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New Rats Have Arrived: As you might well imagine, there have been a number of newspaper accounts about this year's new rat class. Obviously due, in part, to the fact that this is the second class to admit women. Rather than pass along every newspaper article, I am passing along two which seem to capture the spirit of the occasion.

A Change of Timbre on Rat Line
By Ann O'Hanlon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 16, 1998; Page B01

Tomorrow, for the second time, women will report to the Virginia Military Institute to have their hair shorn and to join the previously all-male "Rat Line," a six-month physical and psychological ordeal that upperclassmen inflict on freshmen.

The spotlight will be less intense than last year on the 159-year-old school that fought coeducation all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. But this school year brings new concerns: such as how the corps will deal with romance that now is allowed between upperclassmen; and how newly empowered female upperclassmen, having survived the Rat Line last year, will treat the new crop of female rats.

"This will be a more difficult year, paradoxically," VMI Superintendent Josiah Bunting III said.

Unlike the freshmen rats, male and female upperclassmen will be allowed to date each other as long as they are not in the same chain of command. Public displays of affection remain subject to punishment, however.

With the number of women on VMI's campus about to double -- there will be about 60, compared with about 1,250 men -- the passion police are on high alert. Love affairs, even ones not involving any violation of school policy, may compromise the sense of discipline in the ranks, Bunting and other VMI officials fear.

Mike Bissell, the school's director of assimilation, said that when officials from the Lexington school interviewed administrators at several other military academies in preparation for coeducation, "everyone said, 'Your second year, your third year, are going to be your most difficult.' "

Perhaps a close second to dating on the list of officials' concerns is how women will treat women under their command. Women in leadership positions at other military schools typically have been tougher on other women than they are on men, a concern raised at other military academies, said many VMI students and administrators.

"They are ferocious, vicious," Bissell said, even though, he added, his wife gets upset with him every time he repeats this theory.

His wife isn't the only woman who doesn't buy it.

"If you're a rat, whether you're a female rat or a male rat, you're still a rat," said Alexis Abrams, an incoming sophomore. "I'll treat everyone the same."

But male students talk with more concern than administrators about how strange it will be to have women with status at the school that proudly touts its southern military tradition.

"I think it's good, but I don't think some of the upperclassmen will like it," said Scott Smith, a sophomore this fall. "A lot of them are still stuck in the old way. They're not going to like to see women having a little bit of power."

Abrams wonders how male rats will respond when a woman upperclassman dresses them down.

"As long as the male upperclassmen don't encourage them to disrespect us," she said, it shouldn't be a problem. But, she acknowledged, some upperclassmen still are not at peace with coeducation.

Bunting and Bissell themselves say they still struggle with it many days. In the end, though, disrespect from rats will not be tolerated, said Jim Joyner, the commandant who oversees the barracks and discipline.

"If they're going to remain in the system, they're going to have to learn the difference between an upperclassman and a rat," he said.

Students also have strong emotions on the dating restrictions. Many students say they would never engage in an affair with another cadet, and that many a rat last year swallowed feelings of infatuation for the good of their career and the school.

"We're all part of a family," said former class president Kevin Trujillo, who graduated last spring. "It's almost like a brother-sister relationship."

But incoming rat Elizabeth Giles Kelley, of Arlington, said she finds it odd.

"I don't see how they can put restrictions on who you can fall in love with," she said. "But I'm not going there to meet a husband."

Among the other problems that could arise, say VMI officials, students and alumni, are the increasing difficulty of attracting high-caliber women applicants and the lack of mentors this year for either class of women.

VMI alumni are particularly concerned over whether the school will have to admit a less selective group of women once the novelty of coeducation wears off.

When Board of Visitors member Thomas Moncure Jr. offered his resignation almost two years ago, he predicted that women would yearn to be part of the first coed class and that applications would soar. But after that, he said, the school would see a decrease in the quantity and quality of women applicants. Few woman, after all, are interested in a military school to begin with.

Academic comparisons between this year's and last year's women freshmen are difficult to make; the school will not provide Scholastic Assessment Test scores broken down by sex. But the number of applications from women was lower this year, making admission less competitive. Last year VMI received 91 applications from women and enrolled 30; this year it got 76 applications and enrolled 34.

"He may be right," Bunting said of Moncure's argument. "Every year I wish we had 500 more applicants than we had. . . . You have to avoid being too compassionate with marginal applicants."

A final concern is the question of women role models.

Last year, the school hosted women exchange students from other military schools, hoping they would both help upperclassmen adjust to a feminine presence and provide a shoulder for the freshmen women. Female freshmen turned to VMI men instead, school officials said, because the men were familiar with VMI.

This year, although two exchange students will spend the year at VMI, they are not expected to serve as mentors. Sophomore women will be available for freshmen women in need, but the main relationship between the two -- that of disciplinarian to rat -- will hardly be conducive to mentoring.

