Posted on November 23, 2022

VMI’s First Black Superintendent Under Attack by Conservative White Alumni

Ian Shapira, Washington Post, November 21, 2022

Ever since Virginia Military Institute began rolling out new diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives last year, a fierce and well-funded group of conservative alumni has been attacking the efforts to make VMI more welcoming to women and minorities.

Now the mostly White alumni group has turned its sights on a new target: the first Black superintendent at the nation’s oldest state-supported military college.

Some alumni have raised questions about what VMI is paying retired Army Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, while others have called for him to be fired — suggestions that have outraged his supporters.

Wins, 59, who graduated from VMI in 1985 after starring on the basketball team, was chosen to lead the college two years ago amid a state-ordered investigation into alleged racism on the Lexington, Va., campus. The investigation concluded that VMI has long tolerated a “racist and sexist culture” and must change. But at a school where cadets fought and died for the Confederacy, resistance to change was immediate and intense.

“This is about a bunch of rich, older White guys who are losing power,” said Chuck Rogerson, 61, a White retired Army colonel who roomed with Wins during their four years together at VMI. “They can’t handle the change because they’ve never had to deal with it before — a man of color leading the institute. Did they ever question prior superintendents’ salaries? Whatever they’re paying Wins, they ought to pay double, given all the crap he’s dealing with.”

This month, a political action committee called the Spirit of VMI, which represents many of the critics, released a statement questioning why VMI’s Board of Visitors awarded a $100,000 bonus in September to Wins, who makes an annual salary of $625,000. Last year, Wins received a $25,000 bonus.

The PAC asked “what performance metrics [the board] used to make such a generous award and sharp increase” and cited “major concern” among alumni about VMI’s direction, especially an alarming 25 percent drop in enrollment in this year’s freshman class.

Then, on Nov. 11, Douglas Conte, a White member of VMI’s Class of 1975, appeared on a conservative Richmond talk show to denounce the school’s “hyper liberal regime” and call on Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to scrutinize VMI’s decisions and “decide whether General Wins is the right person for that job.” Conte declined an interview with The Washington Post.


From the start, VMI’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts have been derided by some donors and alumni deeply wedded to the school’s traditions and 183-year history. Some have assailed VMI’s first chief diversity officer, Jamica Love, the college’s highest-ranking Black woman, and accused VMI of embracing critical race theory — a suggestion Wins blasted this year as “categorically false.”

The college, which received $29 million from the state for this academic year, did not admit its first Black students until 1968 or its first women until 1997. When Wins graduated from VMI in 1985, 13 members of his class of 300 were Black, the 1985 yearbook shows. Today, about 8 percent of VMI’s 1,500 cadets are Black, and women make up 13.5 percent of the student body.

For months, Spirit of VMI supporters have been filing Freedom of Information Act requests with VMI, seeking records related to the college’s diversity initiatives. One alumni critic sought the contract to pay Kimberly Dark, a lesbian author who delivered a talk on campus last month to a small group of students.

But it was the news release questioning Wins’s compensation package that escalated the conflict.

When Carmen D. Villani Jr., a White Spirit of VMI donor who graduated from the college in 1976, posted news about Wins’s bonus in a Facebook group for VMI parents, cadets and alumni, one of the group’s members alluded to the 25 percent enrollment drop and said that if a corporate CEO saw “a 25% drop in sales….he would be fired!” To which Villani replied, “Excellent point.”


The growing animosity toward Wins was on display at an Oct. 24 Board of Visitors executive committee meeting.


The angry alumni and their supporters have found refuge on WRVA radio, where morning show host John Reid amplifies their grievances.

Reid has condemned diversity, equity and inclusion training as “a racist movement” meant to “stomp on White people,” likened any “DEI person” to a Ku Klux Klan member and urged Youngkin to get rid of everyone in state government “appointed,” “given a job” or “anointed” by his Democratic predecessor, Ralph Northam, “including the head of VMI.” (Wins was hired by the board, not Northam.)

During an Oct. 19 segment in which PAC Chairman Matt Daniel called Dark’s talk VMI “garbage,” Reid slammed her and Wins even harder: “You gotta be a moron to run the Virginia Military Institute and bring in this dingbat woman talking about lesbianism and ‘Daddies,’ and her essay is ‘Fat, Pretty, and Soon to be Old,’ and think that responsible citizens are going to nod their head and say, ‘That’s okay.’ ”


Instead, a video of her speech shows, Dark talked about assumptions people make about others based on their body appearance, described VMI’s issues with inclusivity as similar to those on other college campuses, and encouraged students to talk with others about diversity and inclusion to “inspire change rather than forcing change.”


On Nov. 3, the Spirit of VMI posted a cartoon on Facebook, a mock flier that read, “The Virginia Military Institute Dept. Diversity Equity Inclusion Introduces Its 2022-3 Speaker Series: ‘Dark’ Days in Lexington.” Beneath the language was a depiction of a voluptuous woman in VMI shorts clasping a stripper pole, identified as the “VMI pole-dancing club captain,” and another of a topless man clad in a thong and a collar whose caption reads: “Sista Capuccino Boneya.”

When Wins saw the cartoon, he posted it on his Facebook account and said Daniel, who graduated with him in 1985 and runs the Spirit of VMI, was “looking desperate and racist,” according to a screenshot obtained by The Post. Wins later deleted the cartoon and comment.


Many of the alumni attacking Wins say he never should have gotten the job in the first place. They supported his predecessor, retired Army Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, who was pressured to resign by Northam in 2020 after 17 years of leading the school.