Some Military Colleges Are 'At Ease' With Coeds
JAMIE STEWART recently finished one of the toughest college freshman orientations in the country. For one week she and her class were taught how to look, where to stand - even how to fold their shirts.
She ran two to three miles every morning and did push-ups on command. Discipline and order were strictly enforced.
''It's a crash course on how to be a cadet,'' Ms. Stewart says of the initiation, called Frog Week. ''When you go into this, everything is 'I,' but you learn you can't do things alone, and that makes you stronger.''
Stewart is one of about 30 women who are enrolled in the 450-member Corps of Cadets at North Georgia College in Dahlonega, Ga., a small town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains 60 miles north of Atlanta.
One of only four military colleges in the country, (military academies, like West Point, are in a different class) North Georgia has allowed women in its corps since 1974. Norwich University, a military college in Northfield, Vt., and the military academies also provide coeducational military training.
On this campus, cadet women do all the things men do, such as train with male cadets, and live in the same residence buildings. It offers a glimpse of how men and women interact in a military setting at a time when enrollments at military schools around the country are becoming increasingly diverse.
It also provides possible lessons in military coeducation, especially for The Citadel, a military college just across the state border from North Georgia College, fighting to remain all-male.
The Citadel's 2-1/2-year legal battle to keep women out of its ranks has yet to come to a close, though Shannon Faulkner, the first woman to gain admission to the state-supported South Carolina military institution, dropped out after only five days.
The Citadel's battle to keep women from wearing its blue-and-gray uniforms will likely be decided soon. A trial is scheduled in November on whether a women's leadership program at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C., is an acceptable alternative to allowing women into The Citadel.
Swelling the ranks
Meanwhile, another woman has stepped forward to take up the fight against the gender barrier. Nancy Mellette, a senior at a North Carolina military preparatory academy, has asked to take Ms. Faulkner's place in the lawsuit against the military college.
Faulkner has also filed a request that she not be dropped from the suit and stated she might return to The Citadel if other women marched in with her. She left the college after a week in August, saying that her health was threatened by the court fight and her isolation as the only woman cadet.
At North Georgia College, women cadets say they understand how Faulkner's isolation among a group of male cadets could have been tough. Here, however, many feel they're treated equally and with respect.
''Some guys from the Deep South think women shouldn't be here,'' says junior Tammy Stewart, a cadet sergeant major and sister of Jamie. ''But with most, it's not really an issue. Sometimes the men look at you so much as one of the guys that you have to dress up once in a while to show you're not.''
Men and women in uniform
North Georgia College serves three populations of students: men residents, required to join the military program; women residents, most of whom are not in the program; and commuters, who can elect to join. The other senior military colleges are The Citadel, the all-male Virginia Military Institute, and Norwich University.
When North Georgia, which graduated a woman in its first class in 1873, decided to allow women in its Corps of Cadets, eyebrows were probably raised, but the decision didn't create much controversy, says Col. Edward M. Chamberlain III, the commandant of cadets. ''Women have been part of the corps for long enough that there's no novelty.''
The women interviewed here say the women cadre is stricter than its male counterpart. ''We're such a minority; we're under the magnifying glass,'' says junior Katie Sunderland, a cadet master sergeant. Some think the attempt to set up separate women's leadership programs at women's colleges can be done successfully. ''They have to keep it at real high speed, with high standards,'' says Amanda Singley, cadet sergeant and junior.
In addition to Converse College in South Carolina, a women's leadership program has also been established at Mary Baldwin College, an all-women's college in Staunton, Va., in an effort to spare the Virginia Military Institute from coeducation. The Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to overturn the program.
Ms. Singley and other cadets, including men, say that while single-sex education can work, it does not prepare for the real world of the armed forces, which is integrated.
''I didn't accept women when I first came here,'' says senior Alan Weiler, a cadet captain. ''I do now. Now I can work with female cadets just as equally as with males.
''In the long run, if a Citadel cadet ends up in the Army, he might say, `What is this? I've got three women above me.'...I can walk into a platoon and know how things should be done.''