School administrators say they are not worried, because men can continue to serve as role models. But Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, a watchdog group for VMI's coeducation, said the lack of women mentors will be a problem, particularly for the female sophomores.

"They will need mentoring as much as ever, because they are now in a different position," she said. "They will be having to adjust in many respects not only to their new status, but also to having somewhat less of a spotlight on them."

Sharon Disher, who graduated with the first class of women at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1980 and recently wrote a book, "First Class," about the experience, said the lack of female mentors hurt them.

"That was a huge problem," she said. "We just didn't have that at all."

Disher suggested that VMI could bring in women graduates of Annapolis or West Point for a few years. Even if the two experiences are not identical, she suggested, the older women would have much to offer the younger ones. She added that she and her female classmates tended not to lean on each other, for fear they would "be seen as a sewing club."

Women at VMI say much the same thing -- that they allied themselves last year with members of their company, male or female, and not simply with other women.

"Women weren't clinging together," said Angelia Pickett, an incoming sophomore.

As for whether women in the sophomore class will help female rats, one incoming rat is dubious.

Jennifer Ringgold attended VMI's summer program and found herself next to a sophomore woman in the gym. What Ringgold didn't know was that the sophomore women had been told to avoid contact with rats over the summer. The Arlington 17-year-old made the mistake of attempting chitchat and got nothing but a cold shoulder.

"I hope that even though they're harassing us that they'll be supporting us, too," Ringgold said. "I got the impression that they won't be."

Don't Let Me Crack' / New VMI rats endure cadre's bark in ritual

Thursday, August 20, 1998

Times-Dispatch Staff

Accompanied by the beat of drums, VMI's Cadre solemnly marches into the yard at New Barracks to be formally introduced to the assembled Rats; moments later, the shouting and orders begin.


There is but one way to begin molding freshmen into upright scholars at the Virginia Military Institute, and that is to herd them onto a concrete courtyard and scare them witless.

VMI put that time-honored formula to the test again yesterday with its annual "rat line" ritual, an abusive system that combines the bedlam of a prison riot with the regimented terror of boot camp.

Thirty-three women and 409 men, dressed in red gym shorts and yellow T-shirts and shorn of most of their hair, submitted to the rite of passage, all for the sake of earning the privilege of being called "rats."

None of the women who entered VMI last year in the school's first coed class was given the honor of pushing the rats around: None made rank.

VMI's public relations office, willing to show off its second coed class, invited reporters to observe yesterday's spectacle, and those who accepted the invitation were led to the third-story balconies, or stoops, overlooking the inner plaza of the barracks. Hundreds of cadets stood on the stoops as well, waiting for the "fun" to begin.

Here's what happened:

At 12:40 p.m., the 442 freshmen awkwardly marched into the barracks courtyard and stood at attention, massed into nine companies. Some of the more courageous -- some might say foolhardy -- chanted "We want cadre! We want cadre!"

Ready to pounce, two lines of the cadre stood at attention yesterday before they rushed at the freshmen.

On the third stoop, Richmond cadet J.B. Craddock shook his head in disapproval. "They say they want cadre, but they don't know what they're asking for," he said. "They don't know what cadre is going to do to them."

The cadre is the group of cadets selected to introduce freshmen to VMI's educational system. Their methods are akin to those of a Marine Corps drill instructor. The cadre of 92 cadets consists mostly of upperclassmen but also includes 36 sophomores who have attained at least a corporal's rank.

Many of the freshmen chanted for the cadre, but many stood quietly awaiting their fate.

Minutes passed, the chants rose and fell, and the freshmen began to clap boisterously. Their eyes were wide and in some cases moist, and their faces were full of fear, as if they were passengers on an airplane going down. Others stood in stoic resignation, assuming the casual posture of an insurrectionist before the firing squad. They all looked tense.

Then sounded the ominous beat of drums. With the first thunderous roll, the cadets on the stoops erupted into whoops and catcalls, directing at the freshmen loud "ooooohs" that seemed to say: "Now you're going to get it."

The freshmen braced themselves and kept their eyes fixed on the green barracks walls in front of them. Into their midst, carried along by the slow rat-a-tat-tat of the drums, the cadre marched in at a dreadful, death-march pace, their white uniform pants pressed to paper-thin crispness, the buttons on their gray jackets polished and gleaming, their jaws firm and unforgiving. The precision of their movements betrayed countless hours on the drill field.

At "Halt!" they stopped, directly in front of the nervous freshmen. The barracks quieted. The rats stared straight ahead.

"Rats, meet your cadre!" barked cadet Brad Wineman, the regimental executive officer, from the second-floor stoop.

