Richard Homan, president of Eastern Virginia Medical School, apologized on behalf of the institution for what he said was a pattern of “shockingly racist” photos in the school’s yearbooks, including a photo on Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 yearbook page, at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
“I want to express my sincere apologies, particularly to the African-American community who are most injured by past yearbooks and photos circulated in the press over the past few days,” Homan said.
The school has hired former state attorney general Richard Cullen and a team of lawyers from the McGuireWoods law firm to investigate the medical school’s past and current culture surrounding race and has appointed three people to a community advisory board that will work in parallel on the investigation. Cullen will consult with George Martin, a managing partner in the law firm’s Richmond office who was the first African-American rector on the University of Virginia’s board of visitors.
“They will have the authority to investigate any aspect of EVMS that they feel is important,” Homan said.
He said that the results of the investigation will be released in a single report to both the school’s board of visitors and to the public.
Homan confirmed that he had ordered that yearbooks no longer be printed after “troubling” photos in the 2013 yearbook were brought to his attention, but added that the students in charge of compiling the yearbooks were simultaneously considering discontinuing the yearbook production because of lack of interest and financial constraints. The Washington Post reported Monday that the troubling photos showed white students dressed in Confederate uniforms and a Confederate flag.
“While the students made the decision based on cost, I made the decision based on content,” Homan said.
Homan added that the institution accepted full responsibility for the content of the yearbooks.
“I don’t want to create the sense that this is the responsibility of our students,” he said.
Mekbib Gemeda, vice president for diversity and inclusion, spoke about what the medical school has done in recent years to improve the school’s engagement of minority students.
Since Gemeda joined EVMS in 2013, the school has implemented implicit bias training for staff, leadership, faculty and the board of visitors, has increased the number of minority students, implemented policies for hiring faculty and leadership from underrepresented communities, and has started mentorship and recruitment programs for minority students.
“Overall, we’ve made significant progress,” Gemeda said.
Homan said the investigation, led by Cullen, is intended to shed more light on the circumstances that led to the racist photo appearing on Northam’s yearbook page, but that it will go beyond that.
“We want this to be more than just the review of what happened 30 years ago,” he said. “We want to know what’s happening today and what we can do to make things better.”
Northam initially apologized for the photo, which shows one person in blackface and another in a Klu Klux Klan costume, on Friday night, but later denied that he is in the photo.