Wins Urges ‘Right Type Of Change’

Wins Urges ‘Right Type Of Change’

AT LEFT, Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins addresses the corps of cadets in Cameron Hall for the first time as interim superintendent. ABOVE, on Saturday, during VMI’s Ring Presentation, Wins presents Korey Bridy, class of ’22, with his ring. (VMI photos)

Wins Urges ‘Right Type Of Change’

Virginia Military Institute Interim Superintendent Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins plans to move the institute forward under his leadership, while continuing those attributes he believes make the school great. “A lot of people want to define what VMI is,” Wins said in his first address to the corps of cadets Wednesday, Nov. 18. “We’re not going to let external ideas come in and define VMI. We’re going to display the best attributes of VMI. If there are failings that we have, we’re going to work to correct them.”

Wins was appointed to the interim role by the VMI board of visitors Friday, Nov. 13. Wins stepped into the role following the departure of Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, superintendent of 17 years.

Peay resigned in October at the request of Gov. Ralph Northam and other top state officials, who said they had lost confidence in Peay’s leadership and desired his resignation. That news came shortly after Northam and other state leaders announced that they were “directing an independent, third-party review of VMI’s culture, policies, practices and equity in disciplinary procedures” as they related to allegations of systemic racism at the school.

Several allegations from cadets and alumni gained widespread media attention after they were published in The Washington Post prior to Northam’s call for an investigation. Many claimed VMI tolerated a racist and sexist culture.

Interim superintendent Wins, 57, penned an opinion piece published in The Washington Post Monday, answering the calls for change in the original reports of racism at VMI.

“Racism and sexism will not be tolerated,” Wins, a 1985 graduate of VMI, wrote in The Washington Post. Wins is the first Black superintendent in the Institute’s history.

“Swift, certain action to investigate reports of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will be taken,” Wins wrote. “Those who violate our standards of honor, integrity and respect by committing such acts will be disciplined. We will also not tolerate those who witness and fail to report such incidents. Holding our fellow cadets accountable to one another is an important part of the honor VMI holds so dear.”

Wins also made a virtual appearance at the first meeting of the VMI board of visitors’ newly formed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Monday afternoon.

“I think we can look forward and implement the right type of change that’s necessary, but also try to educate folks on the very unique educational model that exists within VMI and why it works and why it has produced some of the very impressive leaders that it has over its 181 year history,” Wins said to the committee Monday. “Obviously, we’re not perfect; there are times when people take their eye off the ball. I don’t know that that’s the case as it pertains to all the stuff that’s been going on in the media. I’m going to be looking to listen to folks and educate myself.”

“This first committee meeting is an important step for the Virginia Military Institute,” said committee chair Mike Hamlar. “VMI’s unique system of education plays an important role in producing leaders of character for the commonwealth and the nation. Our committee’s oversight will help to ensure the VMI experience is accessible and equitable to all regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or religion.”

The members of the group approved a charter for the committee after consulting with the commonwealth of Virginia’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, Dr. Janice Underwood, and secretary of education, Atif Qarni.

According to the committee’s approved charter, the VMI board of visitors’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee shall be responsible for the oversight of all matters relating to the Institute’s excellence in diversity across all programs and departments.

This committee shall consist of board of visitors members, and may also include ex-officio non-voting member representatives from the VMI faculty, staff, corps of cadets, alumni, staff from the Alumni Agencies and others, as the board president deems appropriate.

The committee also had a discussion with Dr. Underwood about implementing diversity initiatives within higher education. The conversation included best practices for hiring a chief diversity officer for the school. The committee will work closely with the person in the new position once it is filled. - - -

While change is underway on campus, the third-party investigation of VMI’s culture is set to take place in the near future.

The State Council of Higher Education of Virginia had issued a request for proposals regarding the investigation. The RFP, which closed last week, indicated an “anticipated scope of work and key deliverable dates” for a chosen special investigation team.

According to the RFP document, a “special investigation team” is strongly encouraged to submit preliminary findings and recommendations by Dec. 31. The team is expected to submit an interim report with its findings and recommendations Feb. 5, 2021. The deadline for a final report from a special investigative team is no later than June 1, 2021.

According to the RFP document, the selected investigation team will be charged with addressing a number of guiding questions, including: Is there a culture of racial intolerance at VMI? If so, what measures are necessary to address that culture and correct it across all institutional dimensions? What are the current cadets’ perceptions of VMI across all dimensions of diversity? Are VMI’s current efforts at Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) effective? Do cadets of color perceive the policies, traditions, and culture of VMI to be racially insensitive?

The RFP also states an investigative team will work to identify measures, reforms, or interventions necessary in the event of any findings of civil rights violations, racial intolerance, and institutional inequities. - - -

In his address last week to the corps of cadets, Wins said VMI will persevere through its current situation.

“We will be better because of the trials that we’re being put through today,” Wins said. “I want you to show them the excellence that comes out of VMI so people understand we define who we are and what we are based on being the best.”

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