VMI a Hell-hole for Women, Says… the Washington Post

by James A. Bacon

If you want a case study in why much of the public believes nothing emanating from the mainstream media, read The Washington Post’s latest smear job on the Virginia Military Institute. Staff muckraker Ian Shapira slams the Institute for the misogyny and sexual assault that he, like the Barnes & Thornburg report published in June, alleges to be pervasive there.

I shall delve into the particulars in a moment, but bear in mind a few key points. First, Shapira indicts an entire higher-ed institution on the basis of interviews with “more than a dozen women” who attend or attended VMI in the recent past and implies that their experience is typical. Second, he presents only their side of the story. Third, he does not quote a single woman who describes having had a positive experience at VMI, although there are many who would have gladly obliged. Fourth, he seeks to hold the VMI administration accountable for the fact that young adult males express misogynistic views — in other words, for the administration’s failure to function as thought police. Fifth, he omits statistical evidence showing that assault and rape are less prevalent at VMI than at other higher-ed institutions.

In short, Shapira’s article can be considered journalism only to the extent that he actually talked to some real people instead of making stuff up. His framing of a pre-determined narrative, his cherry picking of anecdotal evidence to support that narrative, and his exclusion of perspectives that would contradict his narrative (other than responses to specific allegations from VMI) can better be classified as propaganda.

Let us start by examining how Shapira presents data. “Fourteen percent of female cadets surveyed by the [Barnes & Thornburg] law firm,” he writes, “reported they’d been sexually assaulted at VMI and 63 percent said another cadet had confided being sexually assaulted.”

Sounds horrifying. Here is the critical context that he omits: In the largest-ever survey of sexual assault and misconduct on college campuses — 182,00 students on 33 campuses — the Association of American Universities found in 2019 that the rate of nonconsensual sexual contact was 26.4% for undergraduate women. In other words, the problem of unwanted sexual contact is ubiquitous on college campuses, as it is in American society (and most societies), but at VMI the incidence of such contact is half the rate (53%) that it is elsewhere.

Shoe-horning the facts into his narrative, Shapira recounts VMI’s resistance to admitting women until 1997 and draws a straight line to rapes and assaults that have occurred in recent years. He tells the reader next to nothing of what the administration does to combat sexual misconduct. Throughout the article, he is unable to distinguish between views expressed by immature male cadets on the anonymous Jodel social media app and the policies and practices of the academy’s leadership.

Let me be clear about one thing. I do not deny that rapes and unwanted sexual assault have occurred at VMI. Rape and assault, sad to say, are found on every college campus. Some men do terrible things. That’s why society enacts rules and laws to tame the savage beast.

The lower rate of sexual assault at VMI likely can be attributed to strict policies prohibiting the use of drugs and alcohol on post. There are good reasons for the prohibitions. One is that many, if not most, instances of assault and rape occur when one or both of the individuals involved are drunk. VMI is the only public higher-ed institution in Virginia where students can be punished for drug or alcohol offenses that come to light during a report of a sexual assault.

But rather than praise VMI for its strict policies on drugs and alcohol, Shapira implies that the Institute is not tough enough. During a series of annual dances held at the school, he says, students book up to 200 hotel rooms for raucous after-parties involving heavy drinking. To prevent drunken driving, VMI arranges shuttle buses and vans to ferry students between the dances and the hotels. A team of cadets roams the hotel hallways to monitor for public drunkenness and disorderly behavior.

“The alcohol-fueled parties have led to predatory behavior,” writes Shapira.

He proceeds to describe the experience of one woman who had gone to bed intoxicated and woke up with a male cadet she barely knew. Finding bruises on her hips, she suspected she’d been raped. The male cadet confessed to having sex with her but implied that the act was consensual. She couldn’t remember having sex, she thought, so how could it have been consensual?

That incident could have happened on any college campus in the country, where drunken hook-up sex, drunken regret sex, and drunken men-crossing-the-line sex occur with great frequency. These he-said/she-said incidents are difficult to sort out, especially when one or both of the parties were so blotto they can’t remember what happened.

The difference between VMI and other institutions is that VMI goes to greater lengths to curtail alcohol consumption than other universities, most of which take a laissez-faire attitude toward drinking. What is the alternative to VMI’s policy — to prohibit off-campus partying altogether? Does a higher-ed institution even have the legal right to do that? If so, does any institution have the means to enforce such a restriction? And is it not preferable to maintain a modicum of control? Shapira doesn’t bother with such questions.

