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West Point marks 20 years as co-ed school

WP women

July 1, 1996
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Gary Tuchman

WEST POINT, New York (CNN) -- A historic school year got underway Monday at West Point, as the class of 2000, the first class to graduate in the new millennium, enrolled. (842K QuickTime movie)

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the admittance of women to the academy. In 1976, the U.S. Military Academy, along with the Naval and Air Force academies, enrolled women cadets for the first time.

Despite some harassment problems over the years, West Point's leaders say the change has been an unqualified success.

Toffler

"Women as a group have done a superb job. They are earning their appointments clearly. They are performing very well and serving with distinction as commissioned leaders in the Army," said Col. Patrick Toffler of the U.S. Military Academy.

Indeed, female leaders are a very common sight at West Point. They provide inspiration for the new female cadets, most of whom feel all military institutions -- for example, Virginia Military Institute, which is now considering going private -- should open their doors to women.

Koledoye

"I've heard that West Point treats women very fairly," said new cadet Temidayo Koledoye. "They are very good about treating women well, so I had no problems coming to this school."

Fair treatment translates into equal treatment for all cadets. On day one of enrollment, everybody gets a haircut. Men get a complete shave, while women get a less radical over-the-collar look. Then, on to an immediate taste of military life.

To a new male cadet, an officer ordered, "When I tell you to move, you step up to my line, not on my line. Not over my line. Do you understand? Cadet, move."

A new woman cadet got similar discipline: "New cadet, did I tell you to drop your bag? New cadet, go to the end of the line right now." (247K AIFF or WAV sound)

treatment

However, 20 years after gender integration, one military analyst says that extra pressure remains on the 15 percent of the class that is female. "The whole world is not watching every male cadet going into West Point, but the whole world is watching every female. In addition to the very rigorous training they receive, they are in a very public role," said Barbara Benton of the Quarterly Journal of Military History.

Tradition is a very important part of military life, and although enrolling women at West Point still seems like a relatively new idea to some, it is a most traditional concept to the new cadets who started the Academy Monday. After all, most members of the Class of 2000 weren't even born yet when West Point went co-ed.


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