Sounds Like Hate is an audio documentary series about the dangers and peril of everyday people who engage in extremism, and ways to disengage them from a life of hatred.

Wake-Up Call II

Full Transcript

Superintendent Gen. Cedric Wins: Good afternoon. To the parents, grandparents, families, friends, and especially the new cadets who will become class of 2025, welcome to the Virginia Military Institute and the Corps of Cadets.

Jamila Paksima: Today is matriculation day at the Virginia Military Institute, or VMI. The start of school for “rats,” as the freshmen are called.

Superintendent Cedric Wins: You’re each coming from a different background and a different set of life’s experiences. Embrace your brother rats, get to know each other, especially those that are different from you. Learn from each other and appreciate your fellow cadets for who they are.

Yvonne Latty: The words flowing out of Superintendent Gen. Cedric Wins’ lips are affirming and positive. Words that would put any parent at ease on the day they say goodbye to their now young adult offspring. This is the beginning of “Hell Week,” the VMI woke version.

Superintendent Cedric Wins: I challenge you to engage with one another and get out of your comfort zone.

Jamila Paksima: In the past, this would be the start of a week, which not only resembled the physical rigor of military boot camp, but also included running on a field, pretending to be a Confederate killing Union soldiers, learning Confederate history and marching past a looming statue of Gen. Stonewall Jackson.

Superintendent Cedric Wins: We expect to matriculate 496 cadets from 42 states and six foreign countries.

Yvonne Latty: Superintendent Wins has been at the helm of VMI since November 13, 2020, when the winds of racial change blew hard into the institute and rattled its core.

A state-ordered independent investigation by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and a 145-page report in 2021 called the school out on its racist and sexist culture.

Superintendent Cedric Wins: OK, all new cadets raise your right hand and repeat after me.

Yvonne Latty: Superintendent Wins is a proud 1985 alum who starred on the basketball court for VMI. A Black man standing at the podium, leading and representing his school, which has been notoriously enshrined in the Confederacy and its military leaders. This historic day is amplified with VMI selecting its first female student regimental commander, Kasey Meredith.

Kasey Meredith: I am humbled to lead them to the Rat Mass of 22 plus 3. I commend you on your induction into the Virginia Military Institute.

Yvonne Latty: It’s the new VMI.

Wins and candidates repeat: I hereby engage. I hereby engage. To serve as a candidate in the Virginia Military Institute. To serve as a candidate in the Virginia Military Institute.

Yvonne Latty: Once assigned to their cadre, 496 rats are lined up in perfect rows for their first collective act, an oath, a promise to work hard and grow into people of honor.

Superintendent Cedric Wins: And I solemnly pledge. And I solemnly pledge. To keep this covenant. To keep this covenant. With all members of the Corps. With all members of the Corps. So help me God. So help me God.

Jamila Paksima: This is Season 4 of Sounds Like Hate, a podcast series from the Southern Poverty Law Center. I’m Jamila Paksima.

Yvonne Latty: And I’m Yvonne Latty.

Jamila Paksima: This is part two of Wake-Up Call.

Allegations of racism at VMI filled social media and the press, all leading to an independent investigation into the 183-year-old institution at the behest of former governor and VMI alum, Ralph Northam.

In this episode, we are reporting across the academic year of fall 2021 through spring of 2022 at VMI, located in Lexington, Virginia.

Resistance to change and truth-finding efforts to reform VMI are in full swing. We were given an exclusive interview with Dr. Jamica Love. She is among the new Black leadership overseeing diversity and inclusion at the school, while grappling with the harm created by a culture of oppression and idolatry for the Confederacy.

Google Map voice: Continue on U.S. 11 South for three-quarters of a mile.

Yvonne Latty: We’re on Lee Highway.

Kimberly Probolus: My name is Kimberly Probolus. I am a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Yvonne Latty: Probolus researched and authored the third edition of the SPLC’s “Whose Heritage?” report, which looked at the 2,089 Confederate memorials still standing in the United States.

Kimberly Probolus: That’s a VMI truck. 1778. This is a “ye olde times” building.

Yvonne Latty: Probolus weaves her car through Lexington’s main street, which feels like a Civil War-era town. Stonewall Jackson’s house still stands and is a tourist site. There’s coffee shops and restaurants, but everything feels small and quaint.

Yvonne Latty: That’s VMI.

Kimberly Probolus: So, yes, now we are actually on campus, I think.

Yvonne Latty: We make our way to the nearby VMI campus where we are greeted by a very large Trump 2024 banner across the street from the entrance.

Kimberly Probolus: There are a lot of Confederate memorials.

Yvonne Latty: At the time of our visit, two are pending removal.

We reach a marker that says the school is a national landmark and gives shoutouts to a few famous alum.

