Questions remain unanswered after probe into Northam yearbook photo

By Heather Butterworth - Digital Content Producer

NORFOLK, Va. - The results of an independent investigation into a racist photo on Gov. Ralph Northam's personal page in his medical school yearbook are now public knowledge. 

Back in February, it came to light that there was a photo of a person in blackface and a person in KKK attire on Northam's page in an Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook from 1984. 

McGuireWoods launched an external investigation into the matter and the results are mostly inconclusive. 

As part of the investigation, Northam, his wife, and staff members were all interviewed. More than 50 students and alumni were interviewed as well. 

Northam has changed his story over time about whether or not he is in that photo. Although he admits to wearing blackface at a party once, he currently denies that he is in the photo and says he does not know how it ended up on his page. He also claims that he had never before seen the yearbook. 

McGuireWoods was not able to figure out who was in the photo. They found no evidence that the photo was placed on his page through an error, but also could not rule it out. They could not conclusively determine where the photo originated. 

The investigation found that at the time, the yearbooks were an almost entirely student-run undertaking, with little to no oversight by the school's administration. 

The law firm did find "a number of photographs" that depicted blackface in EVMS yearbooks. The firm stated that it also found other content that could be offensive to women, minorities, and certain ethnic groups. 

Nine former and current students reported to the firm that they experienced racial insensitivity from classmates, staff members, or during clinical rotations. Some of them also noted that those experiences were not reflective of the medical school as a whole. 

Dr. Richard V. Homan, president and provost of EVMS and dean of the School of Medicine, reacted to the report during a news conference Wednesday morning. 

Homan said school leaders immediately wanted an investigation when they learned of the photo. He said the photo does not represent the core values or ethos of EVMS and he apologized on behalf of EVMS for the pain that photo caused. 

Homan added that the school is taking steps to improve its diversity inclusion efforts, and noted that this issue has popped up in schools all over the country. 

A new community advisory board will evaluate the current EVMS culture and make recommendations on ways to improve diversity. 

"We cannot change the past but we can refuse to be defined by it," Homan said. 

Click here to read the full report.

Northam released this statement Wednesday afternoon.

“I have cooperated with Richard Cullen and his team over the course of their investigation, both by making myself available for interviews and by turning over the findings of my private inquiry into the matter. I am not in the racist and offensive photo that appears under my name in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. 

“That being said, I know and understand the events of early February and my response to them have caused hurt for many Virginians and for that, I am sorry. I felt it was important to take accountability for the photo’s presence on my page, but rather than providing clarity, I instead deepened pain and confusion.

“In visits with local leaders across the Commonwealth, I have engaged in frank and necessary dialogue on how I can best utilize the power of the governor’s office to enact meaningful progress on issues of equity and better focus our administration’s efforts for the remainder of my term. That conversation will continue, with ensuing action, and I am committed to working to build a better and more equitable Virginia for all who call it home.” 

Copyright 2019 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.