Report tells of sexual assault, racism at military institute

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FILE - Crews lift a statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson from its pedestal on the campus of the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., in this Dec. 7, 2020, file photo. The findings of a months-long investigation into racism at the nearly two-century old Virginia Military Institute will be released Tuesday, June 12, 2021, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. (AP Photo/Sarah Rankin, File)

The Virginia Military Institute has tolerated and failed to address institutional racism and sexism and must be held accountable for making changes, according to a state-sanctioned report released Tuesday.

The 145-page report, put together by an independent law firm at the request of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, states that “racial slurs and jokes are not uncommon” and “contribute to an atmosphere of hostility toward minorities.”

Some graduates welcomed the findings as long-overdue at a nearly two-century-old institution that carries the prestige of helping to educate Gen. George Patton but is also indelibly tied to nation's history of racism and sexism. Others said the report mischaracterized “isolated” incidents that can happen at any school.

Among other findings, the report found that a racial disparity exists among cadets who have been dismissed by the school’s student-run honor court. Cadets of color represent 23% of the corps but make up 41% of those dismissed since 2011.

The report also said that sexual assault is prevalent yet inadequately addressed at the nation’s oldest state-supported military college. A survey found that 14% of female cadets reported being sexually assaulted, while 63% said that a fellow cadet had told them that he or she was a victim of sexual assault.

“The racist and misogynistic acts and outcomes uncovered during this investigation are disturbing,” the report states. “Although VMI has no explicitly racist or sexist policies that it enforces, the facts reflect an overall racist and sexist culture.”

The report includes several other concerns at the 182-year-old institution: VMI is less diverse than other schools. It maintains an ”outdated" reverence for the Civil War and Confederacy. And a rift between athletes and non-athletes has led “to the incorrect perception that ‘athlete’ means ‘African American.’”

The report said the state should require VMI to submit quarterly reports on diversity and inclusion efforts, adding that VMI “will likely follow through on its promised reforms only if it is forced to do so.”