets are Black, he notes, and only 14% are women.

Let’s set aside the obvious facts that women are far less interested in pursuing military careers than men, that they comprise only 16.5% of Americans in uniform, and that few college-bound women are interested in undergoing the rigors of the Rat Line.

Let us focus instead upon Shapira’s discussion of race at VMI. Youngkin’s board selections, he wrote, made VMI “slightly less racially diverse” by replacing one Black member, Sean Lanier, whose term had expired. “The new makeup of the VMI board includes nine White men, four Black men, two White women, one Hispanic man and one Native American woman.”

Gee, Blacks now comprise only 23.5% of the board — still a higher percentage than the 20% of Blacks in Virginia’s population. I thought Shapira and others of his ilk demanded that boards, faculties, and student bodies “look like Virginia.” Apparently, that criterion applies only when Whites are over-represented, not when they’re under-represented.

Far more interesting than the racial bean counting, though, is a startling fact that Shapira never mentioned in the dozens of articles portraying VMI as a bastion of systemic racism before suddenly shifting gears and supporting the administration of Superintendent Cedric Wins against reactionary alumni.

Shapira quotes Lanier, the departing African-American board member, as saying the following (my bold).

When the former superintendent asked me nearly a decade ago to help recruit more African Americans to attend VMI, the percentage of Black VMI students commissioning was in the low single digits, and now well over 50 percent of Black students are commissioning. I’m very proud of that, but there is still work to do.

Wait? What? Do you mean to tell me that the former superintendent, J.H. Binford Peay III had been trying for a decade to recruit more African-Americans to VMI before Shapira had portrayed VMI as marred by rampant racism and former Governor Ralph Northam canned Peay?

One wonders what else Shapira has neglected to tell his readers in his “systemic” cherry picking of data to trash VMI and the alumni fighting to preserve its most hallowed traditions.