Shapira also finds fault with the misogynistic attitudes of some male VMI cadets. VMI does conduct “extensive sexual assault training,” he quotes the Barnes & Thornburg investigation as writing, but male cadets “treat it as a joke and an opportunity for misogynistic humor, without consequence.”

When VMI issued a federally mandated Clery Crime Alert to the campus about a male cadet who allegedly “inappropriately touched several females” inside the barracks, Shapira adds, the incident became fodder on Jodel for sexist jokes about the “sheed didler.” (“Sheed” is short for “she-det,” or a female cadet.) Jodel commenters complained that men are presumed guilty, and went so far as to lament the presence of women at VMI.

Shapira provides no evidence that such thought crimes are any more prevalent at VMI than they are on other campuses, much less suggest what the administration is supposed to do about it. He does quote a VMI spokesman as saying that the First Amendment protects the speech on Jodel, and the anonymity of the app makes it nearly impossible to identify the students in any case. But such complexities do not dissuade him from his disapproving tone.

In a segue to the next anecdote, the WaPo writer says, “Comments denigrating women aren’t limited to Jodel.” He cites the example of a talent show in which a male cadet performed a stand-up comedy routine and joked about sexual misconduct at VMI. Once upon a time, making transgressive jokes about male-female relations was the stock in trade of comedians. But someone in the audience took offense and reported the routine to school officials. The student was punished: he lost his rank, was given a written reprimand, was confined to campus, and ordered to make penalty marching tours. Some students also took offense at the fact that the Commandant clapped at the end of the set. The Commandant was not disciplined.

This is remarkable stuff. What else was the administration supposed to do? Expel the student? Put him up against a wall and shoot him? For what — for triggering people with his offensive humor? The implication of Shapira’s tract is that the Institute should act to eradicate all politically incorrect thinking.

Shapira does recount episodes which, if fairly and accurately portrayed, would be considered deplorable by everyone. One woman described how an older student approached her from behind, kissed her and groped her butt and crotch against her will. Another woman described how she’d been raped by a friend she’d invited into her room to help with homework.

Yet another woman told of sleeping alone in her barracks room and waking up to find a student, Boris Rodrigo Lopez, in the room. She told him to leave, then fell back asleep. She woke up again to find him on top of her. She struggled and told him to stop. In this case, Lopez was arrested and criminally convicted. At his sentencing he said he couldn’t remember much about the attack because he’d been so intoxicated. That excuse did not get him off the hook. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

Needless to say, the administration did not condone those incidents. Still, Shapira quoted a few women as saying the administration had not done enough to help them and/or punish the men who abused them. Between 2017 and 2019, he writes, VMI reported 14 rapes, 14 incidents of “forcible fondling” and four cases of stalking. But how representative was the view that VMI could have done more? The Barnes & Thornburg investigators asked a survey question that Shapira did not deem worthy of including in his article.

Thirty-two percent of female cadets disagreed somewhat or strongly with the statement that VMI’s approach to addressing and adjudicating reports of sexual harassment and assault are “appropriate.” But 47% responded that they somewhat or strongly agreed with the statement. (Another 15% said they did not have enough information to make a judgment, and 6% were down the middle.)

In this anonymous survey, far more women supported VMI than disagreed with it. Shapira couldn’t bestir himself to quote a single one of those women.

I know for a fact that Shapira did talk to women who experienced sexual assault but did not fault VMI or the administration. I know because reports of Shapira’s inquiries filtered back to me. Despite his repeated unwanted approaches, multiple women refused to detail their stories – not because they were afraid of retaliation but because they did not want to talk about their experiences or because they did not trust him to tell their stories fairly.

These women expressed their concerns to VMI officials, family members and others that Shapira knew of their history as assault victims. They questioned how he had obtained their stringently protected personal contact information, including cell phone numbers.

Ironically, these women believe that Shapira harassed them through his multiple attempts at unwanted contact. It goes without saying that none of this appears in his propaganda piece.

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33 responses to “VMI a Hell-hole for Women, Says… the Washington Post”

  1. Shocked, Shocked I am…. who would have thought the WaPo would do such a thing? How could this be true from such a vaunted established which in the past described Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as an Islamist scholar.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Let’s accept the premise that WaPo and Shapiro are writing “hit” pieces about VMI. Where are the other media especially Conservative media on this?

