Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Vmi Parts With Tradition, Women With Their Hair

Associated Press

Beth Ann Hogan broke a 158-year tradition Monday when she became the first woman to write her name into the leather-bound book signed by incoming freshmen at the Virginia Military Institute.

She then followed an age-old tradition by getting her head shaved as she became the first woman to enroll in the formerly all-male military school.

“At that point, you know you’ve arrived,” said Tom Warburton, a 21-year-old upper-class cadet. “When you step under those clippers, you commit yourself to VMI. You could uncommit yourself, but then you go home with a funny haircut.”

Hogan, 17, of Junction City, Ore., was among the 31 women and 430 men who spent the day registering for classes and visiting the school barber.

The women arrived at VMI’s imposing castlelike barracks in a glare of publicity because of the institution’s long fight to be the last state-supported college to exclude women.

VMI’s hope was to make the change without the scandals that beset The Citadel since Shannon Faulkner became the first woman to enroll in the South Carolina military college in 1995 but dropped out after less than a week.

“All eyes are on VMI,” Kevin Trujillo, this year’s senior class president, told an assembly. “Some are just salivating at the thought of our failure. All it will take is the mistake of one person.”

VMI spent six years and millions of dollars fighting federal efforts to force the college school to accept women.

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that if the school accepts tax money it must accept women. VMI’s board voted 9-8 to accept women rather than go private and stay all-male.

In admitting women, the school refused to soften its rigid discipline. Women will wear the same drill uniforms as the men. They will live in spartan barracks, just as their brethren do. No lipstick. No jewelry. No dating upperclassmen.

The only nod to gender was a slightly less unsightly buzz cut.

The men’s hair was trimmed to stubble on the sides and a half-inch on top. Women’s hair was trimmed to about three-eighths of an inch on the sides and about an inch on top, said Col. Mike Strickler, a school spokesman.

The first to be so shorn was Brooke Green of Shirley, N.Y., who entered the barber shop with a brown mane that reached midway down her back and left rubbing her brush cut and picking stray hairs out of her mouth.

The first-year students will have two days of orientation, then on Wednesday the start of the dreaded “rat line,” a rite of initiation that signals the beginning of a demanding year. They will live under a system of rigid discipline intended to force freshmen to look to one another for support and develop strong bonds of loyalty.

“It’s an initiation so dark and scary it’s almost unbearable alone,” Col. Alan S. Farrell, the dean of faculty, told new cadets and their parents.

He said the annual ritual is brutal, but “by brutality, I do not mean the laying on of hands or battery. That is proscribed absolutely here. But I mean a certain intolerance to human frailty that can appear brutal.”

VMI hopes to avoid the scandals that dogged The Citadel, the school Faulkner left citing stress and isolation. The school was later accused by subsequent female cadets of turning a blind eye to harassment.

The Justice Department, which sued to force women into VMI’s ranks, is watching for signs that women are singled out for harsher treatment at VMI.