University Archive
Virginia Tech


Formal Versus Informal Power in "L" Squadron:
How, Why, and a Possible Solution to the Problem

by Fran Hart
(Term paper in Social Strat.)

I have chosen to do my paper as a participant observer of the power structure within a particular unit of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. The unit is "L" squadron, the female unit of the Corps. The unit is composed of Army and Air Force cadets, and also of women who are cadets only - that is, women who do not intend a military career, but remain in the pseudo military situation by choice. I was one of the original members of "L" squadron when women were first admitted to the Corps in 1973. I kept a journal for the three years I remained in the Corps, admittedly not for the purpose of a sociological research paper, however, it serves as a record of my perceptions and remembrances of the Corps. This paper will undoubtedly contain a certain amount of researcher bias, but I will try and minimize it.

At this introductory point in the paper I would like to include a brief glossary of terms that may be useful to the reader and will save me an explanation each time the term may come up.

Rat - a male freshman
Rat System - the freshman system that serves as "boot camp" for the cadet
Mouse - a female freshman
C.O. - the commanding officer, a captain if commander of one of the units
X.O. - the executive officer, second in command
A.O. - the administrative officer, in charge of the books and paperwork
Stick - a demerit, or the act of giving someone demerits
Eager Cadet - a cadet who is constantly striving to become an exemplary cadet
Hose - to tattle, or shirk or goldbrick; one who does this to fellow cadets
Bud or Buddy - a member of one's own rat class, such that all the members of the class of 1977 are buds.
Rag - to verbally attack, berate and belittle

As another preliminary measure, I would like to include a diagram of the formal organization of "L" squadron for the years 1973-1976.

1973-1974
Commanding Officer, Captain
Executive Officer, First Lt.
Administrative Officer, Second Lt.
Scholastics Officer, Senior Pvt.
Public Information Officer, Senior Pvt.
Flight Leader, Corporal
one other upperclassman with no position, but accorded the status of Senior Pvt. (there were actually no Seniors this year, juniors and sophomores upperclasswomen were treated as such for the purpose of administration and privileges) the freshmen class had eighteen members from whom squad leaders were elected quarterly

1974-1975
Commanding Officer, Captain Executive Officer
Executive Officer, First Lt.
Administrative Officer, Corporal
Scholastics Officer, Senior Pvt.
Public Information Officer, Second Lt.
First Sergeant - First Sgt.
six squad leaders - all Privates first class - two more were promoted later in the year
the freshmen class had eighteen individuals, none of whom had to perform any duties other than those normally assigned to the freshman classes in the other units.

1975-1976
Commanding Officer, Captain
Executive Officer, First Lt.
Administrative Officer, Second Lt.
Scholastics Officer, Second Lt.
One Senior Pvt.
First Sgt., First Sgt.
Supply Sgt., Sgt.
Athletics Officer, Sgt.
Public Information Officer, Sgt.
Three Squad Leaders, two of whom held the rank of Sgt.
One Corporal, who served as the ranking member of the sophomore class
There were four Juniors and five Sophomores without rank who served in various assistant positions
The Freshmen class started out with twelve individuals and elected a "Head Mouse," that is, a ranking freshman

The rank structure was necessarily distorted because of the brevity of the unit's existence and because of the unavailability of qualified upperclassmen to fill all of the positions. Many substitutions and instances of people holding a senior position with only freshman or sophomore status occurred in the years of 1973-1974 and 1974-1975. Because of the paucity of qualified seniors in both years, a junior class member was substituted as the C.O. of the unit, a substitution that caused considerable disgruntlement and uproar among the seniors of those respective years. Interestingly, the male seniors among the other units of the Corps were just as upset, if not even more so than the females who had been passed over.

The purpose of this paper is not to give a history of "L" squadron, but rather, to show how informal leadership can come to replace a formal, stylized power structure. A certain amount of the history is implicit in the project, however, in order to understand the phenomena.

Before going any further into my discussion, I believe a look into past research and findings relevant to this topic would be in order. These will not be presented in any relative order of importance, but simply as topics and thoughts to keep in mind.

I believe that Randall Collins' theory of stratification is of particular relevance. Collins says that getting deference is a matter of bearing; it depends on expecting obedience and treating disobedience as unthinkable. The upper-class man....is awesome, self-important, deliberate and dignified. The result is highly formalized codes of etiquette, ways in which potentates can deal with orders without letting down the facades of their position. Although Collins is referring to classes within the society as a whole, it certainly seems applicable to the Corps. Another point that Collins makes is the more one gives orders, the easier it is to continue to obey orders. This proposition seems in direct relationship to the situation that exists within the Corps, and also to the Stanford Prison experiments-another instance of peer rule as regards to the internalization of roles. Collins also says that if one gives orders the name of an organization, one comes to identify with that organization, another instance that is exemplified in the Corps.

