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US VMI superintendent resigns after Black cadets describe relentless racism

18:16  26 october  2020
18:16  26 october  2020 Source:   washingtonpost.com

Governor orders investigation into racism at Virginia Military Institute

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The superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute resigned Monday morning after Black cadets described relentless racism at the nation’s oldest state-supported military college, and Gov. Ralph Northam (D) ordered an independent probe of the school’s culture.

Michael Mullen wearing a military uniform standing in front of a crowd: Retired Gen. J. H. Binford Peay III, right, during an event at U.S. Central Command. © U.S. Central Command Retired Gen. J. H. Binford Peay III, right, during an event at U.S. Central Command.

Retired Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, 80, has been superintendent of the 181-year-old school since 2003. During the retired four-star general’s tenure, multiple accounts of racist incidents have surfaced at VMI.

This month The Washington Post documented how one Black student filed a complaint against a White adjunct professor who reminisced about her father’s Ku Klux Klan membership last year in the middle of class. In 2018, a White sophomore told a Black freshman during Hell Week he would “lynch” his body and use his “dead corpse as a punching bag” — but was suspended, not expelled.

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[At VMI, Black cadets endure lynching threats, Klan memories and Confederacy veneration]

After The Post’s story was published, Northam (D), a 1981 VMI graduate, ordered an independent investigation into the Lexington school, which received $19 million in state funds in fiscal 2020. In a letter announcing the inquiry, Northam and other state officials said they had “deep concerns about the clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism” at VMI. It was the last public college in Virginia to integrate, admitting five Black students in 1968.

John Boland, the president of VMI’s Board of Visitors, rejected that description, saying that “systemic racism does not exist here and a fair and independent review will find that to be true.”

Virginia Military Institute superintendent resigns after allegations of school's racist culture

  Virginia Military Institute superintendent resigns after allegations of school's racist culture The superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute resigned on Monday, a week after state leaders called for an investigation into "a culture of ongoing structural racism" at the school.The superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute resigned on Monday, a week after state leaders called for an investigation into "a culture of ongoing structural racism" at the school.

[Northam calls for VMI investigation after Black cadets describe relentless racism]

Peay also emailed the VMI community last week saying he did not believe systemic racism is present at the school.

In Boland’s letter Monday announcing Peay’s resignation, he said that he accepted it with “deep regret.” He said Peay was a “great American, patriot, and hero. He has profoundly changed our school for the better in all respects.”

According to the school’s website, Brig. Gen. Robert “Bob” Moreschi, who was the deputy superintendent for academics and dean of faculty, has been appointed acting superintendent. Moreschi began teaching at VMI in 2002 and became a tenured professor in 2008.

About 8 percent of VMI’s 1,700 students are Black. Many are athletes who said they weren’t fully aware of the school’s history or racial climate when they accepted scholarships.

The school, whose cadets fought and died for the slaveholding South during the Civil War, has long venerated its Confederate past. But the college has come under increasing pressure from Black alumni and cadets to remove the campus’s statue of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, who taught at VMI and was an enslaver of six people.

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In July, Peay defended the statue of Jackson, calling him “a military genius” and a “staunch Christian.”

a statue of a man: The statue of Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson on the Virginia Military Institute campus in Lexington, Va. © Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch The statue of Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson on the Virginia Military Institute campus in Lexington, Va.

Peay, who was born in Richmond in 1940, graduated from VMI with a civil engineering degree in 1962, according to his biography, which has now been removed from the school’s website. In college, he was quarterback of the football team.

In the Army, Peay served two tours in the Vietnam War. Later, he became a senior aide to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, served as an executive to the Army’s Chief of Staff and then assumed command of the famed 101st Airborne Division, which he led during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf.

By the early 1990s, then a general, he was appointed as the 24th Vice Chief of Staff for the Army. His final role was commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command in Florida from 1993 to 1997, helping oversee military operations in 20 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Persian Gulf and South Asia.

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Peay was highly decorated: He was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart. He and his wife have two sons, both graduates of VMI. His grandfather, J.H.N. Peay Jr. was a member of the class of 1929.

In a statement Monday, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) denounced VMI’s culture of racism and said that Peay’s resignation will not alone cure the school of its problems.

“We must break with the past and chart a different future for VMI and for all of the Commonwealth’s institutions — a future that is finally free of racism and welcoming to all,” he wrote. “The departure of one person does not fix a systemic problem we must confront in a comprehensive manner.”

Fairfax dismissed Boland’s argument that allegations of racism “had more to do with an individual’s lapse of judgment than they do with the culture of the institute.”

Fairfax, who is Black and the descendant of an enslaved man who won his freedom, said on Monday that, “We can not continue to pretend that racism directed at African American cadets are singular incidents disconnected from a culture of longstanding systemic racism.” He added: “We must face the challenges of systemic racism in an honest way to defeat an unjust past and forge a new and inclusive future that is welcoming for all. VMI must prioritize this mission.”

Fairfax, who is running for governor next year, threatened that the school’s funding would disappear if it did not make changes. “We should not be allocating $19 million annually to a VMI that steadfastly refuses to change at a time when lower income students and diverse communities are refused free lunches and adequate educational opportunities.”

He said VMI’s statues devoted to the Confederacy “must come down.”

VMI’s first superintendent was Francis H. Smith, a U.S. Military Academy graduate who owned nine enslaved people on the eve of the Civil War. He thought slavery should be abolished one day — and then “Blacks should be resettled in Africa,” according to a retired VMI historian.

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