It seems to me that Tyrone Henry has missed the boat on the Shannon Faulkner issue ("Faulkner should conform," April 21). Allow me to explain. I attended the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, the smallest of the nation's five service academies, from 1989 to 1991. I matriculated exactly ten years after the last all-male class graduated. This class was legendary even a decade after its graduation. The Class of 1979 included the letters "LCWB" as a part of the iconography on their class rings. It was officially contended that the letters stood for the class motto: Leadership, Courage, Wisdom and Bravery. This contention was false and made solely for the benefit of the school's administration. The letters actually stood for "Last Class With Balls." This sexist acronym was intended as an inside joke that would relegate future classes to inferior status due to the presence of females within their ranks. Their tactic worked because one of the first pieces of Academy lore my classmates and I learned was the significance of "LCWB." I was saddened to find that 19 years after women were first admitted to the U.S. Coast Guard they still had to deal with blatantly prejudicial attitudes on a daily basis.
To my way of thinking, this same discrimination is being practiced to an even greater extent by private military academies such as The Citadel. The mission of any military academy is to graduate cadets who will make suitable officers in any branch of the armed forces of the United States. Women are indispensable parts of each service in both the enlisted and officer corps Ä ergo, they should be a vital part of any military academy.
First and foremost, women serve in every branch of our armed forces. Therefore, any man trained at a single-sex military academy is inherently inexperienced in dealing with women as peers or superiors within a military context. How well does a newly graduated 2nd Lieutenant from The Citadel handle a situation where a woman is his immediate superior officer? At the very minimum, a woman in a position of military authority will be new and different. At worst, the sexist values learned at a place like The Citadel will impede the proper execution of that 2nd Lieutenant's duty.
Since women are able to serve completely and gallantly in active service to our nation without suffering the indignity of a buzz-cut hairstyle, it only stands to reason that the same grooming standards should apply to military training academies. In fact, the grooming standards that apply to men on active duty are identical to the grooming standards of military schools. A logical parallel would be to use female active duty grooming standards to create similar standards for female cadets in training.
It is laughable that Mr. Henry honestly believes that the prospect of a shaved head is intended as anything other than a deterrent to a woman's enrollment. He asks us to "Imagine the first black cadet coming in with dreadlocks and demanding they not be cut" and to somehow equate that with the shaving of a woman's head. Perhaps if Mr. Henry wants to do more than "imagine the first black cadet," he should read The Lords Of Discipline. Although purportedly a work of fiction, this novel recounts the frightening plebe year of the first black cadet to attend the "Institute." Oddly enough, the author, Pat Conroy, was a senior at The Citadel when the first black cadet, admitted by a court order at least as controversial as the Faulkner decision, was a freshman.
Mr. Henry argues that Shannon Faulkner wants to "flaunt her individuality" and her supporters "don't get it." What Mr. Henry does not get is that Ms. Faulkner desires nothing more than fair treatment and the chance to do her best on an even playing field with her dignity intact.
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