      If WaPo/Shapira are truly in the toilet, how about some accountability from Conservative media, maybe even Tucker! 😉

    2. Donald Smith Avatar
      Donald Smith

      I don’t doubt that Shapira is writing things as he and his tribe perceive them: an institution of Neanderthals (VMI) needed to be civilized by righteous people (Shapira and his fellow progressives). They probably think they are doing noble work. They’re shallow, but probably sincere.

  2. M. Purdy Avatar
    M. Purdy

    Nothing about the Citadel comparison…wow.

    1. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
      Carmen Villani Jr

      So Jim does a great job of dismantling the so-called analysis of Ian Shapira and all you can do is query about the Citadel? I know how some may find it difficult for to recognize the goodness of VMI, but we have 11 Rhodes Scholars. If I’m not mistaken, The Citadel has ZERO. In response to you comment, this is 2019 data:


      Sex offenses – Forcible 6

      Aggravated assault 0


      Sex offenses – Forcible 5

      Aggravated assault 8

      How about we talk about someplace closer to home Mike?

      University of Richmond

      Sex offenses – Forcible 21

      James Madison University

      Drug law violations 75

      Sex offenses – Forcible 13

      Funny how the governor of Virginia and members of his party have little to say about those statistics. Thanks Jim for posting your assessment!

      1. M. Purdy Avatar
        M. Purdy

        Jim did nothing of the sort. He cited generic survey responses vs. VMI’s B&T survey responses (which I guess we magically he trusts now), which better be good considering that VMI is a military school. The Citadel stats are hard stats–reported rapes under the Clery Act. That’s the apples to apples comparison, which is absent Jim’s analysis.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          And it would be good for Jim to respond to that comment. How about it?

        2. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
          Carmen Villani Jr

          Disagree Mike. I would call it generally accepted principles. Just like flying an airplane, standard operating procedures. Kind of a challenge to get into detailed statistical analysis when you are responding to an article that uses terms such as “many,” “more than a dozen,” “vast majority,” “several,” “some.”

          As for the B&T study itself, consider the rate of participation which numbers like 63% and 14% are being derived from.
          In the one survey question depiction that Jim illustrates, the total number of women responding is 81. According to a recent NBC4 (DC) news segment, there are 602 female graduates. SCHEV data indicates that there were 220 female cadets this past year. That comes to 822 or a less than 10% participation rate. If we were to expand the data set to encompass all women who matriculated at VMI, that rate would be even lower. Low rate of participation plus small data sample isn’t a good combination. As an aside, the Interim report referenced a VMI 2020 survey that the percentage of women reporting “some sort of sexual assault” was at 8%. The report went on to further state: “This information is
          consistent with information that has been reported so far to the Team by female alumnae.”

          Then there is still the issue of the data that I posted. When combining sex offenses-forcible to aggravated assault, Citadel is more than twice as high as VMI, not to mention VMI 11 Citadel 0 regarding Rhodes Scholars.

          1. M. Purdy Avatar
            M. Purdy

            I gotta be honest…I’m not following you at all and I have no clue what Rhodes Scholars have to do with sex assault. But let me clarify what I’m saying: survey results and Clery data are different datasets. Clery data is “hard data,” i.e., official incidents that schools must repot to the federal govt. under Title IX. Bacon uses survey results to make his case, but the Wapo uses Clery data. You can make the case that VMI is considerably better than many schools based on the survey data. That’s good, and also to be expected, b/c military schools *should* have a lower rate of criminal sexual violence than civilian schools given the emphasis on leadership and discipline. The Clery data tell a different story, and one that should be alarming to any concerned alum. Reported rapes in particular are very high relative to the numbers of women relative to many other Virginia schools.

          2. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            If you weren’t so consumed Mike with your focus on what is wrong with our alma mater, you just might understand the point about the Rhodes Scholar data, which clearly illustrates the goodness of VMI.

            As to the Washington Post article using Clery data, the article only mentions it once in reference to a Clery Crime Alert pertaining to a single incident. The data point you keep focusing on in your comparison to the Citadel makes no reference to the data source. Can you explain how you know that?

            Besides that one data point, the article places most of the focus on the Barnes & Thornburg Report (SURVEYS) as well as interviews with “more than a dozen women who attended VMI.” Is that 13, 14, 15,…or 23? Does that translate to “hard data” to you?