Kimberly Probolus: (Reading marker): “VMI was founded in 1839 on the concept of the citizen soldier. The Corps of Cadets fought as a unit in the 1864 Battle of New Market. Confederate General Stonewall Jackson and oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury were among its faculty.” Yeah, so they kind of, like, glossed over the general, Stonewall Jackson. Matthew Fontaine Maury, you know, fought against the United States to uphold the rights of white people to enslave African Americans.

Yvonne Latty: The most noticeable physical change is the centerpiece: The Stonewall Jackson statue was removed and replaced with one of George Marshall, perhaps VMI’s most accomplished alumni.

Kimberly Probolus: George C. Marshall, a 1901 graduate, served as Army Chief of Staff in World War II and later as secretary of state, devising the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Yvonne Latty: Jackson Memorial Hall is now called Memorial Hall, and for most non-historians, statues and paintings of unknown military men and educators don’t say a lot to a visitor.

But the statue, Virginia Mourning Her Dead, and the graves of six of the cadets who died on the Battle of New Market that lay behind her, would give most people pause.

Virginia is a woman. She holds a spear. She looks mournful. Her sandaled foot rests on an urn. There is a new narrative being formed around this sculpture in order to keep it standing on campus and away from controversy. Now this bronze symbol of Virginia is mourning all former cadets who died in wars. But that was not the intent when it was created.

Kimberly Probolus: So, this is another statue by Moses Ezekiel. He did the Stonewall Jackson statue that was removed, and he was actually a cadet who fought at New Market.

Yvonne Latty: The death of these young cadets is baked into the fabric of VMI. It’s in their DNA, the basis of the honor code. But who were they fighting for?

Kimberly Probolus: It wasn’t actually for the country. It was actually for the Confederacy, and they were fighting against the U.S. And there’s no kind of reckoning or acknowledging that contradiction.

Yvonne Latty: So, here is how the story is told: In 1864, the undermanned Confederate Army defeated the Union Army at New Market, which was also the site of a farm with slaves.

It was the first battle in U.S. history where a school’s student body was used as a combat unit.

Two-hundred-and-fifty-seven VMI cadets fought. Ten cadets were killed, and 50 VMI students as young as 15 were injured. It’s sometimes referred to as the “Battle of the Lost Shoes” because the mud was so thick the cadets lost their shoes as they attacked.

Although this battle was won by the Confederates, Union soldiers regrouped and won the next one about three weeks later and continued their path to victory.

Up until 2020, all new VMI cadets had to reenact the Battle of New Market, and on that day the freshman, or rats, got a crash course on the battle, the glory of the Confederacy and the heroism of those cadets who fought.

But the pandemic and the country’s racial reckoning forced VMI to end the reenactment.

Senior Cadet Ingrid Joseph’s class was the last to do it. For this young Black woman, it was a welcome end to a horrific experience.

Ingrid Joseph: So, when people started to speak more out about what was going on, and VMI started getting backlash for having us reenact the Confederacy, it was kind of, like, a relief.

Yvonne Latty: Probolus says the love and pride for the Confederacy is bigger than VMI. It’s the result of Southern heritage groups, like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who have been glorifying the “Lost Cause”since 1894. Here is Jan Lowery, president of the Rockbridge United Daughters of the Confederacy, in Lexington, speaking on Lee-Jackson Day in January of 2022.

Jan Lowery: The national organization was organized in 1894 in Nashville, Tennessee, and a year later, a few women gathered in a home, here in Lexington, and started the Mary Custis Lee Chapter. And Mildred Lee, who was the daughter of Gen. Lee, was elected their president.

Kimberly Probolus: Southern heritage groups very intentionally rewrote the history to make the conflict not about slavery, but instead about states’ rights.

Yvonne Latty: You would never have known that the cause was slavery. It’s, like, invisible. It’s so hurtful.

Kimberly Probolus: And we know that this was extremely effective because we see it all over campus, and we see it all over the South, right? Whenever you’re reading a marker or looking at a statue that talks about how heroic Stonewall Jackson was or how brilliant of an oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury was, it’s very intentional that it wasn’t talking about slavery.

Yvonne Latty: I think people have almost been brainwashed to believe this. And then how do you untangle that from their brains? And Black people have been taught to just, like, accept it and, you know, go to the school named Robert E. Lee, and that’s just the way it is. Don’t even think about it. Like, I mean, don’t even think about who these people were. Just go to school.

Kimberly Probolus: I think the reason VMI ignores it is because white Southerners ignored the real reasons of the Civil War, which was slavery, in order to be able to celebrate and really venerate the Confederacy and what it stood for, which was white supremacy.

Yvonne Latty: And seeing those images makes a Black person feel something. I can’t speak for all Black people, but my visit to VMI’s Virginia Civil War Museum, which sits on the New Market battlefield, made me feel very small.

The museum is roughly 75 miles away from campus, and it’s the new home of VMI’s Stonewall Jackson statue, which now towers over the battlefield.

A white man was eagerly snapping photos of the statue as I pull into the parking lot. My heart is in my throat as I walk by him and into the museum. The clerk tries to not charge me the $10 admission fee, but I want to pay. I don’t want any pity favors because I’m a Black woman.

