Ralph Northam’s medical school won diversity award amid racist photo scandal

A Virginia medical school kept silent about winning a national award for fostering diversity while a controversy over racist photos found on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s yearbook page played out last month.

The National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education chose Eastern Virginia Medical School for an award given to one school each year that has made great strides in promoting diversity. According to the Virginian-Pilot, the president and provost of the school, Richard Homan, learned about the award after the controversy began but couldn’t immediately announce it due to the rules of the association.

“I told my wife, ‘God has a wry sense of humor,’” Homan said during a meeting Tuesday.

Homan and Mekbib Gemeda, vice president of diversity and inclusion, accepted the award during the conference Friday.

The photo scandal began when it was reported that the 59-year-old Democratic governor’s EVMS 1984 yearbook page showed a man in blackface and one in Ku Klux Klan robes. Northam denies appearing in the photos but also admitted to wearing blackface for a Michael Jackson costume that same year.

The news fueled calls from both Republicans and Democrats for Northam to resign.

The Northam controversy kicked off a wave of scandals in the Virginia’s state government. In the following days, Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax faced sexual assault allegations, and Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to wearing blackface.

EVMS board member Marcus Martin wrote to the NADOHE recommending the school for the award. EVMS started a new admissions process in 2013 that resulted in almost doubling the number of minority students on campus.

“The nomination was submitted before we had the information about what happened at the state level,” Martin said. “So again, I think we can praise God for knowing that this institution is doing a lot of the right things.”

Neither Northam, Fairfax, or Herring have resigned following last month’s scandals.




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