Some cadets at the storied Virginia Military Institute are outraged over a series of caustic personal attacks posted to a photo-caption Web site and directed at female students, minorities and college administrators.
The posts are on the site quickmeme and appear to target several VMI cadets, as well as top brass. The site’s format allows users to create captions within portrait photos, much like the formula of lolcats, except that many of these captions are vulgar and personal.
Many of the posts amount to inconsequential grumbling about daily life at the institute, a state-funded military school with a 170-year history and a punishing routine.
One is a portrait of General J.H. Binford Peay III, superintendent of the institute, with the accusatory caption “1600 lonely males . . . blocks all porn.” A thread of comments on Deputy Commandant Lieutenant Colonel Gary Levenson includes the barb, “one does not simply approve permits.”
Others are clearly hurtful. Several threads attack female cadets with vulgar, sexual language. One appears to berate an African-American officer with racially derogatory terms. There are many unflattering depictions of homosexuality, and I think I saw at least one note of anti-Semitism. Dozens of the posts are peppered with VMI slang, indecipherable to outsiders.
VMI spokesman Lt. Col. Stewart MacInnis told me, “We’re in the process of contacting the site to see if they can do something about the most egregious posts.”
The posts about VMI leaders are mostly — although not entirely — innocuous.
“Cadets are always grumbling about what goes on at VMI,” MacInnis said. “And when that grumbling goes public, that concerns us to some extent.”
Far more worrisome, he said, are the personal attacks directed at cadets. VMI was the last all-male public college when it went co-ed in 1997 at the insistence of the U.S. Supreme Court. Former superintendent Josiah Bunting III went on record as “savagely disappointed” by the ruling. Cadets had worn T-shirts that read “Better Dead Than Co-Ed.”
Today, the cadet population is about 10 percent female, and, like all service academies, VMI struggles to make female cadets feel safe, let alone welcome.
“The comments that hurt the most are the ones directed towards females, saying that we are destroying VMI, we dont belong here, and that we are weak and useless,” said one female cadet, who spoke by e-mail on condition of anonymity. “The ones that personally attack those girls are extremely offensive as well, because all they talk about is their sexual history, in a very derogatory manner.”
The cadet said angry parents and alumni have been telephoning the school relentlessly.
“Yesterday, the class president emailed the school telling us to stop posting these things, but unfortunately it added more fuel to the fire,” she said. “The website was blocked by the IT department by VMI last night; but the damage was already done.”
MacInnis said there appears to be no way to tell who authored the offending posts.
“I think we're most concerned that we have cadets here who think it’s all right to post these things about other people,” he said.