Yulia Beltikova will make history twice this month at Virginia Military Institute.
Besides being one of the 32 freshman women whose enrollment at VMI will end the college’s 158-year male-only policy, she will also be the school’s first Russian student.
After spending six months as an exchange student at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va., last year, she returned to her hometown of Krasnodar, a Russian city of 650,000 people where she lived in a one-bedroom apartment with her parents and two brothers.
In the spring, she was taking English and French courses at Kuban State University.
Then she got an eye-popping letter from VMI: an offer of a full academic scholarship plus alumni assistance for travel between Lexington and Krasnodar.
“I was so happy, so happy,” she said.
After attending the American high school, Beltikova, 18, realized that attending college in America was an impossible dream, given her family’s annual income of $2,500.
But VMI, which had obtained her name and address because she once expressed interest in attending a military college on an English exam, invited her to apply in a letter in November. So she did.
In April, a second letter arrived, congratulating her on her “appointment to the Institute.”
Her appointment once was just as unimaginable for VMI as for Beltikova. In 1990, the Justice Department sued VMI, challenging its all-male admission policy.
For six years, the military school fiercely resisted coeducation, claiming that the presence of women would fundamentally change VMI’s character of harsh discipline and spartan living conditions.
But in June 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the school’s admission policy was unconstitutional.
Beltikova will be one of two foreign women at the school; the other student is from Taiwan.
“She was an outstanding applicant,” said Col. N. Michael Bissell, who has directed the school’s preparations for accommodating women. “I told her the other day she has a big role to be the recruiter for Russia so we can continue this lineage and get some more people to come here.”
Beltikova intends to major in international relations, and she says she would like to work as a scientific translator after graduation - the career she was pursuing at Kuban State.
Like many of the incoming women, Beltikova is reluctant to discuss the Rat Line - VMI’s tough physical and emotional testing of its freshmen - fearing that comments she makes will draw the attention of upperclassmen who enforce the line.
“This is a new experience and it’s something very interesting,” she said. “I know it’s going to be difficult, but I will try.”
Similarly, she dismisses queries about buzz-cutting her fine, blonde hair, on the day she enrolls. “It can grow again,” she said.