VMI Board of Visitors Update: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

wide shot of new barracks with flag poles on either side, and statue of Gen. George C. Marshall in the center.

Published: March 15, 2022

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee of the VMI Board of Visitors and other members of the board, faculty, cadets, and administration met today for an update on the Institute’s activities related to its diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, or “Inclusive Excellence.” Such efforts are designed to help achieve the three objectives set forth by the Board of Visitors in July 2021. These are:

  • To create and foster a more diverse VMI;
  • To create and foster a safe, equitable, and inclusive environment for all on post;
  • To assure that we maintain a safe, rigorous process for escalating issues which have even the potential to violate the Code of a Cadet.

The committee reviewed the training curriculum, the feedback from our early training sessions, and planned future activities, including the role of a consultant in that process. While a great deal has been accomplished, it was also acknowledged that there is more to be done and our specific plans may be adjusted as VMI learns more about how to best achieve its objectives.

Board of Visitors President Tom Watjen ’76 acknowledged the Institute’s work under its Inclusive Excellence plan has generated some feedback – both positive and negative – among alumni.

“The work being done at the Institute is critical toward the objectives set forth by the Board of Visitors. The preparation and readiness of our cadets for the world in which we live has never been more important,” Watjen, a former Fortune 500 chief executive officer, said. “Our cadet graduates today face a very different world than we did when I graduated, a world that is socially and culturally diverse. Some have suggested that to take the steps we’ve taken is ‘woke’ or supportive of such concepts as critical race theory. We have a responsibility to educate our cadets on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues but not indoctrinate. I can assure you we understand that distinction. I’m appealing to those taking these positions to educate themselves on what’s really happening at the Institute and support us as we help assure that our cadets are positioned for success in the military, business, and public sectors following graduation.”

The committee learned that feedback from individuals who have participated in the Inclusive Excellence trainings thus far has been overwhelmingly positive:

  • The majority of cadets said the training helped them connect with their peers ranging from a high of 91% for the Class of 2025 to 64% for the Class of 2022.
  • Cadet participants were satisfied with the training ranging from a high of 91% for the Class of 2025 to 69% for the Class of 2022.

“We are very pleased with the early results, but clearly learning each day how we can make our programs more effective and, in doing so, accelerate our progress in each of the board’s stated objectives,” Watjen said.

At the beginning of the committee meeting, Watjen appointed Board of Visitors member Gene Scott ’80 as vice chairman of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. Watjen noted that the workload of the committee has increased, making it important that we spread the leadership responsibility across multiple board members. In addition, Watjen cited Scott’s work as chair of the Recommendations Review Committee and his perspective as an alumnus as important considerations in elevating Scott to this new position.

During his comments, the Institute’s superintendent, Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, defined what the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion mean at VMI:

  • Diversity and inclusion: Diversity and inclusion at VMI is mission readiness. They are principles that prepare our cadets for the world which they will enter after graduation. VMI’s efforts in this area closely mirror the efforts of the Department of Defense and corporate America. Diversity and inclusion at VMI mean integrating qualified cadets, faculty, and staff of all races, ethnicities, genders, religions, nationality, and socioeconomic status in proportions reflective of the commonwealth and the nation. It means understanding and respecting differences to strengthen the Corps of Cadets as a singular unit preparing for a life as a citizen-soldier.
  • Equity: At VMI, equity means that we provide each cadet the tools to succeed in our rigorous academic, military, and athletic environment. Equity means equal opportunity. What it does not mean is that we lower our standards or our definition of success. At VMI, equity initiatives have been in place for many years and are available to all cadets, not just cadets of color. These tools include the Miller Academic Center, the Mathematics Education and Resource Center, the Writing Center, and the Office of Disabilities Services, just to name a few.

Diversity and inclusion at VMI does not lower standards to meet a quota. It also is not intolerance toward any particular group of cadets, faculty, or staff. We are One Corps and One VMI regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, or socioeconomic status.

At VMI, we want each cadet who matriculates to walk across the stage four years later to accept their degree. VMI’s equity initiatives provide the opportunity to meet the same standard based on each cadet’s particular circumstances. VMI’s current and future initiatives do not / will not lower or waive standards.

“Achieving our diversity and inclusion goals is no one person’s responsibility. Every member of the VMI team owns that responsibility, and I’m very proud of the work that has been done in these areas. I am more confident than ever in the direction of the Institute and the readiness of our cadets to lead in today’s society,” Watjen concluded.