The Virginia Military Academy’s first freshman class to include women started its “rat line” initiation Wednesday, hours after 30 dead rats and a sign reading “Save the Males” were found on campus.
The white laboratory rats apparently were left by pranksters from a rival school.
At VMI, “rats” is the term for first-year cadets.
The 458 freshmen, including 30 women, lined up at attention on the parade ground, facing screaming upperclassmen drill masters as they started their “rat line,” a six-month ordeal intended to test the limits of their physical, mental and emotional endurance.
Cadets have been trained how to avoid sexually harassing the female “rats” without compromising VMI’s harsh regimen.
The dead rats were found earlier on the same parade ground by Rusty Garber, 11-year-old son of an assistant football coach at VMI. “I thought somebody has a really sick mind,” he said.
Behind the pile of rats was a white towel with the words “Save the Males” printed in black marker. Those words have been the slogan of opponents of admitting women to VMI.
Coming during the week that women first arrived at the school, the dead rat incident visibly disturbed Superintendent Josiah Bunting.
“It tells you a lot more about the people who would do that than the point they’re trying to make,” Bunting said. “What kind of people would do that? Sick people.”
But rather then an anti-woman demonstration, the rats may have been left as a prank by students at rival Washington & Lee University, whose campus is adjacent to VMI.
“We’re pretty sure the rats are ours,” W&L; security chief Mike Young said.
The rats apparently were used in psychology and biology labs.
Normally when such experiments are finished the rats are frozen and buried in a landfill. But a Washington Post reporter and Roanoke Times photographer said they encountered a young man Tuesday night who identified himself as a W&L; student and told them he and other students were considering dumping dead rats at VMI.
VMI is trying to avoid the embarrassment The Citadel suffered in 1995 when Shannon Faulkner became the first woman to enter that state-supported military school. Faulkner dropped out after one week, citing stress and her isolation as the only woman in a hostile male corps.
Four more women joined The Citadel last August, but two dropped out in January alleging hazing by male upperclassmen. A prosecutor said Wednesday he couldn’t file charges because the state’s anti-hazing law does not apply to the school.
Bunting believes VMI’s female dropout rate should be comparable to the men’s. Roughly one-quarter of the men quit the tough regimen in a typical year; two have dropped out already this week. And five men and one woman who had sent in deposits to enroll at VMI this didn’t show up Monday.