Academic journal article Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy

The Solidarity Paradox

Academic journal article Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy

The Solidarity Paradox

Article excerpt


A centuries-old bastion of masculinity and Southern tradition, the Virginia Military Institute ("VMI") first admitted women in 1997 after the Supreme Court of the United States concluded that VMI's single-sex admissions policy violated the Equal Protection Clause. (3) These female trailblazers were figurative test subjects in a social experiment exploring relations between the sexes in a hypermasculine environment, and by all accounts, their presence provoked palpable resistance.

But how did male cadets of color (4) react to coeducation? (5) Like women, men of color have experienced disenfranchisement, inequality, and discrimination, and their initial attempts to integrate universities historically provoked resistance. (6) Opponents of women's suffrage, equal rights, and assimilation at VMI often recycled arguments once used to fight black suffrage, civil rights, and racial integration, and the U.S. Supreme court eventually rejected those arguments on similar grounds. (7)

Indeed, the first women to attend VMI followed in the footsteps of courageous men of color, including five African American (8) men who had matriculated at VMI nearly three decades earlier. (9) Yet at the onset of coeducation in 1997, VMI's formerly all-white student body included a sizeable minority of men who self-identified as Black or African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian, Alaskan Native, biracial, and multiracial. Thus, VMI unwittingly became the perfect social laboratory to explore what attitudes toward the assimilation of women at VMI persist at the intersection of race and sex in a predominantly white, male-dominated environment, and to what extent, if any, these men's collective experiences as persons of color would correlate with their reaction to the assimilation of women at VMI.

To explore this narrow question, the Article relies upon data collected when a sociologist, psychologist, (10) and I partnered to conduct an anonymous online survey of VMI's entire student population. The Article first explores the intersection of sex and race to explain why the data is broken down along those lines. Next, it recounts VMI's unique history and culture, especially with regard to racial integration and sex assimilation. The Article then shares empirical findings regarding students' familiarity with and perceptions of U.S. v. Virginia, perceptions of why members of the opposite sex attend VMI, and attitudes toward coeducation and its impact on VMI. These findings suggest that sex, rather than race, is generally a stronger predictor of a cadet's attitudes toward coeducation at VMI. Finally, the Article explores possible explanations for these findings as well as their potential implications for the future.

I. The Intersection of Sex and Race

In 1910, a force to be reckoned with in the fight for equality was born. (11) Her name was Anna Pauline "Pauli" Murray. A descendant of both slaves and slave owners, Murray went on to study law at Howard University after the University of North Carolina purportedly threatened to build a separate graduate school rather than admit Murray to study there as she had originally hoped. (12) During law school at Howard, Murray experienced the ugly intersection of racism and sexism firsthand--a phenomenon she aptly named "Jane Crow". (13) And it was sexism, not racism, that led Harvard Law School to reject Murray's application for the Rosenwald Fellowship typically awarded to Howard's number one graduate--Murray--simply because she was not "'of the sex entitled to be admitted.'" (14) Murray would later recount that her rejection on the basis of sex "was a source of mild amusement" to many of her male colleagues at Howard the same men passionately fighting for racial equality. (15)

Exemplifying resilience, Murray pursued a Master's Degree at the University of California-Berkeley. Later, while obtaining her doctorate at Yale, she served on the Civil and Political Rights Committee of the President's Commission on the Status of Women ("PCSW"). …

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