Police Chief raises concern about VMI, W&L relations

Al Thomas speaks to W&L students about staying safe when interacting with cadets on the weekends

Jordan Cohen

Cam Tyler, ‘17, was throwing a birthday party for her housemate in their home on North Randolph Street when some unexpected visitors arrived.

“Two VMI guys walked up our front steps, and I can’t even remember if they knocked on our door or if they just came right in,” Tyler said. “But their explanation of why they needed to come in was a party that they were just at got busted, so they were running from the cops.”

The cadets were only briefly at the party made up of 30 Washington and Lee women, before Tyler overheard the cadets had invited friends. She asked them to leave.

Fifteen minutes later, they returned with three more cadets in tow. A girl standing near the front entrance shut the door before they could come inside.

“They weren’t belligerent, [and] they weren’t rude at first. It’s just, when they weren’t allowed back into our party the second time it [was] like we had taken something from them that they deserved,” Tyler said.

In a classroom meeting with W&L  journalism students organized by Professor Toni Locy, Lexington Police Chief Al Thomas expressed some concerns about the this type of late-night mingling between Virginia Military Institute keydets and W&L students.

“What’s the deal with you guys mixing with VMI now?” Thomas asked a class of W&L students last week. “I don’t know if I like that. That’s scary, to me.”

Thomas said this mix prompted more police presence on North Randolph Street this September, where VMI cadets and W&L students were partying together with greater frequency.

“So now we’ve got this mix here that bothers me just a bit, maybe it shouldn’t, but [at] that location we’re seeing the VMI Keydets join in on this party, and we’ve had a couple of fights out there, just minor, but we are concerned about that,” he said.

The issue with mixed nightlife is that VMI Keydets and W&L students are distinctly different, according to Thomas.

Said Thomas: “You guys are so completely different. Your two universities are so vastly different. Your cultures are different. When you put these two different universities together, in the middle of night, consuming alcohol, I have some concerns.”

He also noted the physicality required of the average VMI Keydet.

“They are trained killers,” he said. “These guys are going through military training, they don’t have the social life that W&L has.”

The most notable difference, Thomas said, is the regimented lifestyle of Keydets.

“Everything for their lives is structured, and then, every now and then, we let them loose, out into the public. And then we say okay, now we need you to behave like a normal 20 year old,” Thomas said. “They’re not normal. They’re different. They’re not your typical college: It’s a military institute.”

W&L students are freer in their social lives.

“For you guys, Lexington’s your home. You have free reign, free run of the whole city.”

This difference, compounded by drinking, says Lexington Detective Robert Smith, can cause friction.

“That can lead to the aggressive behavior that we see sometimes, with the binge drinking and, kind of, congregating,” he said. “With the differences, it will just, sort of, escalate very quickly at times.”

Camille Lejeune, ‘17, said that for the most part, she doesn’t mind the rare times when cadets come to W&L parties.

“I don’t have anything against it to be completely honest,” she said. “It’s just that it never happens because we don’t know them.”

Thomas made clear, however, that he is not suggesting the schools should be completely separate.

“There are a number of events and endeavors that you guys can partner in, and do great things,” he said.

His concerns lie with what happens in the late hours of the night.

“I want you to understand the context that I mention this is we’re talking one o’clock in the morning, you know, drinking,” Thomas said. “That’s dangerous, or potentially dangerous.”