Talk about history repeating itself over and over. In 2013, the provost of Eastern Virginia Medical School—which in 1984 printed a yearbook page for future Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam that contained a racist, recently resurfaced photo—banned future editions of the yearbook because people couldn’t stop being super racist, the Washington Post reported Monday.
Provost Richard Homan didn’t can the yearbook after Northam’s year—when his page, which is now the subject of calls for him to resign, featured a photo of a person in blackface and someone in Klan garb. But he opted to end the yearbook’s printing because of a different racist photo from a 2013 edition depicting three white students dressed in Confederate uniforms and standing in front of the Confederate battle flag.
Homan, who spoke with the Post after an emergency meeting with the school’s Board of Visitors on Monday, said he recalled at the time telling Mekbib Gemeda, the school’s new vice president for diversity and inclusion, that the students in the 2013 Confederate photo should be counseled and given sensitivity training. He also banned future yearbooks, saying the books were typically made by students with little faculty review. Homan did not, however, review previous editions of the medical school’s yearbook to see if, perhaps, something like this had happened before.
“In retrospect, that was my error,” Homan told the Post. “I thought because I stopped publication that would have been enough. I think in retrospect, I would have had an audit or review of those.”
Back then, Homan might not have caught the racist photo on Northam’s page—Northam has claimed he’s not in the photo—but he’s now launching an investigation into the matter.
An investigation isn’t a bad response. But the photo should never have been printed, and understanding why it was and how it could’ve been prevented (aside from just, you know, not being racist) is within the provost’s control now. But it’s unclear that that will accomplish: Will it lay the blame on some long-ago yearbook editor, rather than the system that allowed for such a photo in the first place?
Eastern Virginia Medical School’s yearbook operations may be partially to blame, but it shouldn’t distract from the fact that Northam, even outside of this photo, has copped to pulling shit like this at all.