July 11, 1996 · Cavalier Daily

VMI Must Keep Standards High

In response to the recent Supreme Court ruling that VMI must become a co-educational institution or forfeit its state funding, this viewpoint article argues that women who attend VMI must perform to the existing standards of the institution in order to gain respect as female military members, rather than establishing a separate, lower standard for women as compared to men.


Lauren Shepherd
Cavalier Daily
Cavalier Daily
VMI Must Keep Standards High
Lauren Shepherd
Every little girl who dreams of becoming a major league pitcher learns about society's differing expectations for girls than boys after the neighborhood bully chases her visions away with a laugh.
With the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Virginia Military Institute must admit women or else find private funding, however, the boys stopped laughing.
Legally, the battle between men and women jumped another hurdle toward equality, but the war at VMI is far from finished.
The question still remains of whether to lower the physical standards for the new women "citizen-soldiers" and to change the strict military environment. Ironically, many feminists hope the school will create different standards for women. They want VMI to impose a separate level of ability on its women cadets than the men. Those advocating this change seem to have forgotten that they have been fighting for equality.
Americans view this country as the land of opportunity. Each citizen – man or woman, black or white, young or old - has the chance to make his wishes come true. That opportunity is what makes us all equal.
But no one should claim the path to success is smooth or flat. Everyone must struggle over a few hills. Women cadets cannot be an exception this rule.
Some critics, however, say that the hills at VMI are too high to climb. After all, there are physiological differences such as upper arm strength which cannot be overcome, no matter how hard one tries. I remember my repeated, unsuccessful attempts at pull-ups in physical education class. While the other girls waited nervously for their turn, the boys snickered at my weak arms.
Obviously, I would never last at VMI. But the women who choose the military a career are another story. They must prove that they are strong to gain the trust essential to every soldier today.
Imagine fighting in a war, surrounded by your fellow soldiers. The enemy comes toward you and nothing separates him from you but the soldier by your side. Basically, your life depends on your neighbor's ability to fight off your enemy.
To ensure that VMI keeps its mission of training leaders and teaching teamwork, every man and woman must have faith in the soldiers by his or her side. There are some women who have the physical ability to deal with the pressures of VMI. Besides the bodily stress, VMI officials need to consider the emotional effect a military environment on women ca-
The technique of demoralizing and humiliating freshman, or "rats," has proven successful for generations of VMI men. According to the school and its graduates, the embarrassment of marching double-time up the stairs, marching along imaginary lines and living without privacy evokes a spirit of brotherhood and teamwork that ensures success in life.
Students live in barracks with three to five people sharing a room and in a mess hall. Cadets sworn to report anyone who does not follow the rules monitor the rooms from a sentinel box. That environment exists for a reason.
According to VMI's graduates, it develops a devotion to authority and a healthy respect for all the men in the school.
VMI’s reputation is based on its strict military atmosphere. If the school changes what makes it special and successful, men and women who long to serve their country and learn discipline will no longer seek out VMI. We all will be the victims of that loss of prestige.
Once the government and its citizens allow the road to success to be smoothed over, no one will ever take pride in their accomplishments. If a woman graduates from a different VMI than the one exists today, then what was the point in fighting for the chance in the first place? But if she graduates from the same military bastion that exists now, she deserves the respect of her fellow cadets and the entire nation. Success is much sweeter when it is earned through hard work.
Shannon Faulkner may have thought she should have earned a great deal of respect just for winning the court battle which granted her admission to the Citadel in South Carolina, the only other state-supported, all-male institution in existence today. If Faulkner expected the school to change when she arrived, that certainly could have led to her withdrawal from the Citadel. Respect simply does not come from a court order. It comes from perseverance, dedication and the willingness to accept a situation and make the best of it. That is the mindset every hopeful girl must have, whether she dreams of making it to the majors or going to VMI.
No one who applied to the University expected the school to change its requirements to suit individual needs. I am proud of my acceptance here because I knew that my hard work during high school had finally paid off. If I had not had the grades to get in but the school had accepted me anyway, I would not have been so proud.
The truth is the lessons learned at VMI and the practical rewards of graduating from this institution could mean much more with women marching through its corridors, in mess halls and living in the barracks if the school remains the same. Then the men and women could learn the real meaning of equality. They would see that if two people each try their best then they are equal in spirit, even though they may not look the same.
Men and women have the same need and ability to succeed. If we all work hard to do the best with the circumstances that we are given, then and we might finally be equal.
Maybe girls are not so different from boys after all.
(Lauren Shepherd is a rising first-year College student.)
Date Added June 9, 2016
Date Modifed December 24, 2017
Collection Cavalier Daily: articles about gender discrimination

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