Why don’t you make your own instead of appropriating ours? The story of VMI and VWIL

 

In the 1990s, the Virginia Military Institute was the last all-male public university in the US – and as one of the historic military colleges, it had a long, illustrious tradition built up over the years since its founding in 1839. The VMI community did not wish to enroll female cadets, but with women allowed into the military (and every other public university in the country), it was inevitable that there would be women who wished to avail themselves of the history, traditions, and networking uniquely available to cadets at VMI.

So what did Virginia attempt to do in order to both preserve the traditional male community at VMI, and yet also offer women their own comparable institution? They founded VWIL, the Virginia Women’s Institute For Leadership, as an all-female cadet corps at one of Virginia’s historic women’s colleges. Founded in 1842, Mary Baldwin College is a contemporary of VMI – and the college had even acquired the old grounds of the Staunton Military Academy (1860-1976). The SMA alumni association “adopted” the new cadet corps – cadets who now lived in their old barracks and paraded on their old grounds. Though the institution of VWIL would be new, it was founded in such a way as to incorporate an historical context as nearly equivalent to VMI’s as possible – including location! (The two institutions are located in neighboring Shenandoah Valley college towns.)

A reasonable person might think that this effort by Virginia to offer an all-female ROTC option (along with coed ROTC through different institutions) would have been a great boon for women interested in a military career – the VWIL cadet corps, though newly founded, had access to an all-female institution as historic as VMI; access to a military tradition also contemporary with VMI; and founders focused on creating a cadet corps tailored specifically for training women in leadership skills. Rather than being shoehorned into a community forced to make accommodations for them, women interested in a military career would be given not just the option of joining other coed corps, but one designed specifically around their needs.

Of course, it wasn’t good enough. The Supreme Court ruled that VMI, as a state-funded institution, must admit women as well as men. Rather than give up state funding and risk blacklisting by the DoD, VMI’s ruling board narrowly voted to accept female cadets.

In modern America, whether you like it or not, “separate” is never good enough.

Contemplation of the applications of this principle to current events is left to the reader.

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