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For the First Time, Both Cadet Commanders Are Female

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For the First Time, Both Cadet Commanders Are Female; Lawsuits Forced VMI and The Citadel to Start Admitting Women Says Lawyer

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Female Cadet Commanders

WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 3, 2021) - For the first time in history, the corps of cadets at both The Citadel in South Carolina and the Virginia Military Institute [VMI] are being commanded by women; two military academies which, as late as the mid 1990s, refused to admit females until a complaint filed by a public interest law professor, and a mistake by the Citadel and an historic Supreme Court ruling against VMI, ended this illegal sex discrimination.

Here's what happened, explains GWU law professor John Banzhaf, whose legal complaint to the Justice Department got the first woman admitted to either of the two previously sex-segregated schools,

Acting on a complaint filed by an unidentified female applicant, the Justice Department had filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against VMI, but not against the only other state sex-segregated institution of higher education, The Citadel. Asked why The Citadel wasn't also sued, a spokesman explained that no female had filed a formal complaint which was a prerequisite for such federal action.

So Banzhaf, who had earlier filed a legal complaint which forced the D.C.-based Cosmos Club to abandon a tradition of more than 100 years and begin accepting female members, reasoned that since both state schools were engaged in the same illegal sex discrimination, both should be sued.

So he contacted a female high school student and explained the situation. The young woman had never heard of The Citadel, and may have had little interest in becoming a cadet at a military-style college.

But she agreed that, because female students should be entitled to make that same choice as males, she would be the subject of a formal legal complaint filed on her behalf by Banzhaf.

Lawsuit Against Citadel

After a Justice Department lawsuit, similar to the one previously filed against VMI, was filed against The Citadel as a result of Banzhaf's complaint, a high school student named Shannon Faulkner applied for admission to The Citadel.

Apparently believing that Shannon was male, the Citadel agreed to admit the applicant. But, when it tried to revoke her admission upon learning of her gender, a judge refused - because of the pending lawsuit - to permit such a clear and illegal act of sex discrimination, especially after the fact.

So, although the lawsuit against VMI preceded that against The Citadel, it was at the latter that the first female cadet was admitted, notes Banzhaf.

That shattered The Citadel's tradition of excluding females which dated back more than 150 years, notes Banzhaf, two years before a Supreme Court decision forced VMI to likewise cease discriminating on the basis of sex.

Treating Women Differently From Men

It was only in the following year - 1996 - that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an historic decision, which set new and tougher standards necessary to justify treating women differently from men, that VMI's policy of likewise refusing to consider females for admission was held unconstitutional. VMI subsequently admitted its first female cadet in 1997.

Banzhaf notes two additional interesting aspects of the situation.

First, although it may seem quaint and clearly inappropriate by today's standards, many people - including many women - felt strongly that it was completely reasonable and therefore legal to restrict military training to males, even as state institutions of higher education.

After all, as some proclaimed, what young women would want to march every day, be forced to wear wear military-style uniforms, have their hair cut short, and sleep in a room with an unlocked door where the blinds cannot be lowered except while actively changing.

Interestingly, these strict requirements are still in effect at VMI where are recent report cited them as possible factors in causing its female cadets to be raped, groped, and otherwise sexually assaulted in unacceptably high numbers.

See, e.g., banzhaf.net/VMIReport.pdf

Another concern occurred when VMI - unlike The Citadel and the nation's military academies - initially insisted that female cadets would be held to the same rigorous physical fitness standards as male cadets, despite virtually universal recognition of the differences in physical fitness and athletic performance between males and females.