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Recent AP Article: I believe the first class graduates today. The following article gives some insight into VMI's first year with women.

VMI's First Coed Year Passes Muster

.c The Associated Press


LEXINGTON, Va. (AP) - Ebony McElroy asked no quarter at Virginia Military Institute and she got none. She pushed her 4-foot-10-inch frame to the limit and passed every test of physical and emotional strength VMI could muster.

The work paid off. She and 22 other women who enrolled last fall in what for 157 years had been a men-only enclave have earned the coveted ``cadet'' title, a big step up from freshmen ``rat.''

Miss McElroy and the others crunched and pressed their way through endless situps and pushups. There was hell week and purge week, there were sweat parties and close-order marching drills and obstacle courses, all while carrying a full college course load.

Finally came breakout, a forced 15-mile march in the snow before daybreak followed by a frantic, grueling climb up a steep, muddy hill.

``I just stuck it out like a guy would. I'm just a normal cadet,'' Miss McElroy, 18, said before heading home to Lake Forest, Calif., for summer break.

It has been a grueling academic year and the opportunity for women to prove themselves didn't come easily. It followed years of battles between school traditionalists, women's groups and governments over whether females should be allowed to become VMI cadets.

With the school year winding down in preparation for Saturday's commencement exercises, the women's successful year has quelled some of the quarreling.

``This year has been much easier, much less traumatic and somewhat less demanding on the institution here at VMI than I expected,'' Superintendent Josiah Bunting said. ``The young women who came here for the most part were also well prepared and were capable and came here with the idea of becoming traditional VMI cadets.''

VMI spent $14 million during a six-year fight against coeducation that ended in June 1996 when the Supreme Court ruled that VMI could not exclude women and still accept public money.

Alumni briefly pondered buying the school from the state to keep females out. But when the 1996-97 school year began, VMI undertook a campaign to avoid the kind of national embarrassment that hit The Citadel after Shannon Faulkner broke the gender barrier there in 1995. She quit days after enrolling and left in tears to the crude, gleeful taunts of male cadets.

With a year to prepare for coeducation and recruit a large number of women, VMI held seminars on avoiding sexual harassment and required cadets, faculty and staff to attend.

VMI hired a female assistant commandant and female admissions officer and sought advice from the nation's military academies, which had brought women into their ranks years earlier. It brought in female upperclassmen from military programs at Norwich University in Vermont and Texas A&M University to act as big sisters for female freshmen.

VMI mailed videos to the freshmen before they arrived to show them the rigors they would face, including cadets screaming into rats' faces. It hung curtains on all the barracks windows and built separate bathrooms for the women who roomed together.

The school refused to relax its rigorous physical standards and required the women to wear their hair only slightly longer than the stubble of their brother rats. The National Organization for Women and the Justice Department assailed the decision, but VMI held firm.

Seven of the 30 women who enrolled in September dropped out (23 percent), but sexual harassment or unfairness never was cited as a reason. Seventy-four of the 430 male rats left, too (17 percent). The only woman suspended this year was Angelica Garza, a freshman who slugged a male upperclassman.

The year ended with nothing more scandalous than the discovery of a female freshman having sex with a male freshman in the barracks.

The women defended VMI for preserving its traditions and cutting them no slack. Competing with men on their own terms earned them respect.

When Kelly Sullivan of Jackson, Ga., suffered tendinitis that put her left arm in a sling, she hid the injury from upperclassmen so as not to look ``like I was trying to worm out of the `Rat Line.'''

Grit like that won over some of the most ardent foes of a coeducational VMI.

``They've come through with flying colors,'' said alumnus Bob Newman.

At a 1978 reunion picnic recently, an alumnus pulled Miss McElroy aside and grilled her on VMI trivia from the ``Rat Bible,'' which all cadets must memorize.

She knew all the answers. The alumnus smiled broadly and shook her hand warmly.

``He said, `I just want to congratulate you. I'm impressed with you,''' she said. ``I thought, wow. That was pretty special.''