            Speaking of Clery data, lets go there shall we? As I have stated previously, one sexual assault is too many so let’s look only at numbers. The following are totals from 2017-2019 as it pertains to rape, fondling, and statutory rape. Those are the years used in the Washington Post article.

            UVA – 94
            Richmond University – 76
            VCU (Monroe Park & MCV Campus) – 72
            Virginia Tech – 54
            JMU – 34
            William & Mary – 34
            VMI – 28

            Those pesky numbers just keep getting in the way of Ian Shapira’s false narrative.

          3. M. Purdy Avatar
            M. Purdy

            Carmen, I’m not “consumed” with the bad parts of VMI. I’m just tired of alums, like yourself, who refuse to acknowledge that VMI has shortcomings and needs to change. It will be the downfall of VMI. Once again, your Clery numbers make the point that VMI is actually much more dangerous for women than other schools. If you compare the reported numbers to the size of the school and the population of women, VMI has a much higher rate of sex assault/rape in many instances. Remember, there are only about 240 women at the school compared to ~13K or so at JMU, for example.

      2. WayneS Avatar

        To be fair, it should be noted that JMU has almost 12 times as many students as does VMI.

        Unless there is some serious under-reporting going on, JMU looks like a pretty safe place for a young lady to go to college (from the standpoint of risk of sexual assault).

        On the other hand, University of Richmond has about 2.5 times as many students as VMI, so not as safe as VMI or JMU.

        1. M. Purdy Avatar
          M. Purdy

          You also have to factor in the percentage of women, not just total students. In JMU’s case, Carmen has inadvertently painted a picture of VMI being **far more dangerous** for women, because not only is it much larger (~21K students), nearly 13K of those students are women compared to ~240 at VMI.

          1. WayneS Avatar

            Good point. Of course we also need to consider that sexual assault is not always male on female.

          2. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            My point Mike is that even one is too many. Whether we say .5% or .1% of woman are sexually assaulted at a college, either one is unacceptable.

            To your point about safer:

            In 2015, the Washington Post published an article titled “1 IN 5 WOMEN IN COLLEGE SAY THEY WERE VIOLATED.”


            In another article titled, “Survey finds evidence of widespread sexual violence at 33 universities,” reference is made to another survey showing that “25.9 percent of female undergraduates had experienced nonconsensual contact through physical force or because they were unable to give consent.”


            The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) has the rate for college females experiencing “rape or sexual assault” at 26.4%.


            I’m going with the 8% figure that I stated in my other post making VMI far safer than many colleges in this nation.

          3. M. Purdy Avatar
            M. Purdy

            If your point is one is too many, why do cheerlead an article like this, which is just an exercise is “VMI’s slightly better than other schools”? (And I still think it’s hard to make that case given the Clery Act numbers, but whatever.) Why are you so diametrically opposed to VMI acknowledging and fixing its shortcomings? Do you think that attitude serves VMI well as an institution of leadership, service, and higher learning?

          4. WayneS Avatar

            I don’t think anyone is opposed to VMI working to fix their shortcomings. I think the resistance comes from the fact that a particular journalist has decided to single-out VMI for criticism on a very serious issue when, at the very least, VMI is no worse than other colleges, and at best it is significantly better at VMI than at most other colleges.

            Even the most anti-VMI partisan should be able to recognize that this person has targeted VMI for criticism, and that no matter how factual the limited story he tells may be, his lies of omission overpower any truths he may be trying to tell.

            Real journalists do not choose a target and then use certain cherry-picked facts to denigrate their target, ignoring facts that do not fit their narrative. Real journalists choose an issue and work to report the whole truth about that issue.

          5. M. Purdy Avatar
            M. Purdy

            “I don’t think anyone is opposed to VMI working to fix their shortcomings.” As an alum who’s been deeply involved in the debates around VMI, I don’t think this is accurate. Many alums are deeply opposed to changing anything. Hell, there was mass hysteria because they removed an inanimate hunk of metal from in front of the school. How can you expect the same group to confront real problems? In any case, VMI is this reporter’s beat. It wouldn’t be his beat if VMI had been somewhat more forward thinking. As he himself said in an interview, had Stonewall come down, there is no story.

          6. owen dunlap Avatar
            owen dunlap

            Mike – do you consider the WaPo coverage of VMI balanced?

          7. Keydet Avatar

            “It wouldn’t be his beat if VMI had been somewhat more forward thinking.” I think you skipped a step in your analysis.

