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The Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL), the nation’s only all-female cadet corps, will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Friday, March 18, 2005, on the Mary Baldwin University campus. A parade and ceremony will be held on the Upper Athletic Field and will feature The Honorable L. Douglas Wilder, Mayor, City of Richmond as keynote speaker. Wilder served as Virginia’s governor when planning for the VWIL program was initiated in 1993. See the VWIL anniversary Web site for the schedule.
In addition to Friday’s parade and ceremony, an alumnae parade will be held on Saturday, March 19, 1 p.m., at the Upper Athletic Field. Graduates from across the country are expected to return to campus for the event, including one flying in from Japan.
Over the past 10 years, the VWIL program has grown from an entering class of 42 to its current enrollment of 125 cadets. Of the 134 women who have graduated since 1999, 40 percent have chosen a military commission, many currently serving in Iraq and at military bases around the globe. The remaining 60 percent have selected civilian careers in public service such as intelligence, foreign service, teaching, social services, law enforcement, medicine, and law.
“From the beginning, the VWIL program has provided an unparalleled opportunity for young women to develop the skills, discipline, and character needed to succeed in their chosen careers,” says Brig. Gen. Michael Bissell. Bissell, a former commandant at the Virginia Military Institute and decorated Vietnam veteran, joined the program in 1995 and became VWIL’s first full-time commandant of cadets in 1999.
VWIL cadets are required to augment their liberal arts studies with a rigorous program of leadership development activities outside the classroom, physical training, and ROTC military training. Upon completion of the program, a VWIL graduate holds a bachelor’s degree in her major as well as a minor in leadership studies.
Mary Baldwin began designing VWIL in 1993 at the request of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which was facing a legal challenge to the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions policy. Mary Baldwin University, which was already known for its success in developing innovative academic programs, saw the development of a comprehensive leadership education program for women as an extension of its mission and assumed the responsibility of developing a female-only alternative to the VMI program and the co-educational ROTC corps available at Virginia Tech.
Under the direction of Dr. Brenda L. Bryant, the first VWIL class matriculated on Aug. 22, 1995, establishing the first and only all-female cadet corps in the country. Bryant remains as the program’s director.
“The VWIL program was founded as a challenging environment where honor, integrity and excellence are governing standards,” says Bryant. “These young women have learned to demand the best from themselves, and have drawn fully from the experiences and resources available in a single-sex education environment to build leadership skills for the future.”
In 1996, a U.S. Supreme Court judgment determined that, while single-sex education was not in itself unconstitutional, the fledgling VWIL program could not be considered “substantially comparable” to a VMI program that had been in existence for more than 150 years. VMI subsequently opened its doors to women in 1997.
Despite the ruling, the VWIL program has flourished and is considered a model for leadership education – whether coeducational or single-sex – nationwide. For more information about the VWIL program, go to go.marybaldwin.edu/vwil .