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Gender Discrimination - Discrimination In Education: Access To Educational Opportunities

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Women college students have traditionally been denied access to the educational opportunities offered by all-male, military-oriented institutions of higher learning. (Note that these establishments are not part of any branch of the armed forces). They have been denied admission on the grounds that the physical training would be too rigorous for them, their presence would adversely affect the morale of the male students, and their inclusion would necessarily result in the reduction of standards.

However, the United States Supreme Court discredited such reasons in United States v Virginia (1996), when it held as unconstitutional the male-only admission policy practiced by the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). The Supreme Court found that such policy violated the equal protection clause under the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Established in 1839, VMI was the only remaining single-sex public institution of higher learning in Virginia. Its goal was to produce "citizen-soldiers" who were prepared for leadership in civilian life and military service. In furtherance of this goal, VMI used an "adversative method," which included mental stress, absence of privacy with constant surveillance, and minute regulation of behavior.

The Supreme Court determined that sex classifications may not be used to create or perpetuate the legal, social, and economic inferiority of females. Furthermore, the Supreme Court rejected VMI's argument that the establishment of a separate program for women would cure the constitutional violation. In this regard, the Supreme Court pointed out that an all-female college would not afford its students an opportunity to experience the same rigorous military training that was provided by VMI. It would also deprive the female students of the prestige, traditions, and community standing available to their male counterparts at VMI.

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