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Virginia Military Institute Superintendent Cedric T. Wins addresses the class of 2021 during a ceremony at the school in Lexington, Va., last year.

Virginia Military Institute Superintendent Cedric T. Wins addresses the class of 2021 during a ceremony at the school in Lexington, Va., last year. (Parker Michels-Boyce for The Washington Post)

Conservative Virginia Military Institute alumni are using a petition drive and a lawsuit to challenge diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at the nation's oldest state-supported military college, ignoring the priorities of VMI's first Black superintendent.

Though VMI's leader, retired Army Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, has been increasingly vocal about the need for diversity initiatives, a network of older, White alumni upset with the school's reforms is ratcheting up their attacks on the college's new agenda. The group - irate over a state-ordered investigation last year that concluded the college suffered from a "racist and sexist culture" - appears emboldened by the election of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, R, who banned teaching "critical race theory" in K-12 schools and purged the word "equity" from Virginia's education system.

The disgruntled alumni are homing in on a specific target: NewPoint Strategies, a Northern Virginia consulting firm whose clients have included the Defense Department, Fortune 500 companies, federal government agencies, universities and nonprofits.

In late February, VMI notified NewPoint Strategies of its intent to award it a contract to provide diversity, equity and inclusion training to the college's faculty, staff and students. The firm's proposed price is about $100,000. The contract would last from the date of the actual award to June 2023, with four optional one-year renewals.

In its request for proposals, VMI said the winning applicant must "provide opportunities for individuals to embrace DEI concepts, explore allyship, and a framework for lifelong learning." The college also said the firm "must be able to discuss cultural and identity oppression in the context of current culture as it relates to VMI."

VMI, which received $21.6 million in state funding for the 2021-2022 academic year, has been under pressure to address racism and sexism on its 182-year-old campus in Lexington. The college, whose cadets fought and died for the Confederacy, did not admit its first Black students until 1968 and its first women until 1997. Just 6 percent of its 1,650 cadets are Black. Women make up 14 percent of the student body.

The first attack on the contract came in March from Carmen D. Villani Jr., a White member of the Class of 1976 and frequent public critic of the college's direction. Villani circulated a petition online calling for Virginia's new attorney general Jason Miyares, R, to halt the NewPoint Strategies contract or any similar contracts at the school. The petition also asks Miyares to stop the college's implementation of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives until the "appropriate" state agency conducts a "full investigation" to determine whether critical race theory - an academic framework that examines systemic racism in America - or other "divisive training" are occurring at VMI.

Villani, who has angered Wins and other VMI officials before, claimed on a conservative blog in late March that his petition had "well over 900" supporters, though the document doesn't reveal the signatories or how many of them are cadets, graduates or parents.

Villani declined to comment. Victoria LaCivita, a spokeswoman for Miyares, did not return to messages seeking comment. The founding partners of NewPoint Strategies, Lynne Revo-Cohen and Karetta Hubbard, also declined to comment.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Wins called the school's alumni "a tremendous asset to the Institute. Their devotion and support are unparalleled, and their generosity helps VMI maintain its position as one of the top small colleges in the nation." But Wins also warned that, "for the few who choose an unproductive path by pushing a false narrative, their efforts only serve as a detriment to the current Corps of Cadets."

In an interview, Bill Wyatt, VMI's spokesman, disputed Villani's characterization of the college's diversity training. "Critical race theory is not being taught on [campus]. I think the problem is that Mr. Villani has his own definition of critical race theory, which is based on his political philosophy. VMI is not political. We exist to educate and train leaders of character."

On April 1, a company run by another aggrieved White alumnus filed a lawsuit in state court against VMI and NewPoint Strategies asking a judge to halt the contract. The Yorktown, Va.-based firm, Center for Applied Innovation, is run by Bob Morris, a retired Army colonel and member of the Class of 1979.

