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'DEI is dead': Diversity officer slams DEI, prays to Jesus during mandatory faculty training at VMI

Screenshot of Virginia government website (Pictured: Martin D. Brown)

A diversity officer representing Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin ruffled a lot of feathers when he spoke at a recent mandatory faculty training at the Virginia Military Academy, invoking the name of Jesus in reverential prayer and slamming the concept of equity.

On April 21, Martin D. Brown — the Youngkin administration's chief diversity, opportunity, and inclusion officer — stood before a crowd at a VMI auditorium and stated unequivocally that the sacred "cow," DEI, is "dead." "Let’s take a moment right now to kill that cow. DEI is dead," Brown said. "We’re not going to bring that cow up anymore. It’s dead."

Brown took particular exception to the notion of equity, explaining that equity steers people away from the laudable goals of "merit or excellence or achievement" and instead keeps them focused on "equal outcomes." Rather than remain fixed on equality of outcomes, Brown invited his listeners at VMI to join him in fighting the battle for equal opportunity. "VMI’s in a unique space," Brown insisted. "... You’ve been at the tip of the spear in serving our country in sending warriors to battle, but in a way, you’re at the tip of the spear in this cultural war as well."

After the speech, Colonel Bill Wyatt, the VMI director of communications and marketing, expressed enthusiasm for future partnerships with Brown. "VMI appreciates the time that Chief Brown spent on post last week," he said in a statement. "We look forward to our continued collaboration with his office."

However, others were much more critical of Brown and his speech. "This was a mandatory meeting, and it was a waste," said one unidentified VMI faculty member. "Faculty have a job. It’s our vocation to teach our students to have difficult conversations with different people," said another. "We’re a place of higher education, and that’s what we have to be doing. We were there to be trained to do our jobs better — but instead we were told, 'DEI is dead.'"

Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira, who first reported on the speech, also made sure to note that Brown began his speech "with a prayer to Jesus" and also made repeated references to "our Creator" and "God." Shapira insisted that Brown's occasionally religious language "angered some of the people who attended."

The VA NAACP was so outraged by Brown's speech — which focused on "civil discourse, civility," and "living the golden rule" — that it called for Brown to resign. "Last week, Mr. Brown delivered an address to faculty members of the Virginia Military Institute that denounces the precepts, goals, and mission of the very office he fills," the organization's statement read in part. "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."

The group may have misunderstood Brown's professional office. It was created under Youngkin's predecessor, Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who may have once worn blackface, but under Youngkin's leadership, the office has changed from the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to the Office of Diversity, Opportunity, and Inclusion. Brown's speech reflected that change in focus.

"Every successful institution benefits from diversity, opportunity, and inclusion," Brown later wrote in a statement. "It’s proven that institutions achieve more with a more diverse and inclusive workforce. However, equity has become a tradeoff for excellence.

"Our aim is to expand opportunities but not guarantee equal results," Brown added.

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