The museum is a bold celebration of the South and the Confederacy. Endless paintings of the VMI cadets fighting the Union in New Market line the walls.

I spot a middle-aged white couple standing in front of one of the many paintings of the battle. They hold each other tight as they silently read the caption, which praises the cadets and the Confederacy.

The woman then buries her head into her partner’s shoulder. I wonder if she’s weeping.

A documentary, which tells the story of the Battle of New Market, is on loop in a small theater in the museum.

I exit the museum and walk the haunted battlefield.

One-thousand-three-hundred-and-seventy-two soldiers died there; 10 were VMI cadets.

The picture-perfect farmhouse frames my vision. It’s where the family lived. They sought shelter in the cellar as the bloody battle was fought.

Much is written about this family and their inner strength, their kindness and support in keeping the battlefield a shrine to the Confederacy, and then there’s the slave quarters. It’s a small two-room wooden shack. There’s a marker in front of the shack that identifies the enslaved as a woman named Mary, a boy, Israel, and an unknown man.

I wonder how they felt during the battle: Were they trapped in that shack? Did they flee? Did they die? Did anyone even care about their lives?

In the narrative the museum spins, they are an afterthought in the story of the Battle of New Market.

Biased history, where the true bad guys are embraced as heroes, is all around me.

I talk to Waite Rawls, a VMI alum who has served on the board of visitors.

He was the CEO and president of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. Rawls has many relatives who fought on behalf of the Confederacy. He says it was not white supremacy that erected these monuments, but grieving families.

Waite Rawls: Like, 90% of all the statues went up between 1880 and 1920. And so, have you got a grandmother?

Yvonne Latty: Passed away.

Waite Rawls: OK, you remember her saying, “I don’t know what it is about your generation, they just don’t remember what my generation had to do”?

Yvonne Latty: Yes. Yes.

Waite Rawls: OK, well, that’s true of every generation, forever in history. The Civil War generation, North and South. So, 750,000 guys die, and they wanted everybody to remember.

Yvonne Latty: I guess the thing that I just get really stuck on is, OK, so let’s say in the case of VMI, you know, the civil rights movement happened. There’s been just so much stuff that’s happened in the last 150 years. Why? Why not then say, “OK, maybe this would be really hard to have these kind of images around when we’re trying to recruit Black students, you know? Just trying to, like, be better citizens, etc., etc.”

Waite Rawls: But isn’t it also a different motivation to say, “Let’s balance our history with the rest of the history on cold stories of the history”? So, VMI was taking steps to do that over the past 25 years, I mean, it was 25 years ago that I was on the board, and we said, “Let’s make, let’s start making a bigger deal out of Jonathan Daniels.”

Yvonne Latty: Jonathan Daniels is a class of 1961 VMI alum, class valedictorian and civil rights activist. Daniels, who was white, was killed when he stepped in front of a 17-year-old girl, Ruby Sales, who is Black. She was about to be shot by a white Alabama county volunteer deputy sheriff as she tried to enter a store to buy a soft drink.

Ruby Sales: He said the store is closed, and he said, “If you don’t get off of this goddamn property, I’m gonna blow your damn brains out.”

Yvonne Latty: Sales, who appeared in the documentary “Here Am I, Send Me: The Story of Jonathan Daniels” said on that day Daniels pushed her out of the way as the deputy held a rifle and shouted the establishment was closed.

Ruby Sales: Next thing I knew, someone had pulled me from behind, and I heard a shotgun blast. And I looked, and I saw Jon falling; I saw Jon fall.

Waite Rawls: So, what we’re trying to do is to say, “Forget the cause. Look at the person.”

Yvonne Latty: Rawls believes the city of Richmond got it wrong when it took down its Confederate monuments, even though he believes adding statues of women and people of color is the right thing to do.

Waite Rawls: What we have done incorrectly to American people is say, “No, history is exclusive; it’s whatever I want it to be right now because I’m in power.”

Yvonne Latty: Rawls is a retired investment banker who spent the bulk of his career in New York and Chicago.

He says he has spent a great deal of his life giving to others, including Black Americans. So, his views are complex and rooted in his Southern roots.

And this is the quandary of America:

Half of the country was raised to believe the Confederate cause was a worthy one. They struggle to accept any other narrative or face the root cause of the war: the brutality and inhumanity of slavery, a practice the Confederacy fought and died for in order for it to continue with no end.

Well, that’s just not part of their beloved story.

Jamila Paksima: Dr. Jamica Love is the first diversity and inclusion chief officer at VMI. Her job is to help fix a culture of white supremacy that exploded when students and alumni exposed the poison that was deeply rooted in VMI: racism and sexism.

But it’s a culture many successful alum hold dear and boldly fight to preserve. It’s not an easy job for a Black educator.

Jamila Paksima: Why did you want to take on this job?