Class of '87 Web Site: Andy Zolper '87 e-mails that he has established a web site for his class. Site can be found at http://www.vmi97.org.

More From the Minutes from the April 4, 1998 Alumni Association Meeting:

Nominating Committee Report: Robert B. Newman, Jr. '73

Mr. Newman first submitted the name of Felix E. Deacon III '77 for president of the The Alumni Association for the 1998-99 year.

On motion duly made and seconded the nominations were closed and Mr. Deacon was unanimously elected president of the The VMI Alumni Association for the upcoming year.

Mr. Deacon graciously accepted the position and thanked the board for the honor to serve. He then spoke on behalf of the current officers and dirctors to thank Steve Fogelman for his service to the alumni association as president for these past two years and also for the many hours of labor on behalf of VMI in the recent court case. Mr. Deacon presented Mr. Fogelman with the Stonewall Jackson desk in appreciation for his labor of love.

The nominating committee submitted the following names for new regional directors and directors-at-large to be elected in the annual meeting on April 25, 1998:

Region I (Far West) Michael J. Ingelido II '67
Region IX (Metro DC) Richard B. Trumbo '54
Region III (Northwest) James F. Spellman, Jr. '85
Region V (Southeast) Richmond P. Lykins, Jr. '73
Region X (Tidewater) Nathaniel Beaman IV '74

Director-At-Large - Alfred L. Miller '53
Director-At-Large - Bruce C. Wells, Jr. '53

On motion duly made and seconded, the board unanimously approved the regional directors and directors-at-large.

Mr. Newman next submitted the name of Hugh M. Fain '80 at First Vice President. On motion duly made and seconded the nominations were closed and Mr. Fain unanimously elected.

The Nominating Committee nominated William H. Dabney '61 and Richard H. Knight, Jr. '70 for the office of Second Vice President. On motion made and seconded the nominations were closed. A brief period of discussion was allowed for each candidate. A motion was made, seconded and carried to end the discussion. A secret ballot was taken and Mr. Richard Knight, Jr. '70 was elected Second Vice President.

On motion made and seconded, Charles F. Bryan, Jr. '69 was unanimously re-elected historian.

Meanwhile Down at The Citadel:

Woman Who Sued Citadel Settles Case

.c The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - A former female cadet at The Citadel who sued over alleged sexual harassment and physical abuse has settled her case for $33,750.

The state-supported military college was not named as a defendant, but it paid Kim Messer $15,000 as part of the settlement to stave off a separate lawsuit.

Messer and Jeanie Mentavlos, two of the first four women to enter the corps of cadets in 1996, left after one semester - claiming they were hazed and harassed. Among other things, they said cadets kicked them, punched them and set their clothes on fire.

Messer accused six male cadets of negligence and mistreatment. One settled separately for an undisclosed amount; the insurance companies of the other five contributed to the settlement.

Sandy Senn, an attorney for two of the male cadets, said the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing.

``It doesn't take a mathematician to recognize that attorneys' fees alone would far exceed the individual contributions,'' she said Monday.

Mentavlos' federal civil-rights suit against the school and the same six cadets is pending.

``The settlement with the Messer family closes a chapter in the history of The Citadel,'' the school said in a statement. ``The Citadel does not tolerate or condone the behavior that is alleged to have occurred in this case.''

One cadet was dismissed, two left the school, and nine others were disciplined. None were prosecuted.

Two female cadets who entered The Citadel with Messer and Mentavlos finished their sophomore year this week as 19 women completed their freshman year.

The Citadel dropped its all-male admissions policy after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the single-gender policy at the Virginia Military Institute.

Thanks Hank: A special thanks to Hank Foreman '76. I was his guest the other night for dinner at the Army Navy Club in D.C. Speaking of dinners in DC, it's about time for another Cyber Corps get together in the DC area. I'll start looking at some dates!

That's it for this week.

Yours in the Spirit,
RB Lane '75

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