Women enroll at VMI
Military school's 158-year all-male tradition ends
August 18, 1997
Web posted at: 11:42 a.m. EDT (1542 GMT)
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LEXINGTON, Virginia (CNN) -- Virginia Military Institute, the country's last all-male military college, admitted 31 women freshman cadets on Monday, formally ending a legal fight that lasted six years and cost the state-supported school millions of dollars.
The women, like the men, will attempt to tough out the school's rigorous initiation for freshmen, including verbal abuse and midnight exercises.
|VMI Cadet Kimberly Herbert talks about starting school Monday:
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"They just start yelling at you, and telling you you can't be here, and they don't want you here, and you just have to keep telling yourself, 'I can do this, and I want to be here,.'" incoming VMI freshman Kimberly Herbert told CNN in an interview prior to Monday's enrollment.
Herbert, 18, of Herndon, Virginia, and the other first-year cadets will get their first taste of equal treatment from VMI's barber, who will give them the same short haircuts as the men.
Some things change, some don't
Last summer, the Supreme Court ruled that if the school accepts tax money it must accept women. Its board voted 9-8 to accept women rather than go private and stay all-male. Federal court orders require quarterly reports on the integration.
But VMI refused to soften its rigid discipline. In addition to getting buzz cuts, women also will wear the same drill uniforms and live in Spartan barracks.
Still, there have been changes, including workshops on sexual harassment for the staff and student body. The school also has installed emergency phones and shades in the barracks.
The state gave VMI $5.1 million to help recruit women, hire extra staff and make necessary renovations, such as building separate bathrooms. VMI hired a female counselor and a female physical education instructor.
"(VMI) is making themselves crazy trying to make sure everything goes smoothly," said Herbert.
Women cadets told: 'Forget the hoopla'
Despite the changes, "there's only so much adults can do," says VMI Superintendent Josiah Bunting. "This system will work successfully this year depending on how well the young people themselves enforce it," he told CNN in a live interview.
|VMI Superintendent Gen. Josiah Bunting talks to CNN about women at VMI:
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"A year ago, we were a little scared of what the future had for us," VMI upperclassman Conor Powell told CNN. "Now, we're more excited." The difference, he said, was the effort by school officials "to convince us that this (the admission of women) ... will be a success."
Bunting said he would tell the incoming cadets "to forget all the hoopla" surrounding the first-time enrollment of female cadets.
"I'm going to tell them VMI doesn't make distinctions on the basis of gender or race or birth or wealth .... They will succeed in this system on the basis of things like integrity and honor and resolution."
Herbert says she realizes 158 years of all-made tradition won't disappear overnight. "I know there are cadets that don't want us ... They might not say directly to our face, 'We don't want you here,' but we'll be able to tell."
As one of 31 VMI's tradition-breakers, Herbert says she feels special. "But I'll probably feel more special when I can walk across that stage with a diploma," she added.
Correspondent Jeanne Meserve contributed to this report.