Virginia governor’s medical school finds pattern of inappropriate yearbook photos

Posted at 3:44 PM, Feb 05, 2019

NORFOLK, Va. -- The president of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's medical school said that other yearbooks had a number of photos that were "shockingly abhorrent" and inappropriate, including as recently as 2013.

"There's been a pattern," Eastern Virginia Medical School President and Provost Richard V. Homan said on Tuesday. "Some are repugnant. Some are unprofessional. Some are shockingly abhorrent, like I mentioned."

Homan said when he was informed about inappropriate images in the 2013 yearbook, he decided to discontinue the yearbooks. None have been made since that year.

Homan spoke days after the discovery of a racist photograph that appeared on Northam's page in the 1984 medical school yearbook. The photograph shows one person dressed in blackface and another in the KKK's signature white hood and robes.

Northam initially apologized for the photo and said he was in it, but in a news conference Saturday, he denied that he was in the image and said he would not resign as governor.

"I believe now and then that I am not either of the people in this photo," Northam said.

However, he did admit that he had put shoe polish on his face to resemble Michael Jackson in a dance contest in 1984.

"I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that," he said.

Democrats in Virginia and across the country have called on Northam to resign and allow Justin Fairfax, Northam's 39-year-old African-American lieutenant governor, to take his place.

External investigation will look into school culture
Former Virginia Attorney General Richard Cullen will lead a third-party investigation to examine past yearbooks and to look into the culture of the medical school, the school said.

"This investigation will be fully independent, it will not be restricted in scope, it will be fully transparent," Vice Rector Mark Warden said. "We are committed to finding the truth."

Homan apologized to the African-American community, saying "the emotional wounds they endure are enormous." He said that the issue was about the institution, and not any individual students.

"I do not need a report to know this situation was the ultimate responsibility of our institution, EVMS, and not our students," he said.

Homan said he did not know if the image on Northam's page was indeed him. He also said he had not had any contact with any of the yearbook staff from that year.

CNN has reported that the 1984 yearbook has other racist photos, including a photo of three men with their faces blackened wearing white dresses, white gloves, pearls and wigs.

Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Mekbib Gemeda said diversity has improved over the last 6 years. The schools has doubled the number of minorities in the MD program in the past 2 years -- reaching 20% of the last two classes -- and has increased the number of underrepresented minorities in their other programs. They have also established a mentoring community, Gemeda said.

Dr. William Elwood, who worked with others on the layout for the 1984 yearbook, told CNN that photos for personal pages were chosen by the individual student.

"They were submitted in a sealed envelope with their name on it to the yearbook staff, to be put on their page," Elwood told CNN.



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