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Virginia NAACP calls for resignation after state's chief diversity officer says 'DEI is dead'

Posted at 8:11 AM, Apr 30, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia NAACP has called for the resignation of the state's chief diversity officer after remarks he made during a speech at the Virginia Military Institute.

In that April 21 speech, Martin D. Brown stated "DEI is dead,"The Washington Post reported.

“Let’s take a moment right now to kill that cow. DEI is dead,” Brown, who was appointed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R - Virginia) in November, said in a recording VMI provided the Post. “We’re not going to bring that cow up anymore. It’s dead. It was mandated by the General Assembly, but this governor has a different philosophy of civil discourse, civility, treating — living the golden rule, right?”

Martin Brown DEI Speech VMI.jpg
Virginia Chief Diversity Officer Martin Brown speaks at a Virginia Military Institute event

DEI stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The state office changed "equity" in its name to "opportunity" — despite DEI being more widely used and accepted.

Brown was the featured speaker at a mandatory annual “inclusive excellence” training for VMI’s faculty and staff members, according to The Post.

"The speech was filled with partisan talking points and erroneous assumptions and demonstrated Mr. Brown’s lack of fitness for the critically important position he occupies," a statement from the Virginia NAACP read. "His comments are not in keeping with either the intent of the office nor the spirit of unity of people supported by the Virginia State Conference NAACP.  He should resign immediately."

VMI, which received $21.6 million in state funding for the 2021-2022 academic year, began making overt changes in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion after a state-sanctioned report released in 2021 said VMI had tolerated and failed to address institutional racism and sexism and must be held accountable for making changes.

VMI Female Commander
Virginia Military Institute class of 2021 watch during a change of command parade and ceremony on the parade grounds at the school in Lexington, Va., Friday, May 14, 2021. Kasey Meredith was installed as the first female to lead the Virginia Military Institute's Corps of Cadets in its 182-year history. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The 145-page report compiled by an independent law firm at the request of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia said “racial slurs and jokes are not uncommon” and “contribute to an atmosphere of hostility toward minorities.”

Among other findings, the report found that a racial disparity exists among cadets who have been dismissed by the school’s student-run honor court.

Cadets of color represent 23% of the corps but make up 41% of those dismissed since 2011.

The report also said that sexual assault is prevalent yet inadequately addressed at the nation’s oldest state-supported military college.

VMI announced in 2022 it would change its student-run honor court to make it fairer to cadets as part of a response to a state-ordered investigation into racism and sexism at the school.

VMI detailed its reforms in a report given to General Assembly members and the Virginia secretary of education.

The report described approved and enacted initiatives such as:

  • Mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion training for administrators and members of VMI’s Board of Visitors
  • Changes to the Lexington school’s one-strike-and-you’re-out honor court system

When asked about the message in his recent speech at VMI, Brown provided a statement to the Washington Post.
“It’s proven that institutions achieve more with a more diverse and inclusive workforce,” a portion of Brown's statement provided to and published in the Post read. “However, equity has become a tradeoff for excellence. Our aim is to expand opportunities but not guarantee equal results.”

Eileen Filler-Corn, a Virginia Democrat who made history as the first woman and first Jewish person to become Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, joined the NAACP in calling for Brown's removal from his Chief Diversity Officer position.

"Chief Brown has not only failed to uphold his duties according to Virginia law, but he is also actively condemning the mission of his own office. He has made it clear he would rather focus on division than diversity,” Filler-Corn said in a statement. "If he refuses to resign, Governor Youngkin must have him replaced."

State Sen. Lamont Bagby, a Democrat who represents Virginia's 9th Senate District, said he believes Brown, as the state's chief diversity officer, "essentially resigned when he went to VMI" and said "DEI is dead."

"You think about the number of private business, individuals that are heading up DEIs in corporate Virginia. They're calling and they're saying, 'What does this mean for us?' Folks in transportation are saying, 'What does this mean for us?" Folks in healthcare are saying, 'What does this mean for us?'" Bagby said. "Many individuals have DEI departments in their infrastructure now, and they're saying, 'Are we offending the governor by approaching this issue?'"

Governor Youngkin is overseas on state business. This article will be updated when his office replies to a request to comment on the situation.

Additionally, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative group the Washington Post reported Brown was part of for a time, said conservatives across the nation are rallying around Brown for "having the courage to speak truth to power when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion."

Here is an additional portion of the Virginia NAACP statement released Friday.

The speech was filled with partisan talking points and erroneous assumptions and demonstrated Mr. Brown’s lack of fitness for the critically important position he occupies.  Mr. Brown is the third person to fill this position since the current administration took office and to date, has failed to deliver either a framework to promote inclusive practices across state government or a strategic plan to address systemic inequities in state government practices, both of which are mandated in the legislation that created his position.  Instead, in his remarks, Mr. Brown stated that “DEI is dead” and that this governor has a philosophy different from the mandate of the statute, which is state law.  Mr. Brown implied that the very existence of the office he occupies creates division and what he called “stink” among the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia. His comments are not in keeping with either the intent of the office nor the spirit of unity of people supported by the Virginia State Conference NAACP.  He should resign immediately.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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