Dr. Jamica Love: I like going to work every day and really being connected to what I do. If you put college students around me, I’m happy. I love the students. I love the cadets.

Jamila Paksima: The joy of working with VMI’s roughly 1,700 students is not going to be enough.

Dr. Jamica Love: So, for me, I heard it described this way, and I liked it: I’m building a plane in midair.

Jamila Paksima: Love does not have her head in the clouds. It’s boots on the ground for her. She has a huge task ahead if VMI is going to implement changes. The findings in the report were startling and showed a school which was deeply divided on race.

Half of the Black students believe the school suffers from a culture of racial intolerance, and 42% said they were discriminated against a lot. Many Black athletes claimed they were targets of disproportionate punishment, and racial slurs were not uncommon.

Jamila Paksima: How long does it take to change culture? That’s a huge question.

Dr. Jamica Love: I know. [Chuckle] I mean, how long does it take?

Jamila Paksima: I can’t ask you to do it in a week or in a year, right, or right?

Dr. Jamica Love: Let me look at my watch. [Chuckle] How long does it take? In terms of thinking about kinda what cadets are accustomed to, that’ll probably take four years. People always have a history and a remembrance.

Jamila Paksima: Love says she has a clear plan. It has multiple layers and all leads to produce the same outcome: inclusivity.

Dr. Jamica Love: Working on strategic plan and board of visitors. I’m also working with faculty in talking about curriculum. I’m working with marketing and talking about, “OK, our marketing being inclusive.” I can’t say I started with one specific thing first because, literally, I came in, and I thought to myself, “OK, I’ve got a lot to do. I’ve got lots of categories.”

Jamila Paksima: Love says she has a whiteboard in her office where she lists all her initiatives.

Dr. Jamica Love: These are things that are priority that I need to make sure I keep in the forefront of my mind. One of the things that is on my whiteboard is board of visitors Inclusive Excellence Training. I think whenever you have leadership that’s committed to inclusivity, that makes a difference. It makes a difference when leadership is saying, “You know what? We’re in this. We’re not going to ask cadets and faculty and staff to do this, and we’re not doing this with you.”

Jamila Paksima: How are you getting students to hear each other?

Dr. Jamica Love: So, that’s in the inclusive excellence training that we do on Fridays. So, part of the activity is when we’re talking about these specific topics is, “OK, what do you think about them? Do you agree that, you know, everybody should have the same punishment for the same crime?” just to give you an example.

Jamila Paksima: Love’s office is in Smith Hall, another tribute to the school’s intolerant history.

Confederate Maj. Gen. Francis H. Smith was the longest running superintendent of the school and is known to have rebuilt the school after the Civil War.

A statue of him stands in front of the building. He’s bespectacled with a scroll in hand and looks like the consummate educator.

But Smith was a racist. He told cadets:

The foundation of [the] divine institution of slavery … is the basis of the happiness, prosperity and independence of our Southern people,” and to thoroughly advocate and defend it.

He oversaw and ordered the execution of abolitionist John Brown and sent 64 VMI cadets to beef up the military presence at Brown’s hanging.

Smith owned nine slaves.

Dr. Jamica Love: I’ll tell you, my friends, when I told them I was moving to Virginia, said, “That’s a lot of racists in Virginia.” I said, “Are you kidding me? There’s racists in Massachusetts.” It’s not going to discourage me. Matter of fact, that’s going to encourage me. The fact that Mr. Smith thought, “Oh, people that look like me, you were happy slaves.” No. And people that look like me are now working in this building. It does not make me stop. I wake up every morning, and I love my job. Doesn’t matter what building I’m in. It doesn’t matter if I’m steep into the South. I have a role as chief diversity officer, and I take it seriously to make sure every cadet, faculty and staff feels included here.

Jamila Paksima: Is there a way to change people’s minds who believe one thing? Is that the goal or is it just to get people to listen?

Dr. Jamica Love: That’s a good question because I was thinking that is not my goal. If I walked around all day trying to change people’s minds, I would have a headache. That is a heavy lift that I’m not going to try to do. Information you receive may or may not change your mind. I’m an educator.

Jamila Paksima: What other insights do you have for people who hate each other or don’t understand each other to try to open up?

Dr. Jamica Love: Challenge yourself. The advice I give every single person: Challenge yourself. You can look around you and say, “This is comfortable.” Challenge yourself and identify what might be uncomfortable but still get you to a place of more inclusivity, or still get you to a place of receiving different information and do it lifelong.

Jamila Paksima: The centerpiece of Superintendent Gen. Wins’ goal is to change VMI based on his “One Corps, One VMI.” It’s an 11-page action plan. The foundation is this:

Honor, diversity and inclusion; a brand built on civility above all else. His vision is one VMI built by cadets relying “on each other, regardless of race or gender.”

Superintendent Gen. Wins: VMI is strong and will remain forward-focused.

Jamila Paksima: These confident words were spoken at Superintendent Wins’ inauguration parade in September of 2021.

