Alumni and Friends of VMI:
Cyber Corps Numbers: 417
Pretty quiet week down at the Institute. Guess things are winding down with the advent of exams and the Christmas break.
Change in Meeting Date: I just received a notice that the Board meeting of the VMI Alumni Association has been changed from Jan. 17, 1998 to Jan. 31, 1998. Committee meetings will be held on Jan. 30. As in the past, I will provide more details re: agenda and times when I receive them.
Football Summit: I received an e-mail from Jeff Morgan '80, EVP of the VMI Keydet Club. He writes that the Keydet Club is sponsoring a summit to address the future of VMI Football. The summit will be held in January. Jeff invites all alumni to send him your comments relative to the future of VMI Football. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Here's your chance to air your views. Jeff indicates that he will compile comments and have them available for summit participants.
The Institute Book: In our last update I provided an address that would provide info about a new book about VMI. I've been reminded that you have until year end to order the book and get a break on the price. Act now.
A Last Minute Addition: Thanks to Paul Whitmore '94 for passing along the following article. Come to think of it, thanks to all our participants that pass along articles (and there are quite a few).
VMI returns to normal
Women cadets survive, bond with brother rats
BY WES ALLISON
Times-Dispatch Staff Writer
The TV satellite trucks are long gone, and heads have stopped turning when a cadet named Tamina or Jen or Rachel marches past in a gray wool uniform.
Most of the angry mail from alumni concerns the football team, which didn't win a game this fall. And the freshmen, exhausted after months of living in a fishbowl, are trying to sweat their way through the last leg of the rat line while drawing as little attention as possible from their upperclass tormentors.
In other words, the brass at VMI says, life is returning to normal.
One semester has passed since Virginia Military Institute abandoned 157 years of all-male education and opened its Spartan barracks to women. Although some male cadets remain reluctant to accept them, interviews with students and administrators indicate the women are getting the same treatment as the men and are bonding with their classmates.
The women are surviving the rigors of the rat line, VMI's exhausting and often humiliating training regimen for freshmen, and they've joined male cadets in a wide range of campus activities, from prayer groups to the drama club to the rugby team. About half of the female cadets play varsity sports.
In an address last week to the VMI board of visitors, Superintendent Josiah Bunting III said the integration of women "has been determined and successful more successful, frankly, than I thought it would be."
"We appear to have attracted a type of young woman who tends to be self-reliant, athletic, conservative . . . not interested in making a political statement by coming here, and willing to succeed on VMI's terms," Bunting said. "I'm sure there still is some reluctance, on the part of some cadets, to fully subscribe to the fact that we're coed. At the same time, we had a great deal of time to prepare people for the fact that we had to do this."
Twenty-five of the 30 women who arrived Aug. 18 have lasted the fall semester, as have 385 of the 430 men. VMI says that attrition rate is in line with past years.
The women say they're bonding well with their brother rats, and that the upperclassmen who train them do not dwell on gender.
"None of us has ever been singled out," said Kelly Sullivan, from Jackson, Ga. "They're making sure that things are equal, they want us to blend in."
As president of the senior class, cadet Kevin Trujillo is responsible for discipline within the corps, and he keeps an eye on each rat and his or her grades, fitness and relationships with other cadets.
"The upperclass cadets can see the women in about every facet of VMI," said Trujillo, an Army brat from Northern Virginia. "They see them on the newspaper staff, they see them sweating it out on the track. They're trying to make VMI a better place, and that does help [them] gain acceptance."
With 1,300 cadets on post, the women's numbers are too small and their presence is too new to determine how coeducation will affect the culture of VMI over the long haul. But there have been some small changes.
Longtime rules against profanity are more seriously enforced, and high-pitched voices sound-off at workouts.
"Cosmopolitan" and "Self" magazines can be spotted in the barracks, along with fresh flowers.
Trujillo said the women have worked hard this year.
"I'm proud of them all," he said. "I don't like to tell them that, but I'm proud."
VMI strictly regulates the daily lives of its cadets, from what time they get up and when they can leave campus to exactly how they store their underwear, shoes and books in the barracks.
Freshmen must also endure the indignities of the rat line, a six- to seven-month ordeal designed to indoctrinate them into the corps of cadets. Aside from hours of military drill, forced marches and "sweat parties," the rats must memorize mounds of minutiae from highlights of school history to the day's dinner menu and be able to recite it on command.
Between the barracks and the classroom, rats do not speak, even to each other. In barracks, they must sprint up the stairs and hold the awkward, exaggerated position of attention called straining: chin in, shoulders back, arms down.
If an upperclassman spies a misstep in appearance or in any one of the Byzantine rules that frame a rat's life, he or she may be yelled at, dropped for pushups or sent to the Rat Disciplinary Committee for other punishment.
Many cadets, along with some administrators and alumni, worried how women would react to this abuse. Would they accept the system as a rite of passage, or would they balk and complain of harassment?
"Everybody was cautious at first. Cadets didn't know what to fear, what to expect," said Jonathan Spitzer, a senior from Winchester and the president of the Rat Disciplinary Committee. "Now that the hype has died down, a rat's a rat."
Administrators and the cadet leaders who investigate misconduct report no allegations of serious sexual harassment, though a handful of cadets have been reprimanded for using profanity or making derogatory remarks about women.
"We have college-age kids, and you're always worried about how they're going to act sometimes they engage their mouth before they engage their brain," said Col. Mike Strickler, the VMI spokesman. "I think everybody here will be able to completely exhale on May 16," when the corps goes home for summer.
Cadet leaders say they're acutely aware of the damage that one negative incident could do to VMI's image. They're quick to recall the public flogging suffered by The Citadel, the military college in South Carolina that was plagued with allegations of hazing and sexual harassment after it enrolled women in the fall of 1996.
"We're hypersensitive this year, and I think that's meant a better rat line," said Gardner Mundy, a senior from Richmond who serves as a "dyke," or big brother, to one of the female freshmen.
"There's less cussing, the guys are more professional, and that's something the rat line needed anyway. It can still be just as hard, but well-run."
Kent Willis, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which joined the discrimination lawsuit against VMI that led to coeducation, said he has no complaints so far. The U.S. Justice Department, which brought the suit, has refused to comment.
"The most important, single step that VMI could take was to open the doors to women. The next step was to make the obvious accommodations, and the third is to make sure they . . . monitor what happens," Willis said. "Generally speaking, it appears that VMI has had a successful first year. The key is not to rest on laurels."
A committee of VMI cadets, administrators and faculty still meets twice a month to discuss coeducation and look for ways to improve the system. Col. N. Michael Bissell, the architect of coeducation at VMI, said planning for next fall's rat class will begin in the spring, and the first class of women will be expected to help.
This week, cadets leave Lexington for a three-week break between semesters. When they return, the rats must endure at least another month or two of the rat line. It's up to the senior class to determine when the freshmen are ready for "break out," the long scramble up the muddy hill that symbolizes their evolution from rats to full-fledged members of the corps of cadets.
The event will be especially significant for the female rats who, as upperclassmen, will have a significant impact on the niche that women create at VMI.
"There's a lot of pressure on our shoulders, but I think we kind of let it roll off our backs," said Sullivan, the female rat from Georgia.
"Yeah, we're entering a new realm, but the only person you can do this for is yourself. You can't be at VMI for your mother or your father or your grandfather, because you're the one who has to live with it. You're the one who has to get through the next day."
That's it for this week.
Yours in the Spirit,
RB Lane '75
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