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Does VMI Oppress Fat People?

By James A. Bacon and republished here by permission from Bacon’s Rebellion.

[On October 17] the Virginia Military Institute hosted Kimberly Dark, a gay- and fat-rights activist, at its Gender Inclusion Dinner. The VMI website has published no information about the event. But in her website, Dark said she intended to address “the ways in which women and LGBTQ+ cadets, along with those who struggle to meet the height/weight requirements of the military are still targeted for unfair treatment.”

Dark also said she intended to “touch on the views and values upheld by military and paramilitary organizations as well, and how pervasive those are in our society.”

Dark’s appearance prompted a rebuke from the Spirit of VMI PAC, a dissident alumni organization, for openly embracing “an attack on military standards to the Corps by a performance artist who tilts at the windmills of imaginary oppression on Post.”

The California native describes herself as queer, white-privileged and a gender-conforming “girl with a pretty face” who has been fat since childhood. Her most recent book, “the Daddies,” is a “dark love letter to masculinity” told as a “lesbian leather-Daddy love story” and an “indictment of patriarchy.” A previous work, “Fat, Pretty and Soon to Be Old,” combines storytelling and social analysis to probe how “appearance privilege” functions in everyday life.

Participation in the event was voluntary, VMI spokesman Bill Wyatt told Bacon’s Rebellion. He estimated that 60 to 70 cadets and 10 to 12 faculty and staff attended.

“Ms. Dark is just one of many speakers who come to post each semester,” Wyatt said. “VMI has a long history of providing forums for academics as well as national and world leaders to share their ideas. Providing such a forum is common for institutions of higher education and is not an endorsement of their ideas or policy positions. VMI will not shield our cadets from difficult conversations. Rather, we encourage them to participate in conversations and experiences that challenge them academically, philosophically, and emotionally in order to prepare them for the world which they’ll enter after graduation.”

Dark’s appearance already has fueled the ongoing debate over diversity and equity at VMI, which was assailed as racist and sexist by The Washington Post and an investigation launched by former Governor Ralph Northam. Under the direction of General Cedric T. Wins and a new Board of Visitors VMI has hired its first director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Over the summer, dissident alumni focused on the nature of “diversity” training, contending that the emphasis on racial, sexual and gender identity would undermine the VMI mission of tearing down such differences and remolding cadets through the Rat Line, barracks system, and honor code into citizen soldiers.

Dark’s focus on body-type identity adds another dimension to the diversity debate. Fat acceptance is diametrically opposed to the military requirement for physical fitness. As it is, the high incidence of obesity and lack of fitness of American youth is a commonly cited reason for the failure of the military to meet its recruitment goals.

The U.S. Army has two-tiered fitness standards: one for men, one for women. Males between the ages of 17 and 21 must be able to perform 35 pushups and 47 situps within two minutes, and run two miles in 16 minutes and 36 seconds. Females must be able to perform 11 pushups and 43 situps, and run two miles under 20 minutes 36 seconds. Why have such standards in an era of drone and missile warfare? Because the modern infantry soldier now carries the heaviest combat kit in the history of war — up to 88 pounds of uniform, boots, helmet, Kevlar jackets, rifles, ammo pouches, first aid kits, combat optics and more.

Critics of the Biden administration worry that military effectiveness is being compromised by the application of leftist identity politics under the guise of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion to the armed services. Dark’s appearance at the Gender Inclusion Dinner indicated that similar culture-war battles are playing out at VMI.

The Spirit of VMI called upon the VMI board and Virginia’s elected representatives to “halt this corrosive and divisive social indoctrination of the VMI Corps, and to restore the order of VMI’s traditional citizen-soldier leadership training.”

“To the thousands of VMI Alumni and friends who remain unengaged,” the Spirit of VMI asked, “are you awake yet?”

“The alumni group’s attempt to shut down the event assumes that our cadets can’t or won’t think for themselves or won’t challenge assumptions with which they disagree,” Wyatt responded. “Anyone who has spent any time with our cadets knows this to be untrue. Not surprisingly, our cadets listened respectfully, asked really great questions, and engaged in productive dialogue last night.”

One VMI alumnus in agreement with The Spirit of VMI was Jim Cottrell, VMI class of 1974, with Cottrell Fletcher and Cottrell, an Alexandria law firm. In a letter to Wins, he accused the Institute of virtue-signaling its new agenda for diversity, equity and inclusion and “force-feeding cadets instead of allowing them to make up their own minds after hearing simultaneously from advocates with different points of view. … [Dark] should have been part of a program that would allow her views to be countered and discussed by others who disagreed with her.”

“Presenting a free-standing lecture of one point of view … at a moment when everyone associated with the Institute and politically throughout the Commonwealth, if not the nation, is engaged in a deep division over CRT and DEI doctrines smacks of propagandistic political re-education that only totalitarians engage in to squeeze out opposing ideas,” Cottrell wrote.

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