Superintendent Gen. Wins: Since our founding, we have weathered many storms, and they have helped us to improve. Our foundation is solid and not easily shaken.

Jamila Paksima: And then Superintendent Wins, his team of educators, and Dr. Love got to work.

[News sound bite was not in master script]

Every quarter, Superintendent Wins releases an equity report detailing all of the work his administration has approved, enacted, reviewed and started since he took over.

This includes mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training for all students, administrators and members of the board of visitors.

And changing the “one strike and you’re out” honor court system, which disproportionately affected Black cadets.

Black cadets made up about 6% of the student body but were 43% of students expelled for honor code violations.

For both Gen. Wins and Dr. Love, implementing change and a robust range of new diversity and inclusion efforts has not been easy. They’ve been under attack and scrutinized in the media by affluent and influential anti-change alumni who’ve made unfounded allegations.

In an effort to undermine his success, they have demanded the Virginia General Assembly carefully look at why Wins’ office has requested $6.1 million, which VMI says it needed to respond to the Barnes & Thornburg investigation to contextualize, relocate or remove iconography, hire diverse staff and add enrichment programming. The tactic worked, and the budget was not approved for the 2021-2022 year. It is delayed and still under consideration.

Ingrid Joseph: My name is Ingrid Amina Joseph. I am from Washington, D.C. The actual city, not the surrounding states. I am 22 years old.

Yvonne Latty: So, you’re a senior here?

Ingrid Joseph: Yes, I am.

Yvonne Latty: What’s your major?

Ingrid Joseph: I am a psychology major with a minor in leadership.

Yvonne Latty: Cadet Joseph and I meet at VMI’s library. Tall and athletic, Joseph is very serious, like most of the cadets I see on campus.

In these stately grounds surrounded by Gothic buildings, there are no smiles or laughter, or music. Like VMI says in their promotions: It’s no ordinary college.

Joseph is wearing her blue uniform, her shoes are polished, and her hair is in neat, tight, short braids.

Ingrid Joseph: They are making a few changes. The student body, or at least the allies, are speaking out more and helping to produce change or addressing the situation so that it doesn’t seem like we’re just complaining, but there is lots more that needs to be done.

Yvonne Latty: Joseph is literally haunted by her four years at VMI.

When she speaks of the trauma she has heard and experienced, she seems numb, but her large dark eyes reveal a weariness and hurt that no young woman should feel.

Ingrid Joseph: For instance, our rat year, one of the Black students was told by their cadre member, “I want to hang your body and use it as a punching bag.” And then my roommate, she was called a black monkey. They say a lot of racist things, the N-word.

Yvonne Latty: Joseph says it’s a cop-out to say the division at VMI is between athletes and non-athletes.

Ingrid Joseph: It’s a division between Black students and the white students.

Yvonne Latty: The change outsiders see at VMI can be credited in part to Superintendent Wins, Joseph says, but she adds that the COVID-19 pandemic has been what really helped her survive her last two years at VMI.

Ingrid Joseph: At first, for a long time, we were always with the corps, so you can hear racial comments. Once COVID hit, for a while we were all quarantined in our room. We didn’t see each other. We weren’t speaking to each other. The Rat Line wasn’t the way that the Rat Line has usually been. So, those racial comments and remarks, you weren’t hearing it as much because everyone was, they were separated from each other. Life was pretty good at VMI, honestly.

Yvonne Latty: She appreciates the diversity emails and that the statues and symbols of the Confederacy are starting to be removed, but it’s not enough. The curriculum is still a problem.

Ingrid Joseph: We still have a lot of classes that are Civil War classes.

Yvonne Latty: Joseph’s future has been forged by the pain she experienced as a Black student at VMI.

Ingrid Joseph: I want to go into the field of mental health. This is, like, one of the things I got from VMI, either in counseling psychology or clinical mental health counseling. So, that’s my goal. I want to help create resources for the African diaspora. So, I do want to go to graduate school.

Yvonne Latty: Will there be any sadness when you leave VMI?

Ingrid Joseph: No. I’m excited to graduate and not have to look back. Like, if there’s people that contact me or if the faculty members that I do have good connections with are, like, “Oh, can you talk to so-and-so?” I would do that because I wish that there were more Black alumni who engage with us, helping us navigate through what we were going through.

Yvonne Latty: Do you have any advice for a young Black woman who’s about to enter VMI in the fall?

Ingrid Joseph: I would say to stay true to yourself, to always speak up when you feel like something is wrong; it’s better to speak up than stay silent.

Yvonne Latty: If you had to do it again, would you have come here, scholarship and all?

Ingrid Joseph: No.

Archivist’s assistant: I’m the archivist’s assistant.

Kimberly Probolus: I’m Kim Probolus. It’s so nice to meet you. Thank you for having us and hosting us and for, you know, gathering the documents ahead of time and having them ready.

Yvonne Latty: SPLC’s Kimberly Probolus has an appointment at VMI’s archive to sort through documents that can shed light on the history of VMI.