The concept of a threefold typology of roles, that is, expected roles, perceived roles, and enacted roles has a bearing on the issue. The Corps is very prescriptive as regard to roles and can therefore be said to project the expected role; however, the individual interprets the system and obtains a perceived role. The conflict between these two resolves itself by virtue of the enacted role, but should the enacted role contradict the expected or the perceived role, a conflict will arise, either in the mind of the group or in the mind of the individual.

The concept of power or of leadership is an ambiguous one, but in this paper I define power as the ability of influence the actions of others in the unit, either directly on an interpersonal level, or indirectly on a beaurocratic level. I believe in Catell's theory of group syntality and leadership in relationship to group syntality - that is, a leader is defined as a person who has demonstrable influence upon group syntality, a person who causes syntality change. When I talk about power, I am talking about the ability to influence and change others.

The Corps tries to emphasize a class system. The Seniors have the most power and prestige, then the Juniors, then Sophomores, down to the lowest rung of the ladder, the Freshmen. The concept of "Stick Power" comes into this. No one can stick a Senior except another Senior, but a Senior can stick anyone. Juniors can only stick Sophomores and below, with the exception of First Sgts., who can stick other Sgts. and Juniors. Sophomores are not allowed to stick anyone, however they can recommend sticks to Juniors and Seniors. It all gets very complicated, because someone on guard is the exception, when even Freshman can recommend sticks and Seniors are not exempt. This is one of the reasons a Junior C.O. is so repugnant, because it gives a Junior the power to stick a Senior. One of the most common abuses of power occurs when a "Stick War" is started and the retaliation flies fast and furious, often to encompass individual in other units on the basis of friendship.

The entering Freshman is treated much like the incoming raw recruit in the military. He is stripped of past life associations and status, and forced into a system where he must compete for recognition, and recognition comes only by conformity to the group expectations and norms. The rat system is a period of drastic re-adjustment on the part of the Freshman. No matter who or what one was in high school, one must start anew. All freshman are on the same foot, they all start off from the same place. The two most heinous offenses are to be un-eager, or to be a hose. The Freshman is divorced from his past life, depersonalized as an individual, given a new reference group, and assimilated into the Corps of Cadets during the initial portion of the rat system. The Freshmen must all dress alike, and attempts are made to keep the Freshman in that uniform whenever possible. The upperclassmen make little or no effort to know anything personal about the Freshman , all that matters is how the Freshman performs in the Corps. Freshmen are not allowed to talk to one another in halls, heads, or on the area known as upper quad. Visitation of Freshmen between rooms is severely limited and then the Freshman must ask the upperclassman for permission, an act that further emphasizes the authority of the upperclass. Freshmen are not allowed to join any University activities until third quarter, and are required to be in their rooms Sunday through Thursday nights. A pass is allowed on Friday nights if the Freshmen are behaving well, but only to Squires, and only till 12:30. A Saturday night pass is allowed, but only to Squires, and only till 2:30. Freshmen are allowed to go home only once a quarter. Freshmen are not allowed phones in their rooms and are limited to ten minute conversations on the hall phones. Freshmen are required to work as a class on a Freshman project once a week, and encouraged to take responsibility for misdeeds as a class rather than as individuals. These regulations are all made for the same purpose - to isolate the Freshman from home, university and other classes, and to force the rat class to get together in situations that can be controlled by the upperclassmen. A Freshman who does not take advantage of these limited opportunities to socialize, or who tends to socialize with individuals not in the Corps, suffers the possibility of being labeled a "bad" cadet or as a hose - a deviator of the Corps norm.

