Posted by Stacey K. Vargas, Associate Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Virginia Military Institute
I am not a member of the W&L community, I am a member of the VMI community. I wish I could say that I am shocked by the information on the Speaking Freely page, but I am not. I am not because we are experiencing the same disgusting denigration of women in the Cadet, the VMI newspaper, and the BOMB, the VMI yearbook. In November of 2007 I filed a formal complaint to the VMI Inspector General in reference to the “haters” in the 2006 BOMB. “Haters” is the name used by cadets that hate women at VMI and willing participate in activities that create a hostile environment for women at the Institute. In the response to my complaint, the Inspector General states that the BOMB is a cadet publication and “VMI does not control their operation or their content”. In addition he says that “ the First Amendment would limit the Institute’s authority to exclude speech based on the viewpoint of the individual speaker. The freedom of individuals to express political views is at the core of what is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, even-indeed especially-when those views are unpopular, or at odds with the government or its institutions.” As I type in the quote my blood boils and asks myself when is it a viewpoint and when is it hate speech. What about Title IX? Are women really protected by Title IX? In April, I filed another formal complaint along with two other female faculty members on several women’s issues one of which was related to the humor page of the Cadet paper that continuously includes cartoons and comments that degrade women. In April there was a cartoon that had a mathematical proof with the end equation being “women=evil” and in November there was a reference to a common VMI uniform term called raping your ducks (where you pull the pant legs of your cleanly pressed uniform apart because they are stuck together) which said, “A fun and safe way to utilize the word raping in our vocabulary. Turns a negative into a positive.” When is it appropriate to joke about rape? We have had several discussion at VMI with the administration, faculty, staff and cadets related to the Bomb and The Cadet but in the end there seems to be no real resolution. Why do young men and in some cases women think this is ok? Why do both of our Institutions refuse to take a stand against discrimination and hate speech? Why aren’t all administrators, faculty, staff and students outraged? What can we do to stop it? I am still waiting for a response to the second formal complaint but my hopes are not high. I applaud all of you for speaking freely and speaking out against the denigration of women. If you would like any additional information on issues at VMI please feel free to contact me, Stacey K. Vargas, Associate Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, email@example.com.