Female cadets raise bar as ranks swell to new high By Jessica Van Sack BostonHerald.com June 17, 2007 The U.S. Military Academy at West Point is on track to make history this year with its largest ever class of female cadets. Megan Snook, 17, is among the 224 young women who have accepted offers to enter the class of 2011, representing a record-breaking 17 percent of the 1,314 future Army officers that West Point had on its rolls as of May 31. “I get excited about getting to serve my country, and the patriotism just hits,” said Snook, who graduated this month from Carlisle Regional High School in Concord. She is the only woman from Massachusetts entering West Point’s class of 2011, officials said. The 200-year-old academy didn’t admit any women until 1976. Now, even as the total number of male and female applicants has fallen over the past five years, West Point administrators say more women are applying and fewer are declining invitations to attend. Of 284 women who were offered spots in the freshman class, 60 declined. Last year, 65 of 249 women who were offered admission decided to go elsewhere. The Army is aggressively recruiting gifted female students such as Victoria Schuele, 18, who received a letter of assurance in September guaranteeing her a spot before she even applied. Schuele, who graduated last week from Cranston High School West in Rhode Island, visited the academy and immediately knew it was for her. She applied nowhere else. “I absolutely love it there,” she said of West Point. Also recruited was Laura Burdick, 17, a star athlete and student in Farmington, Conn., just outside Hartford. Initially, however, her family was wary. “Of course my family were all proud, but also my mom I know is nervous,” Burdick said. “When I explained to them what it’s about and how it’s making me feel to go there, they accepted it.” With basic training set to begin July 2, Burdick said she’s “definitely nervous.” Advocates for women in the military say they’d like to see the proportion of female officers at least reach that of women in the military, which stands at about 22 percent. They say West Point is making strides. “There’s room for improvement, but they’re moving in the right direction,” said Marene Allison, who graduated with West Point’s first class of women in 1980. “Certainly you have a much different working environment from when I was there,” said Allison, a Bay State native who went on to be an FBI agent. Of the original crop of 129 women in 1976, just 60 made it to graduation after four years of hazing. “It was like, ‘I am just going to survive until tomorrow,’ ” said Allison, who now is on the board of directors for the West Point Women Organization. Today, female cadets still face challenges beyond that of their male counterparts, a recent study suggests. According to the 2006 Service Academy Gender Relations Survey, 10.5 percent of female students reported having been exposed to unwanted sexual contact, which can include rape and attempted rape. Sixty percent reported experiencing some type of sexual harassment at West Point, and 89 percent said they experienced sexist behavior. Those levels are slightly above those of the U.S. Naval and Air Force academies.