Just weeks after enrolling its first coed class, the Virginia Military Institute has suspended a female cadet for a year for striking a male upperclassman.
The incident occurred after classes had begun, VMI said Tuesday. The military college would not release details of the offense or identify the young woman or the man she was convicted of hitting.
However, The Roanoke Times, in a story published Thursday, identified her as Angelica Garza, from Fort Belvoir in northern Virginia. The newspaper quoted her father, Pete Garza, as saying that VMI handled the situation appropriately, but he would not elaborate.
She was suspended after her case was heard by the school’s executive committee Monday and the penalty was approved by VMI Superintendent Josiah Bunting.
“I hate to lose any of our cadets … but our system does not tolerate any cadet striking another,” Bunting said in a statement.
Asked if the woman was reacting to sexual harassment, VMI spokesman Mike Strickler said the circumstances were “nothing out of the ordinary.”
Strickler said no other freshman has hit an upperclassman this year. He said that over the years, other cadets have hit upperclassmen and were given the same punishment as the woman.
However, Brady Gallagher and roommate Justin Lewis, both seniors, said this was the first case they knew of in which a freshman was suspended for striking another cadet.
“It’s disappointing because we’ve had a professional rat line from day one,” said Lewis, 21, of Snellville, Ga., referring to VMI’s grueling initiation for freshmen.
The cadet was one of the first 30 women to attend the 158-year-old college, which enrolled its first coed class last month after the Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that it could not be both state-supported and all-male.
For six years, VMI spent millions of dollars to keep women out, arguing that accommodating women would destroy its methods and its mission.
Strickler said the woman already had left the school. She will be allowed to re-enter next year but would have to again go through the “rat line.”
He was unsure if the cadet would return.
To date, 32 men and four women in the freshman class have left VMI since school began on Aug. 18.
First-year students, known as “rats,” live in Spartan barracks under a harsh system of strict discipline designed to test their physical, mental and emotional limits. The rats are screamed at, insulted and punished by a group of upperclassmen known as the cadre.
VMI says the process breaks down incoming cadets and rebuilds them as model citizen-soldiers.
South Carolina’s state-supported military college, The Citadel, has been embarrassed by charges of sexual harassment and hazing since Shannon Faulkner became the first woman to enroll there two years ago.
Two of the four women who enrolled last fall quit The Citadel in January, saying male cadets singled them out for extra hazing. On Monday, one of them sued the school, alleging male cadets sexually harassed her.
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