The upperclass are dominant and do many things to enforce this dominant - subordinate relationship in the minds of the new Freshman. Upperclassmen are always addressed by both name and if applicable, rank, and as either sir or ma'am, such as "Good morning, Captain Richardson, sir." Freshmen are addressed as mister or miss, and sometimes by the use of the last name only or by the simple term or Rat. Freshmen are not required to perform menial service for the upperclass, but must allow upperclass to go first in lines, hold doors open for upperclassmen, speak up in greeting whenever seeing an upperclassman, and give up one's seat to an upperclassman if there aren't enough chairs to go around. Since there are never enough chairs to go around at unit meetings, and it would be hosing on one's buds to sit in a chair when they are sitting on the floor, the upperclass always tend to tower over the Freshmen who sit on the floor - a fact that was subconsciously noted and resented by the class of 1977 of "L" The Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets (V.T.C.C.) is not a part of the lifestyle of Va. Tech, but rather, an alternative. The ironic part of the whole experience and perhaps the most expected is the degree to which an individual will become involved in the activities of the Corps, to the exclusion of all other experiences. An individual will often replace a long term goal with a sort term goal that has become more immediate and important. For example:

Cadet Able is an Air Force scholarship cadet, pilot qualified who wants to be a pilot and an officer in the Air Force. In order to do this, he must successfully complete ROTC training and camp, and must maintain a good grade point average, i.e., not flunk out. He comes to Tech as a Freshman for additional leadership training believed to be available in the Corps. He learns that a good cadet takes pride in his unit. His uniform appearance is a reflection of this pride. If he has unshined shoes, he is a gross cadet, one who cares neither for himself or his unit. The problem arises when a conflict of time and interest occurs. If Cadet Able has an inspection and a test the next day, he can either neglect his shoes to study and thereby do better on the test, but be a detriment to his unit and bring down the wrath and ragging of the upperclassmen on his own head. Or, he can do his shoes, which conforms to the immediate norm and serves the purpose of decimally. The overwhelming majority of cadets will choose the latter course of action, not just Freshmen, but also upperclassmen who have come to closely identify with the image they try to project. Each person is seen as a member of a unit rather than an individual and the units all have traditions of years standings. The exception to this trend is the ladies squadron. The ladies seem to see themselves more as individuals and less as members of the unit than the guys. In the Corps today, one unit is known to produce goofoffs and derelicts, one unit is the most intelligent and academically oriented, one unit is the roughest and most dogmatic in outlook, etc., etc. The exception to this is also "L" squadron. Since all the girls must belong to this unit, there is no room for differentiation into units - however, cliques do arise frequently.

The problem that "L" has is one of establishing itself as a unit. The problem is inherently twofold. The ladies must first of all establish themselves in the face of the older units, and the unit must be a unique, distinguishable whole. This is impossible to do for many reasons, the most obvious being the influence of guys from particular units over the authority figures of "L", consciously or subconsciously. This influence of the males in the Corps helps to undermine the authority and influence the policy of "L" squadron.

The Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets is formally organized as a functional military line type organization with complete command and staff structure, as required. The Corps consists of one regiment which has one battalion, with four letter companies; one group with four letter squadrons, the regimental band company, "T" company, and a woman's squadron. The regimental commander, a cadet colonel, is responsible for the overall command of the entire Corps. The regimental staff assists the regimental commander in the discharge of his responsibilities and consists of the second-in-command of the regiment, the regimental adjutant - S1; the public information officer -S2, the plans and operations officer - S3, the supply officer - S4, all with the rank of major. The regimental special staff assists the regimental commander and the commandant of cadets and reports directly to the cadet regimental commander. This staff consists of: Honor Court chief justice, Honor Council chairman, defense attorney, prosecuting attorney, scholastics officer, and Corps chaplain. While the regimental commander and his staff are chosen from the units, they live together as a staff apart from the units. The Special Staff officers are all chosen from the units, but continue to live with their units and sometimes hold position in their respective units. (see diagram #1)

The official chain of command in "L" squadron runs in the following manner: Squad member to assistant squad leader, to squad leader, to 1st Sgt., to the unit X.O. if the matter pertains to a freshman squad member, and directly to the C.O. of the unit if the matter pertains to a sophomore or junior. Seniors can go directly to the C.O. and bypass the first Sgt. Since "L" squadron had a junior captain, this meant that Seniors had to take their problems to someone who was subordinate to themselves in class status, but superordinate in rank. The C.O. of "L" reported directly to regimental staff. This is how information dissimulation was supposed to run - but rarely did. Orders from staff were supposed to come down through the chain of command from regimental staff to C.O. to unit members - but again, this rarely occurred. The chain of command was broken daily in all units, but rarely to the extent that it was broken in "L".