This is Morris's second lawsuit in the ongoing war over VMI's future. In early 2021, his firm sued the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to cancel its contract with the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg, which was investigating VMI's culture at the request of then-Gov. Ralph Northam, D. But that case got dismissed.

In his new lawsuit, Morris's company wants a judge to issue an injunction ordering VMI and NewPoint Strategies to cease any work under the college's pending contract.

Morris, whose firm sought the contract itself but was rejected, contends that the college "unlawfully" issued a "notice of intent to award" the contract to NewPoint Strategies in violation of the Virginia Public Procurement Act. The suit says the college's decision was "arbitrary and capricious."

It also claims VMI's contract is "for goods and services that violate the Governor's policies and directives against divisive trainings and ideologies, including, without limitation, Critical Race Theory (CRT), the theory on which Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is based." Morris's company alleges that the contract will usher in "indoctrination" and "mindset change" among faculty, staff and students.

Aside from his lawsuit, Morris has also helped relaunch the college's student newspaper, the Cadet.

In February, the school issued a statement distancing itself from the Cadet. VMI said "a single alumnus was [its] driving force," that it's "in no way affiliated with or authorized" by the college, student body or the VMI Alumni Agencies, and doesn't have any link to previous incarnations of the student paper published between 1871 and 2016.

The paper is operated by the Cadet Foundation, whose address has been listed as the same as the one for Morris's firm suing VMI and NewPoint Strategies. On Thursday, after being asked by The Post about the matching addresses, an editor at the paper said he subsequently changed the Cadet Foundation's address to a post office box in Lexington.

The newspaper's phone number at the bottom of its website is also the phone number for Morris's company.

Morris and his attorney, Patrick C. Henry II, declined to comment.

Wyatt, VMI's spokesman, told The Post that he's recently had productive conversations with the Cadet's editors and is "hopeful we can come to an agreement before the end of the academic year on recognizing the paper as the official cadet-run paper of the institute."

On the website, abovealltruth.com, an executive summary to Morris's company's lawsuit touts the case as a "'Gut Check' for the Youngkin administration on reversing divisive training, ideology and indoctrination ... with impact on parent/student choice at all levels."

The statement also says, "If VMI wins the ability to ignore the Governor's Executive orders and other related policies, it will be 'open season' for any school or locality to do the same - and fund it with state resources."

In VMI Facebook groups, parents and alumni have been feuding for weeks over the college's diversity initiatives, especially the school's $6.1 million funding request from the state, which would, among other things, expand Title IX and diversity offices, admissions counselors to recruit underrepresented populations, and the rebranding of the college's numerous Confederate tributes.

In response, a contingent of Black VMI graduates from the 1970s - including the college's very first Black alumni from the Class of 1972 - wrote a letter to the school's Board of Visitors that was posted on a VMI Facebook group last month expressing dismay at their peers.

"It has been disappointing to hear that various alumni have downplayed that racial incidents happened," the men wrote. "Even more, it has been disheartening to read how certain alumni have questioned the integrity of Major General Wins and members of his administration, something unheard of until he was appointed superintendent ... Major General Wins is a man of honor, of great character, an outstanding leader, and one who has a great love for the institute."

But, the Facebook fight over critical race theory and diversity, equity and inclusion continued.

In one particularly contentious thread, a White male identified as a graduate of the Class of 1977 wrote: "Why shouldn't there be an investigation of Northam's woke establishment at VMI. Youngkin was elected on a platform by Virginians to among other issues stop the CRT movement in state educational institutions. Why are people against a thorough look at the millions of tax and donor dollars being spent on the DEI agenda. Does it violate state prohibition on teaching CRT?"

To which another alum wrote: "You are confusing DEI and CRT. They are not the same things."

"No," wrote the Class of 1977 graduate. "I suspect CRT is being camouflaged and embedded in DEI, and that [the] history of our country is being manipulated to fit an agenda of socialist propaganda."

"Oh, you suspect it," wrote the other alum. "Well, there you go."


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