We sit at a table near a painting of Stonewall Jackson and his horse, “Little Sorrel in The Clouds,” a heavenly painting of sorts.

She reads some of the words from a 1912 speech from the commemoration of the Stonewall Jackson memorial that cadets had to salute until it was removed in 2021.

Kimberly Probolus: “We shall be mindful that the great and good men to pay homage to whom we are assembled here today by his own exalted character and great achievements.”

Yvonne Latty: This and other documents we comb through ooze worship of Confederate leaders and the monuments to them.

On the cart filled with boxes and folders is one labeled Jonathan Daniels.

Kimberly Probolus: Contrary to many of the memorials on campus, VMI actually has a really interesting connection to the civil rights movement, specifically through one of its alums: Jonathan Daniels.

Yvonne Latty: We flip through the photo books of his time in the seminary, which he entered right after graduating when he heeded the call of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and joined the civil rights movement in Alabama, where he sacrificed his life.

Yvonne Latty: All these beautiful Black faces.

Kimberly Probolus: It’s heartbreaking to know why he died and to think about what he could have done had he not been killed by white supremacy.

Yvonne Latty: Daniels’ photo albums are filled with joy. He is laughing and eating with Black families who he is working with in the movement.

It’s clear he is happy just by looking at his smile in every photo. There’s even a photo of a young Black woman doing his hair.

Kimberly Probolus: I know Black women often feel it’s very violating when people touch your hair or make comments about it, and I kind of love that she’s here doing his hair, touching his hair, and he’s smiling kind of knowingly at the camera.

Yvonne Latty: We have been pouring through documents comparing Stonewall Jackson to a king, so the warmth and love of the Daniels photos are striking to compare.

Kimberly Probolus: And an interesting kind of juxtaposition to the Stonewall Jackson booklet we were just looking at saying, like, he did all of this Christian stuff. Well, Jonathan Daniels was also a Christian, and I think his Christianity really compelled him to do this kind of work. It’s interesting that the same religion can bring two people, in two different times, to very different conclusions.

Yvonne Latty: There’s a memorial dedicated to Daniels at VMI. There is a Jonathan M. Daniels ’61 humanitarian award, which was established in 1997 and has been awarded to Congressman John Lewis, former president Jimmy Carter, Ambassador Andrew Young, among others.

There’s a plan to move the Daniels memorial to a more prominent place on campus.

Shah Rahman: There’s still alumni online ridiculing the DEI training and making fun of the Title IX training.

Jamila Paksima: Shah Rahman is one of the leading alumni who is battling to help the school he loves reflect what he believes are true American values.

Shah Rahman: They’re attacking Gen. Wins for the recommendations he’s, he’s made for, for the honor system changing, you know, granting defendants more rights, Black or white, whatever the case may be; expanding the jury to ensure more diversity, allowing the defendant representation by a lawyer, which was allowed in the past and then they stopped doing that altogether because they deny that the system is unfair to minority cadets, and so you absolutely need these changes.

Jamila Paksima: Rahman, class of ’97, is talking about The Spirit of VMI, a group of alumni who have formed a political action committee to ensure that political candidates against the reforms on campus come into power.

Glenn Youngkin: VMI is an extraordinary institution.

Jamila Paksima: Support for The Spirit of VMI’s PAC also came from Glenn Youngkin. He was the 2021 Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate who campaigned against teaching critical race theory. Here he is, Youngkin is showering praise on VMI alumni for resisting change during a Spirit of VMI fundraising webinar.

Glenn Youngkin: It’s been at, you know, at the foundation of the values of Virginia for a long time.

Jamila Paksima: Alum Matt Daniel, The Spirit of VMI leader, hosted these webinars so his alumni members could decide and support who would be the best at restoring VMI to what they believe was its former glory.

Matt Daniel: The governor of Virginia, along with a handful of legislative leaders from the state of Virginia, sent a letter to the board of visitors, and I’ll paraphrase just a little bit here, that there’s a clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism at VMI, and I want to see it changed. As governor, what actions do you think you might consider in order to correct some of the things that have happened, if possible, at VMI over the last six months?

Jamila Paksima: Youngkin responded.

Glenn Youngkin: I think this is one of the big mistakes that leaders make is they actually think that it’s their job to make a quick decision as opposed to step back and actually listen to the experts, to listen to those that know the institution the best.

Jamila Paksima: The Spirit of VMI PAC did support Youngkin for governor. He won his race, and many are concerned about how he intends to move forward with VMI.

There are up to 16 discretionary VMI board of visitors members and one adjutant general – the 17th member – whose appointments rest solely with the new governor.

January 15, 2022, is Lee-Jackson Day in Lexington, Virginia. It was a state holiday until Gov. Northam discontinued it in 2020. For those who still see these two Confederate generals as heroes, it is an annual pilgrimage to the shrine of the Confederacy where they visit their gravesites.