The courtyard erupted in pandemonium. Cadre members scattered and rushed at the freshmen, while cadets on the stoops cheered wildly. The sound was nearly deafening. This year, for the first time ever, female cadets were among those lending their voices to the shouts.

Twenty-two of the first group of 30 women to enter VMI have returned for a second year. Yesterday, many of them stood on the stoops and contributed to the mayhem.

At the onrush of the cadre, the first row of freshmen flinched, as if being attacked with meat hooks. But there was no escape. Their tormentors were upon them, screaming in their faces, glowering at them.

Two members of VMI's cadre bark orders at a female and a male rat on their first day at the school.

In one corner of the courtyard, cadre members forced rats to run in place and wave their arms above their heads. In another corner, three assailants circled a bewildered rat and yelled at him ferociously, their neck muscles bulging and the veins on their foreheads popping out. Elsewhere, rats were forced to run to a wall and press their noses against it. Those who failed to do so properly had to do push-ups.

It's unlikely the rats ever had experienced such abuse.

Cadets on the stoops said only one thought is running through a rat's mind at such a time: "Please, God, don't let me crack, just don't let me crack."

"From the first minute you get here, you wonder, maybe this is out of my control, maybe something inside me is going to pop," said cadet Micah Wei of Richmond. "Everybody thinks that."

The only freshman to escape punishment was not on campus. A Taiwanese student's travel plans had been fouled up and she was not expected to arrive until last night.

Outside the barracks gates stood more than a dozen people, anxious parents of the rats. They could hear what was happening to their children, but they couldn't see it.

"My mother cried the first four or five times she saw me," cadet Melissa Williams of Woodbridge said of her months as a rat.

After less than 10 minutes in the courtyard, the rats were running up and down the barracks stairs.

They learned to shout, "Yes sir, yes sir!" to any order barked at them. They tired themselves out with push-ups.

After a while, the cadre ran them out to the drill field, handed them 11-pound rifles and began teaching them to march. All the while the yelling continued.

Other freshmen were handed a tiny booklet called the Bullet, or the rat bible. Per orders, they held it inches from their sweating faces. Turning to the first pages, they read VMI's welcoming words: "You are a rat."

Overhead, the sun burned hot in a cloudless sky. Another perfect afternoon at VMI.

A Personal Aside: I was in Washington, DC the other day and a friend showed me the front page of the Washington Times. The picture showed a line of cadre descending on a mass of rats. I explained to another friend that the cadre was in the process of "welcoming" the rats to VMI. He looked at the picture and asked if the cadre members were running toward the rats to shake their hands. My response went something like this, "Uh...not exactly." He was truly amazed when I explained the situation.

Attention Class of '94: Paul Whitmore '94 e-mailed and asked me to remind the members of '94 to be sure and register on the VMI Class of 1994 website. They're trying to get a "good list for everyone online." Address is:

Football Ratings: I recently received Jeff Sagarin's NCAA Football Ratings. Out of the 234 teams rated, VMI is ranked 192. Other schools of interest are:
Rank Team
1 Nebraska
22 Virginia
28 Virginia Tech
45 Marshall
46 Air Force
63 Navy
86 Army
99 William & Mary
113 Appalachian State
126 James Madison
128 Furman
132 Richmond
etc., etc.

The Maury Yields More Than Fish and Old Tires: Here's a story of some interest from the Lexington area.

Gateway Virginia Teen fisherman finds Civil War piece

Wednesday, August 12, 1998

BUENA VISTA, Va. (AP) -- A teen-ager fishing for rock bass and perch
landed a much older prize in the Maury River -- an artillery officer's
saber from the Civil War.

The catch Sunday by 13-year-old Christian Bell apparently had been
buried in the river's muddy bottom for more than 130 years. One expert
said it was probably lost by a Union officer assigned to a unit that set
nearby Virginia Military Institute ablaze in 1864.

"All I ever found in there before was pieces of cars and old washing
machines,'' Bell said.

He said he waded into the river when his line snagged on something
because he wanted to save the lure. He grabbed a handle and pulled up
the sword.

Keith Gibson, director of the VMI Museum in Lexington, examined the
sword Monday. He identified it as a U.S.-issued weapon carried by many
Union artillery officers.

The piece is in relatively good shape, he said, although the blade is
rusted. "I never have such luck when I go fishing in the Maury River,''
Gibson said.

Bell said he plans to sell the item to the highest bidder. But Gibson
said most collectors are seeking pristine pieces and probably won't be
interested in the saber.

More Book Reviews: Someone e-mailed to say that there's a review of Gen Bunting's book in The American Spectator. I haven't had a chance to take a look.

Speaking of Books: I'm in process of trying to locate a good book on Gen Marshall. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know. Lately I've gotten hooked on all the Stephen Ambrose books and have found them to be fascinating reads.

That's it for this week.

Yours in the Spirit,
RB Lane '75

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