Washington, DC – The Student National Medical Association (SNMA) is certain that you are aware of the current controversy surrounding the photograph that surfaced from the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) Class of 1984 student yearbook involving Virginia Governor Dr. Ralph Northam, a pediatrician. The photo found on the Governor’s page depicts two individuals, one wearing black face and the other in the Klu Klux Klan’s (KKK) signature white hood and robes.
The photo gained attention from numerous media outlets and the initial response of Governor Northam was an apology that included the following direct statement; he apologized stating, “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.” This situation and his initial comments caused a media frenzy and heightened scrutiny of the physician and now Governor of the State of Virginia. In response to numerous calls for his resignation from various political leaders, community members, organizations across the nation, and within his own political party, he held a press conference within 24 hours of his initial apology. During the press conference on February 2, 2019 he stated that he believes he was not one of the persons depicted in the photo that was on his page and he has refused to resign.
Richard V. Homan, President of EVMS has released a statement addressing this photo that is clearly racist. He apologized on behalf of the school for "past transgressions of your trust” and said he would convene a meeting of school leadership to address the issue.
As an organization whose mission for over 50 years has been to support current and future underrepresented students in medicine, these actions are antithetical to everything the Student National Medical Association stands for. The abhorrent photo is an example of the effects of insensitivity and unawareness at best and at its worst serves as an example of institutional racism and numbness to the discrimination against Black people. It demonstrates that racism can permeate any level of education and highlights the overt prejudice and microaggressions that many of our past and current members face.
Our SNMA chapter at EVMS has existed for decades and our national officers have been in communication with their leadership. True to our current and historic role in the education and activism of minority medical students, the SNMA chapter at EVMS is very much concerned about this situation and will be organizing an open forum about this issue for students and faculty. I commend the chapter’s leadership for organizing to address and rectify issues of racism and discrimination that arise, whether they be from the past or present.
The Student National Medical Association will not excuse or overlook any kind of racism. We stand in solidarity with the staff, students, alumni and physicians from EVMS who have been professionally or personally harmed by this photo and any other actions that threaten a culture of diversity, inclusion, and social equality at their institution. In support of future professionals in the state of Virginia and the noble profession to which we aspire, we stand firm in our belief that the government infrastructure should not stand by in light of past indiscretions. Therefore, the Student National Medical Association demands that Governor Ralph Northam, MD must resign from his position immediately.