EVMS apologizes, will investigate racist, ‘repugnant’ photos in yearbooks after Northam scandal

WASHINGTON — The president of the Eastern Virginia Medical School announced Tuesday that the school has hired an outside law firm to work with an internal board to investigate how “clearly offensive and unacceptable photos” ended up in the future governor’s 1984 yearbook and others.

President Richard V. Homan also apologized for the appearance of such photos over the years.

A photo of one person in blackface and another in a KKK robe were discovered to be on the yearbook page of Gov. Ralph Northam, a doctor who graduated from EVMS, last week.

He at first said he was one of the people in the photo, but now says he’s not sure. Pressure from Democrats and Republicans across Virginia has been on him to resign.

In announcing the hiring of the law firm on Tuesday, President Richard V. Homan said that the picture, as well as others in EVMS yearbooks, were “shockingly abhorrent” and “antithetical” to the values of the medical profession.

“I want to express my sincere apologies” to African American students offended by the photo. “We all recognize that racism has no place” in society, and especially in a medical school, he said.

The school has hired Richard Cullen, a former Virginia attorney general and U.S. attorney in Virginia, from the law firm of McGuireWoods, to investigate the “oversight or lack thereof” involved in the publication of the yearbooks, as well as “an environmental survey of our operations and culture of diversity today.”

They will work alongside the university’s Community Advisory Board, which was formed Saturday, make one report and provide it to the public. “We believe we will learn from this and become a stronger institution because of it.”

Homan added that he ordered the discontinuation of yearbooks in early 2014 after Mekbib Gemeda, the school’s vice president for diversity and inclusion, showed him pictures in the 2013 yearbook that he found unacceptable. Simultaneously, he contended, students had also decided on their own not to publish a 2014 yearbook because of costs.

The president said that he had not talked with the governor since the photo scandal broke, but that some of his staff had been to the school over the weekend to see the picture for themselves. He also said he didn’t know how the conservative website Big League Politics got a hold of the photo. As a publicly funded institution, the EVMS library is open to anyone.

Homan said the pictures and the racism behind them struck to his core as a physician. “I carry the torch of Hippocrates. … When that is threatened, I have to take action. As any physician would do.”

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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