Cadets Punished By VMI Over Party

By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 5, 2005

Virginia Military Institute has decided to discipline five upperclassmen after the investigation of an on-campus Halloween party attended by cadets wearing costumes that imitated Nazis and parodied Africans and gays.

The punishments, ranging from 1,000-word essays to a series of 50-minute penalty marches, were imposed on the upperclassmen, though most of the offensive costumes were worn by cadets in the freshman "Rat" class, said Stewart MacInnes, a spokesman for the state-supported school.

Seven freshman cadets involved in the incident had to listen to lectures on decorum and civility but received no other punishment, he said.

"We expect better judgment from the upperclassmen," MacInnes said. "They should have corrected any deficiencies and made sure there were appropriate costumes. The freshmen have not been around enough to understand the culture entirely, so the upperclassmen should be guiding them."

School administrators imposed the punishments this week on the recommendation of the student General Committee, composed of three cadets representing the sophomore, junior and senior classes. The school declined to release the names of the cadets who were punished or the cadets on the committee.

The school assigned the committee to investigate the incident, which came to light in January after a student posted photographs from the party on a public Web site. The Halloween costume party, held in the hallways of the student barracks, is an annual tradition at the 1,300-student school.

One photo showed three young men wearing black shirts and posing as Nazis, with their right arms extended in a stiff salute. One youth had a mustache that made him resemble Adolf Hitler. Another photograph showed a white man painted black from head to toe and wearing a loincloth.

Gay people were mocked in two photos. In one, two men were dressed as fairies with wands and tiaras.

Another photo showed a youth in a white sailor's uniform bent over to display a target taped to his buttocks, while another shimmied up behind him.

Among the upperclassmen being punished is the cadet who posted the photographs.

Only one of the five upperclassmen wore an offensive costume to the party, MacInnes said. The others took photos or had other peripheral roles, he said.

The discipline includes essays about the incident's detrimental impact on the school. Other punishments are confinement to the barracks for two weeks; and 25 penalty tours, each one a 50-minute period of marching on campus carrying a rifle.

In addition, the entire student body has been ordered to attend civility lectures led by cadet leaders under the supervision of school administrators, MacInnes said.

VMI's superintendent, Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, said he considered the penalties appropriate.

"While the incident is regrettable, it has gained the attention of the cadets," Peay said in a statement posted on the school's Web site.

"We are taking advantage of this opportunity to reinforce the principles of respect and civility that our cadets must learn if they are to become truly effective leaders," the statement said.

VMI's Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III said the penalties were appropriate.

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