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Virginia Military Institute Found to Maintain Racist and Sexist Culture

An independent investigation into the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) found an environment with serious inequity problems and very little effort by leadership to address the issues. In October 2020, Virginia’s governor and legislative leaders directed the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to investigate and report back. The council hired Barnes & Thornburg LLP to conduct the investigation. The report states, “VMI’s overall unwillingness to change - or even question its practices and traditions in a meaningful way - has sustained systems that disadvantage minority and female cadets and faculty.” The report notes if VMI does not change, it will remain a “school for white men.”

The 145-page report reveals racial slurs and jokes were common and excused by administrators. Only 23% of the student body are persons of color; the school is less diverse than Virginia’s other higher education institutions. Half of the Black cadets “strongly or somewhat agree that there is a culture of racial intolerance.” Reports of slurs and jokes are reportedly dismissed by the administration. Cadets, alumni, and faculty described the culture at VMI as one of “silence, fear, and intimidation.” Individuals interviewed said some VMI administrators “actively dissuaded” victims of sexual assault from making reports. Many respondents asserted VMI’s gender-equity issues are worse than its racial equity issues. VMI does not take women seriously and imposes double standards for women both in dress and social/sexual behavior. Investigators found sexist and misogynistic comments on social media apps. Sexual assault is “prevalent” but barely addressed, according to the report. Cadets are not allowed to lock their doors unless they are changing their clothes.

The law firm team recommended VMI create a diversity, equity, and inclusion plan as well as report regularly on its progress with the plan to the State Council. The firm also outlines the efforts VMI made to interfere with the investigation including placing its attorneys in the room with interviewees to inhibit candor from witnesses as well as withholding requested information, dissuading community members from participating, and trying to undermine the report’s findings. VMI’s statement responding to the report asserted such discriminatory behavior is not tolerated, and the school is taking action and will continue to do so.