The fight over VMI’s past, present and future

‘tip of the spear’

The last time Virginia Military Institute cadets were called to leave its 134 acres in Lexington, Va., to fight as a unit was in 1864, when more than 250 cadets joined Confederate forces in the Battle of New Market during the Civil War.

Cadets have not fought as a unit in a domestic war since, but they now find themselves in the middle of a different kind of conflict. Today, VMI is one of the battlegrounds in the culture war over the term DEI, the abbreviation for diversity, equity and inclusion. The word equity, in particular, is drawing the most fire.

The fight over equity

DEI at vmi

On Oct. 17, 2020, the Washington Post published a story detailing the racial discrimination experienced by some Black cadets at VMI. Two days later, then-Gov. Ralph Northam ordered an investigation into VMI’s culture. In June 2021, an independent investigation of VMI found that a culture of racism existed at the Institute. This section explores the steps VMI is taking to improve its culture.

The fight over gender equality


In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that VMI could no longer justify refusing to admit women. The first women enrolled at the Institute in fall 1997. Women now represent 13% of the corps of cadets. We looked into challenges women still face at VMI, especially when they try to rise to leadership positions.

audio stories

We spoke with several cadets, administrators and staff members about the key issues the Institute faces today. Listen to their thoughts below.

admissions in crisis – deciding to attend vmi

We took a look at why the Institute faces an uphill battle keeping the barracks full. And we learned more about why students choose to attend VMI.

Struggles and triumph – vmi student-athlete experiences


We spoke with student-athletes, alums and administrators about the divide between student-athletes and non-athletes. And we learned about the challenges cadets face in day-to-day life.

We asked administrators, alums, faculty and current cadets…

What will vmi look like in the future?