Youngkin Diversity Chief Dismisses Diversity Efforts

VMI Needs a New Superintendent

File photo.

By Isabel Soisson

April 28, 2023

While speaking at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) last Friday, Virginia’s Chief Diversity Officer Martin D. Brown criticized the whole concept of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, declaring that “DEI is dead.”

“Let’s take a moment right now to kill that cow,” he said. “We’re not going to bring that cow up anymore. It’s dead. It was mandated by the General Assembly, but this governor has a different philosophy of civil discourse.”

Brown was the featured speaker at a mandatory annual “inclusive excellence” training for VMI’s faculty and staff members, and his speech came at a particularly sensitive time for the institution. VMI is currently facing off against conservative alumni who are using a petition drive and a lawsuit to challenge diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at the school.

The nation’s oldest state-supported military college has been under fire since 2020, after Black cadets and alumni publicly detailed the racism they faced at the institution publicly. In response, then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D) ordered an independent investigation into the school, saying that it suffered from a “clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism.”

Shortly afterward, VMI appointed its first Black superintendent, retired Army Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, and created a diversity, equity, and inclusion office, led by two Black women: Jamica Love, the chief diversity officer, who is on a leave of absence, and Briana Williams, now the acting chief diversity officer.

Brown’s comments on April 21 go directly against the priorities of Gen. Wins, who has been vocal about the need for diversity initiatives at VMI. Instead, Brown echoed the criticisms of the school’s conservative graduates, who among other things, had a hand in changing the title of the DEI office to “Diversity, Opportunity, and Inclusion” to reflect the title of Brown’s office in Richmond. Critics of the school’s efforts falsely claim that DEI measures are “anti-white.”

“VMI’s in a unique space,” Brown said last Friday. “You’ve been at the tip of the spear in serving our country in sending warriors to battle, but in a way, you’re at the tip of the spear in this cultural war as well. Generally, when you are focusing on equity, you’re not pursuing merit or excellence or achievement. Not all the time, but you’re looking at equal outcomes.”

VMI’s diversity office website now says that changes to its content are forthcoming, stating that it will “better reflect the mission and goals of Diversity, Opportunity, and Inclusion throughout the Commonwealth, as led by Gov. Youngkin.”

These latest moves by VMI, and Brown’s comments, highlight a growing trend of anti-diversity education restrictions being aggressively pushed across the United States.

Since the start of the 2022-23 school year — July 1 through Dec. 30, 2023 — there have been at least 1,477 separate instances of book bans affecting 874 unique titles in 182 school districts and 37 states, according to PEN America, a nonprofit organization that works to defend and celebrate free expression.

In Virginia, the state Board of Education only recently approved new history standards for children in kindergarten through 12th grade, after a back-and-forth between officials tasked with reviewing and revising the standards, and Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration, who faced accusations of “whitewashing history.” Earlier versions of the proposed standards that were backed by Youngkin had deleted all references to Martin Luther King Jr. and referred to Native Americans as “the first immigrants,” to the country, for example.

The final version, however, requires, for the first time, that Virginia students be taught about racism, specifically the notion that the United States’ history is complicated and nuanced.

  • Isabel Soisson

    Isabel Soisson is a multimedia journalist who has worked at WPMT FOX43 TV in Harrisburg, along with serving various roles at CNBC, NBC News, Philadelphia Magazine, and Philadelphia Style Magazine.

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