            “Like Williams, the foursome of 1990s graduates—Hasseltine, Powell, Purdy and Rahman—had tried persuasion and failed. Next they went public.

            Rahman got a Washington Post reporter, Ian Shapira, interested in the story.”


          8. M. Purdy Avatar
            M. Purdy

            Not at all. Had the statue come down, there is no story.

          9. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            More importantly Michael, why have you chosen to besmirch the fine reputation of every single alumni and member of the Corps of Cadets by feeding the false narrative of structural/systemic/institutional racism and create division within our ranks?

            As I explained to you in an e-mail last July – “Great progress had been made in that endeavor (society based upon content of character). Your position, in my view, will undo, not advance, the progress we have made.” We are seeing that play out right before our eyes.

            You defend the likes of Ian Shapira, who has done great damage to VMI while criticizing James Bacon who has been an advocate? James also recognizes that VMI is not perfect.

            I have repeatedly acknowledged that VMI is not perfect but you seem to forget that. I’m not perfect, are you? Nor am I unwilling to change things that need to be changed, but I am unwilling to adversely change the VMI experience that each of us was so blessed to have experienced and benefitted from. In my view, the path we are currently on and one you seem to be pushing for, will achieve precisely that. If anything Michael, you owe the alumni and Corps of Cadets an apology.

  3. tmtfairfax Avatar

    The Post. Isn’t that the media giant that spent lots of time and money investigating an Alabama candidate for the U.S. Senate even while it missed the story on doctor-to-be Ralph Northam wearing blackface while posing for a picture that published in the yearbook? Why is it no one asks Jeff Bezos about this? Is this the way he ran Amazon?

  4. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    As I recall the story also focuses on ugly comments on an anonymous social media outlet, you know, like the shitz that anonymous folks post here regularly. Given the situation, any cadet stupid enough to be posting things like those does not get my sympathy. For the entire VMI community, including the oldest alum, the rule is now: Put up nothing you wouldn’t want to read in the Washington Post….same line I’ve been using with candidates for 20 years now.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    Maybe some will disagree but I expect more and better from VMI than other colleges and when 1/3 of the females don’t like the way VMI is handling these issues – I’m not at all impressed when someone says 50% are “okay” with it.

    VMI supposedly trains leaders and when a substantial number of women in the Armed Forces also have similar complaints as women cadets, we know it’s a problem and VMI is part of it as opposed to doing better at it.

    In terms of the WaPo “hit” piece, I say this. Why can’t WSJ or the Washington Examiner or the Virginia Star do their own article and entitle it “Is VMI really that bad” – then lay out facts , no punches pulled and develop a following that trusts it better than WaPo and either force WaPo to do better or become a follower to other more truthful media? Surely all those Conservative alumni have media contacts and know the PR game.

    If VMI is better than what WaPo says, get the word out and stop whining.

    1. WayneS Avatar

      From the article: “In other words, the problem of unwanted sexual contact is ubiquitous on college campuses, as it is in American society (and most societies), but at VMI the incidence of such contact is half the rate (53%) that it is elsewhere.”

      You “expect… better from VMI than other colleges” and VMI gives you better.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        30% is a bad number for any College that trains leaders for the Military and indeed, the Military has the same problems.

        Half the rate and still one quarter of VMI women have been assaulted and this is a training academy for our Military? The guys that do this become officers in the military who then will decide how other assaults are handled?

        Do you see a problem?

        1. WayneS Avatar

          Where did you get 30%.

    2. M. Purdy Avatar
      M. Purdy

      Indeed, a military school that instill discipline better have lower stats for criminal activity than civilian schools. The more apt comparison is the Clery Act stats the Citadel provided. No mention about that in this piece, though.

    3. Donald Smith Avatar
      Donald Smith

      “If VMI is better than what WaPo says, get the word out”

      That is the purpose of this blog.

  6. William O'Keefe Avatar
    William O’Keefe

    Jim, in spite of some minor criticism, I think that you have a spot on article. It is clear that Shapira is on a vendetta and the Post is not going to stop him. Unfortunately, it is hard to best someone who buys ink by the barrel.
    There is one criticism that you should deal with and that is survey data and Cleary data are not comparable and should not be conflated.

    1. Donald Smith Avatar
      Donald Smith

      Shapira is writing what WP readers want to read: Bad VMI being domesticated by righteous urban progressives.

  7. Demon 1527 Avatar
    Demon 1527

    Can we please stop using misogynistic. It’s just misogynist

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