August 30, 1996 · Cavalier Daily

Adversative Action

This article discusses the Supreme Court's 1996 ruling that the Virginia Military Institute's refusal to admit women was unconstitutional. While the writer supports and acknowledges that the reasoning behind this ruling is sound, he maintains that VMI must hold its new female students to the same standard as male students, and not lower the bar for women.


1996-08-30 Cavalier Daily Adversative Action.pdf
Ted Koerth
Cavalier Daily
Cavalier Daily
Adversative Action
AS STUDENTS returned this fall to Charlottesville, many figured they would observe a good amount of change. Indeed, the University bustled this summer with construction and renovation of everything from new dormitories to the monolith that Newcomb Hall has become. But change on a much grander scale will take place next fall at another of the Commonwealth's state-supported institutions, a change resulting from a Supreme Court decision. The Court’s decision forces the Virginia Military Institute to either admit women to its corps of cadets or to relinquish it right to state funds and become private – a correct interpretation of the Constitution.
VMI’s administrators, the U.S. Justice Department and new female applicants alike, however, must realize that unless VMI holds the new female cadets to the sank standards as it does male cadets, those women will not attend the institution they have fought so hard to join, but instead a weak imitation of what VMI is now.
The rationale behind the decision seems clear enough, and indeed quite sound. In the majority opinion, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that if a state has committed to fund military education, as Virginia has with its support of VMI, then women have an equal right to receive such an education. Under a court order, Virginia had previously set up a "separate but equal" military program at Mary Baldwin College just for women. But one must merely look to the historic Brown v. Board of Education case to see that "separate but equal" is an unconstitutional principle. In that case, the court deemed a separate facility "inherently unequal.”
It makes sense that the state should not take money from female taxpayers to pay for programs or services in which they cannot take part. Thus, the Court was completely justified in forcing VMI to admit women to retain its state funding.
A certain risk exists in the VMI case, nonetheless. As administrators from VMI and, invariably, the Department of Justice work to make the transition to co-education, they must make sure that they admit these women to VMI, not a horribly watered-down version. In this vein, many want to make certain changes at VMI. Some argue women should not have to shave-their heads; others complain that VMI for the most part has only group showers and bathroom stalls without doors.
Tough while they may seem, such are the realities of VMI. Alumni and current students laud the lifestyle at VMI, a lifestyle similar to only the Citadel. Many students admit that they do not enjoy their first year, a year designed to teach discipline the hard way. But they also point out that these rigors are integral to the process of disciplining young VMI cadets.
Those ardors make VMI an institution in which its alumni have great pride. If, in an effort to make things amiable to new female cadets, VMI dilutes its process, women will not receive the true VMI experience they have worked so hard to gain. Likewise, such a course of action would compromise the school's integrity in the eyes of many of its supporters. In the end, VMI would be upholding standards inferior to those that made it all that it now represents.
To put this in perspective, look at schools across the country. Take the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. If a student does not like science or math, he will not attend MIT, regardless of whether he realizes that the name recognition could benefit him later in life. Everyone who goes to such a rigorous school knows about MIT's mathematic and scientific nature.
By the same token, VMI does not try to surprise its incoming students. Before enrolling at VMI, students repeatedly hear of life at VMI and all that it entails. VMI should not have to change for the benefit of people who do not like its format. Much like an aspiring Spanish major considering MIT, a squeamish man or woman should not choose VMI for college. Obviously, health concerns do come into play. If certain hazards do exist that would pose a significant challenge to women, VMI has the responsibility to make sure that it does not ask for the impossible, but one must simply accept certain aspects of life at VMI, no matter how unaccommodating [sic] they may seem.
Women have proven time and again that they can serve next to men on battlefields, in factories and at universities. Thus VMI, as it makes an overdue change in its policies, needs to heed that truth and hold its female cadets to the same rigorous standards and lifestyle to which it always has held its male cadets. Anything less would make a mockery of VMI and a mockery of the women who attend it.
(Ted Koerth is a second-year College student.)
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Date Added June 11, 2016
Date Modifed December 24, 2017
Collection Cavalier Daily: articles about gender discrimination

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