September 26, 1996 · Cavalier Daily

Women 1, Tradition 0

This opinion columnist opposes the Virginia Military Institute's shift from an all-male institution to a co-educational one, following a Supreme Court ruling. He insists that VMI cannot admit women and maintain its rigorous standards, and that the harsh training methods that make it unique will be abolished.


1996-09-26 Cavalier Daily Women 1, Tradition 0.pdf
Peter Brownfield
Cavalier Daily
Cavalier Daily
Women 1, Tradition 0
NEXT YEAR, Virginia will lose one of its jewels. This is because the Virginia Military Institute, which suffered 57 casualties in defense of the state during the Civil War, will cease to exist as we know it in 1997. For VMI is going co-ed, ending its status as the nation's only single-sex military college. The admittance of women will irrevocably alter VMI.
VMI's goals are to "produce leaders for peace or war: The Institute's program has been based ... on the concept of the citizen-soldier, a man prepared to take his place in civilian life but ready to respond as a military leader in times of national emergency."
How does this differ drastically from the charters of West Point, Annapolis or the Air Force Academy? It doesn’t. Then why can't VMI exist successfully as a co-ed institution, as the three academies do? The answer is that VMI and the academies do not differ so much on their goals - to turn out soldiers and responsible citizens — but in their method.
"It's not the military, not the academics, not the athletics, certainly not the social life" that gives this institution its fame. "It’s the regimen, ” Bill Gearhart, who graduated from VMI in 1970, told the Washington Post.
The “rat line,” and other forms of hazing are what we know of VMI. On the surface one might question the purpose these demeaning exercises, but they are an integral part of the Institute. It is this process - knocking the cadet down and building him back up - that makes a VMI graduate who he is. As second-ranking cadet Andy Clark told the Washington Post, "It's important that this doesn't change, or this ring won't mean as much."
It is hard to imagine that the harsh regimen that VMI students endure will last, now that the school's all-male status has ended. The three military academies altered the physical requirements for admission, and made various other changes when they began admitting women twenty years ago.
VMI officials adamantly insist little will change next year. They say that VMI will demand the same of women it does of men. But trustee Anita K. Blair seemed wary that VMI’s individuality will continue when she told the Roanoke Times, “…without a distinctive, attractive, educational niche, VMI, a small school with limited offerings, in close proximity to three major state universities, will lose its ability to compete for students.”
VIM students overwhelmingly oppose the change. Senior Nick Latsios bemoaned coeducation, telling the Washington Post, "Today we lost our college. My goal is to get out of here before the girls arrive." Sophomore Kevin Henderson echoed this statement, lamenting that VMI "will never be the same."
By making VMI more diverse, the Supreme Court has made America less diverse by eliminating the last remaining all-male military college. Megan Robinson, 19, who is now enrolled in Mary Baldwin’s leadership program which a lower court forced Virginia to develop in lieu of making VMI co-ed, agreed with this sentiment. She told the Roanoke Times that the Supreme Court is "taking away a choice by taking away [publicly funded] single sex education."
The rigid environment that exists at VMI does not lend itself to coeducation. The picture of several upperclassmen bursting into a female freshman’s room late at night, dragging her out of bed and forcing her to do push-ups until she collapses in pain does not sit well with most people. The idea of a woman passing through a gauntlet called the rat line not a pleasant image.
“We don’t want to change what we do not need to change," VMI Superintendent Josiah Bunting said in the Roanoke Times. “We are anxious to protect the principle and elements of who we are. Female cadets will be treated precisely as we treat male cadets.”
The goal of maintaining its traditions and not lowering standards has already come under fire. Civil-rights lawyers have already said that if Bunting’s plan is carried out, VMI is likely to face more legal scrutiny.
VMI has drawn criticism for trying to maintain its 157-year old standards. For wishing to preserve a single set of standards, the Institute has been accused of trying to discourage female applicants. University professor Mary Anne Case told the Roanoke Times, however, that VMI’s motive is “an egalitarian one.”
There should be a way for women to experience the same type of education that exists at VMI. But that experience cannot be made available to both sexes at the same institution because of the nature of the activities. By admitting females, the activities at VMI must be altered. Five board members issued the following statement: VMI will be “fundamentally changed in such a way that neither men nor women” will gain from the mental and physical stress of the military program.
(Peter Brownfield is a first-year College student.)
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Date Added June 13, 2016
Date Modifed December 24, 2017
Collection Cavalier Daily: articles about gender discrimination

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