This year, unlike the past, the group will not march to VMI’s campus to pose for pictures with their Confederate flags and Stonewall Jackson statue.

The day begins at Stonewall Jackson’s memorial grave, renamed in 2020 by the city council as Oak Grove Park. About 90 people with Southern roots have gathered. Twenty men and boys appear and range in ages between 70 to 7. They are adorned in Confederate costumes, some carried rifles, others carried the Confederate battle flag.

One person showed up and parked what appeared to be a 1969 orange Dodge Charger from “The Dukes of Hazzard” TV show. The car is named the Gen. Lee and also has a Confederate battle flag on the roof.

In attendance are members of Virginia Flaggers, a pro-Confederacy group; the Stonewall Brigade Sons of Confederate Veterans, or CSV Troop 1296; and the Rockbridge United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Michael Pursley: We’re here today to honor Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. They’re not our physical, genetic father, but as I say all the time, they represent the best of our ancestors.

Jamila Paksima: Michael W. Pursley, the outgoing leader of the Lexington chapter of the Stonewall Brigade CSV 1296, addressed the group.

Michael Pursley: I may step on a few toes this morning because, before we pray, there’s an elephant in the room that I’m going to address. Our ancestors, and these men, are being maligned under the pretense of slavery.

Jamila Paksima: Pursley was distraught when he spoke about the damage he claims Virginia’s Gov. Northam has done by removing more Confederate statues than any other state.

His grievances included the removal of Stonewall Jackson on VMI’s campus and opening up the time capsule in the Robert E. Lee statue.

Michael Pursley: And there were several artifacts with ties to Lexington and, I gotta hold back the tears, what’s in that box was a small battle flag and some Masonic emblems, tools. It came in the very tree that stood in Jackson’s grave. You tell me, what does that have to do with slavery? What did that have to do with white supremacy? That governor should be ashamed. [Cheering]

Jamila Paksima: More bad news: The group’s parade down Main Street is canceled due to inclement weather. So, the group heads to a planned luncheon where the keynote speaker is Susan Lee. She’s the founder of the Virginia Flaggers and says she is a direct descendant of six Confederate veterans.

Susan Lee: One-hundred-and-fifty years of Yankee occupation, and we are still here. We still walk down the sidewalk with flags in Lexington, Virginia.

Jamila Paksima: Lee is talking about her mission today to stop the erasure of monuments in public settings. Her plan, which she described to the small gathering, is to raise battle flags in every location in the state where a monument has come down.

Susan Lee: We’ve got to keep repeating it over and over again: No matter how many monuments they tear down, no matter how many streets they rename or books they rewrite, there is one thing that will never, ever, change, and that is that the names of Lee and Jackson will be spoken with reverence and honor long after these, blankety, blankety, blankety, blanks are long gone from this Earth. God save the South. [Applause]

Jamila Paksima: January 15, 2022, Lee-Jackson Day also happens to be the same day Glenn Youngkin, the incoming governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, is being inaugurated in the capital of Richmond.

In attendance is the entire corps of VMI cadets, marching in perfectly choreographed military precision in their formal gray and red uniforms in front of his bandstand.

Missing from the corps that day was Emma Zhou, a fourth-year cadet from Inner Mongolia. She’s one of around 80 Asian students at VMI.

Jamila Paksima: Right now, where are you and what’s going on?

Emma Zhou: I’m in quarantine because my roommate just got tested positive.

Jamila Paksima: Oh, no.

Emma Zhou: I have to stay in barracks, stay in quarantine for five days, and then I’ll get tested again on the sixth day.

Jamila Paksima: I called Zhou, an applied math major, to find out how her meeting went with Superintendent Wins. She had a big presentation before him, the administrators and the school’s staff.

Zhou and I had met in the fall when she told me about her special senior project.

She asked Gen. Wins if she could conduct data analysis on VMI’s history of discipline to determine if the state investigation claims made by Black and minority students were in line with the school’s records. Superintendent Wins agreed.

Zhou says Wins liked the idea of a student-led self-examination, which might reveal new facts, since so many anti-change alumni challenged the claims of minority students who reported that they were disciplined more often and harsher than white cadets.

Superintendent Wins shared six years of VMI’s anonymized demerit history with Zhou.

Emma Zhou: And we found out that minority students actually over punished than white students.

Jamila Paksima: Combined minorities make up around 23% of the school’s population. She tracked the records of all disciplined populations by size and by race, and some of the results were surprising.

Emma Zhou: All these numbers are significant.

Jamila Paksima: Zhou looked at two sets of demerits and says she reviewed the findings with two math professors for accuracy.

Emma Zhou: So, for “absent from class,” Asian students are punished harsher compared to white students. And for “improper dress,” it’s about Black students get punished harsher than whites and Asian students.

Jamila Paksima: She also identified how two school disciplinary officials punished another group disproportionately.

Emma Zhou: The research indicates that disciplinary officials actually punished non-athletes harsher than athletes.

Jamila Paksima: Zhou said Superintendent Wins had many questions.

