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Breaking Out: VMI and the Coming of Women

by Brodie, Laura Fairchild

  • ISBN: 9780375406140
  • ISBN10: 037540614X

Breaking Out: VMI and the Coming of Women

by Brodie, Laura Fairchild

  • List Price: $26.00
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Pantheon Books
  • Publish date: 01/01/2002
  • ISBN: 9780375406140
  • ISBN10: 037540614X
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Description: The Supreme Court on July 26, 1996 nullified the single-sex admissions policy of the Virginia Military Institute, the last all-male military college in the U.S. Capturing the voices of female and male cadets, administrators, faculty, and alumni, Laura Brodie tells the story of "The Institute's" planning for and implementation of its first year of coeducation.

Having spent seven years waging a legal war to defend the exclusively-male status, the VMI administration, within 24 hours of the Court decision, launched a daily routine of 3-hour meetings followed by all-day work sessions to draft plans for the new era -- even as alumni were considering privatization of the college. The administration's aim was to successfully integrate women without giving up VMI's hallmark "adversative system" -- education larded with extreme stress -- or making adjustments in its physical standards. Brodie, herself a committee member, takes us into these meetings where everything is suddenly on the line: housing, haircuts, pull-ups and other physical strength tests, showers, skirts, pantyhose, swimsuits, jewelry, dating, graffiti, locker-room language, the honor system, the drumout ritual for infractions, and the famous "Ratline" -- the six to seven months of physical exertion, minimal sleep, and verbal harassment to which entering cadets are subjected.

Following a vigorous recruitment program that included the use of scholarships to attract transfer students to serve as "big sisters" in the assimilation process and months of training sessions and workshops for staff and cadet corps, 31 women and 430 men matriculated in August 1997. No other military college had done so much to prepare for coeducation,but, would it work? With everyone on the Post we hold our breath. By the end of the first week of the "Ratline" one woman and twenty men have left. Brodie takes us through the problems and triumphs of that first year: through Hell Night, the unrelenting months of the Ratline, Breakout (the 15-mile forced march and climb up a muddy hillside that marks the transition from "rats" to cadets), the fraternization, hazing, and authority issues that arose, the furtive sexual encounters, the resentments, and, for the women, the daily difficulties of maintaining a feminine identity in a predominantly male world.

At Breakout in mid-March, 300 men and 23 women remained. VMI and its traditions had survived. Classroom atmosphere had improved, the cadet Grade-Point-Average did not slump or yet rise, and there was no ill effect on alumni contributions; in fact, it was the second best contribution year on record. In her Epilogue, Brodie makes it clear that VMI's problems were far from over at the end of that first year. New problems and challenges continued to arise, but, at the end of second year of co-education two of the women transfer students graduated, much to chagrin of many of the male members of the class who wanted to think of theirs as the "last class with balls". With the Class of 2000 and subsequent classes the numbers of women VMI graduates will slowly rise. Much can still go awry, but at this writing VMI's story is one of institutional transformation, and Laura Brodie tells the story wonderfully well.

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