This was due to one factor - women are women, and men are men, and forever two shall date. The formal chain of command was disrupted by informal friendship and dating relationships. The power in "L" squadron, at least specifically for the year 1975-1976, was backed not so much by what position one held, but by who one knew. A girl might be low on class and/or rank status, but by virtue of dating a member of staff, often have access to privileged information or have the ability to put pressure on a ranking superior. This is not to say that only girls dating guys with high rank were leaders or had power, although the majority often had power proportionate to the power of the person they dated. (which led to an interesting speculation on my part - Girls who were leaders in "L" usually dated guys who were leaders in the Corps. Was this because dominant people with leadership ability were attracted to one another, or did their relationship help enforce the personality traits needed for leadership?) Cliques within "L" were often formed along informal interaction lines. That is, girls dating guys in "C" company tended to band together, the girls dating guys in "H" squadron tended to band together, etc.

The male units managed to present a front of solidarity. Although problems arose within the male units, they usually managed to solve them with a minimal amount of outside intervention. It seemed that when a trouble situation occurred, the guys banded together and solved it themselves. This was exactly opposite in the ladies unit. It was impossible to keep a problem within the unit. Either purposely or inadvertently a girl would let slip something to her boyfriend. The official chain of command was quite often bypassed, and it was not rare that the formal leaders in "L" such as the C.O. and X.O. were confronted with an issue and asked why it had not been resolved when they had no knowledge of the problems existence. This in turn exerted pressure on the formal leaders to maintain some type of authority and led to a defensively strict enforcement of all rules, even petty ones that other units ignored. The enforcement of these rules that were not being obeyed by one's boyfriend led to further resentment and a desire to circumvent the rules and buck the organized authority.

The influence of the guys was often manifested in another manner. When circumstances called for a change in unit policy, there was a strong trend for girls to bring in the attitudes of their boyfriends. One girl might wish to treat the policy as her boyfriend in "F" did, another supported the policy of "C", and so on. This created schisms in the unit and reinforced the existence of the informal cliques.

These problems of power arose not just among the girls in the upperclasses, but were particularly aggravated when an upperclass member's authority was challenged by a freshman. Although a policy of no fraternization between female freshmen in the system and male upperclassmen was in existence, this often became hard to enforce, particularly in such instances where a female freshman had a brother who was a senior, or in the case of a Blacksburg native who had dated an upperclassmen in the Corps before coming into the unit. These freshman girls could bring pressure to bear upon their own upperclasses, and few were reluctant to do so.

This trend started to emerge as early as my freshman year, the first year. There were no fraternization policies as regard to cross-frat (that is, fraternization between sexes, although same sex frat was forbidden when freshmen were in the system, as is frat in the Armed Services on the basis of enlistment and commissioned officers.) One particular instance comes to mind and will serve to illustrate this point. My roommate and I were caught talking out of the window three times during evening call to quarters. The first time we were warned, the second time we were reprimanded, and the third time the C.O. came in to stick us. We were talking to a member of staff, another senior, and a junior. These guys persuaded the C.O. not to stick us - a direct circumvention of the rules. Of course, it was not fair, but this type of thing happened regularly. At the time, I don't think any of us realized the habits we were establishing, not even our upperclass members.

When looking at this problem objectively, I think it should be noted that the problems that "L" had are not solely attributable to the males in the Corps. Rather, it is as much the fault of the women for letting them occur. When trying to figure out why these things happened, I think it is important to look at research findings on women and conformity. John Stuart Mill in his The Subjection of Women emphasized that subtle and pervasive social conditioning is the means by which women are prepared to accede to roles as the servants of men. Women are taught that it is not feminine to disagree with or contradict a male. Uesugi and Vinache (1963) found that women more often than men adopt an anti-competitive norm. Experimental evidence by Beloff (1958). Constanzo and Shaw (1966) and Reitan and Shaw (1964) supports the expectation that women conform to norms in mixed sex groups more often than men.

I believe the solution of the power struggle in "L", with all its resultant frustrations and irritations for the members lies in the dissolution of the ladies squadron and the integration of the girls into the various other units. This option has already been found to be efficacious by the Army - they have phased out the Palls Athena branch and re-assigned its members to other branches. I think the girls would be less likely to try and manipulate the rules and that better interpersonal relationships between males and females on a working level would come about as a result of getting to know a larger number of guys rather than just the one a girl dates. I think a higher degree of group cohesiveness would be found in mixed units.

The formal power structure of the ladies unit looks simple, but in actual fact, is extremely complex. The pretty diagrams look well on paper, but in reality are either so ignored or so distorted as to be unrecognizable. I have touched on some of the factors that make this so, but further research is needed to fully understand the nature of this phenomena. I understand that "L" squadron is having even more of a struggle with this problem this year than ever before. I believe the situation builds on itself and will continue to do so if some drastic change is not made. I have offered the best possible solution that I see.