Emma Zhou: He asked some very technical questions. For example, “What are the loopholes? What are the things that I, I might overlooked?”

Jamila Paksima: Based on Zhou’s findings, Superintendent Wins informed her the school’s discipline rules would be revised, which encouraged Zhou, who’d like to see VMI take another step towards equity.

Emma Zhou: We are going to have another meeting with the commandant to make more modifications to the Blue Book to make the punishments more, make more sense.

Jamila Paksima: Sounds like there’s already change going to come based on some of what you’ve revealed.

Emma Zhou: Yeah, I’m actually surprised their, their speed and their willingness to change. So, I’m actually very happy about the impact that I made.

Yvonne Latty: It has seemingly been a quiet year at VMI. Cadets are now allowed to lock their doors for privacy, COVID-19 pushed classes on Zoom and minimized student contact.

Along with the new equity-based policies, the number of sexual assault cases and racial discrimination complaints are down. But down does not mean over.

Jamila Paksima: We reached out to Col. Bill Wyatt, the director of marketing and communications at VMI, to ask about the facts and data for the 2021-2022 academic year.

He responded to our email stating there were, quote, “5 fondling reports, 4 rape reports and 11 reports of gender-based discrimination / harassment.”

He also shared that there had been “5 reports of racial discrimination / harassment and one reported hate crime.”

When we asked how many reports were filed with the school’s Title IX office, VMI’s Wyatt wrote, quote, “VMI’s inspector general/Title IX officer received and investigated 37 reports. These reports included more than just gender and racial incidents, however, including physical (nonsexual) assaults, stalking, retaliation, threatening comments, hazing, etc.,” end quote.

VMI says, after 19 months of careful review and discussion with input from all VMI constituents, the committee made its recommendations, which were accepted by the board of visitors April of 2022.

The final report on the status of Confederate iconography on post lists two relocated, five removed and the remaining symbols and icons will stay on post as is, be modified or have a plaque beside it offering contextualization. The committee’s work is done.

Mike Purdy: That is not a real reckoning.

Jamila Paksima: Mike Purdy, one of the alums from the class of 1999, isn’t pleased with the final work on iconography, especially when it comes to VMI’s longest serving superintendent, Francis Smith.

Mike Purdy: That is not an actual intellectual endeavor where you’re going back and determining whether or not, you know, these things are in line with our core values in modern society and at VMI. No, that’s not right. That is a total whitewashing and mischaracterization of his thoughts on slavery.

Jamila Paksima: VMI has said they will provide a plaque to offer contextualization of the statue and two of Smith’s portraits. Purdy says keeping the Smith statue on campus is a big mistake, and he will continue to push for its removal.

Mike Purdy: He’s talking about VMI being, you know, an arsenal for Southern boys to protect the institution of slavery. That’s fundamentally different. You know, this is, this is armed insurrection in defense of a totally indefensible, immoral, horrific institution. And nobody with those opinions should be honored. You want to put them in a museum. You want to look at it. You want to, you know, you want to learn about it. But, my God, a statue in front of the most important administrative building? That seems a little much.

Shah Rahman: So, without direct intervention from the highest echelons of the commonwealth of Virginia’s government, I don’t think anything would have happened.

Jamila Paksima: Rahman says Superintendent Wins has been doing a great job leading these changes.

Shah Rahman: And I look forward to seeing all the things that will continue to happen at VMI under his watch.

Jamila Paksima: And finally, when it comes to diversity and inclusion, the work has been thoughtful and expedient, including improving diversity in leadership and in the corps, to accountability and revamping the Rat Bible and implementing new policies for the honor corps to be more equitable.

Mike Purdy: DEI has been a smashing success for VMI. Now, it is just the beginning. I don’t think you can change attitudes, especially, you know, long-entrenched attitudes, and the, the makeup of the corps and of the faculty overnight or even over a couple of years. It’s about time they embrace change because change isn’t exactly slowing down societally, right? And they have to either evolve or adapt, or die.

Yvonne Latty: Thank you to all the students and alumni at VMI who shared their stories.

The Sounds Like Hate production team, which brings you this podcast, includes co-executive producers Geraldine Moriba and Jamila Paksima.

Jamila Paksima: I’m co-host Jamila Paksima.

Yvonne Latty: And I’m co-host and producer, Yvonne Latty.

Additional producers are Jordan Gass-Poore’ and associate producer Clint Rainey.

Jamila Paksima: Editor and sound designer, Sam Riddell. Our composer is Warner Meadows.

Yvonne Latty: Field sound engineer, Glen Piegari, and our mastering sound engineer, Kieron Banerji.

This is Sounds Like Hate, an independent audio documentary brought to you by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Produced by Until 20 productions.

Jamila Paksima: To learn more about the current active Confederate monuments in public spaces, visit

Yvonne Latty: Remember to subscribe to find out when new episodes are released. Please rate and review, it really helps. And thanks for listening.