|Black History at VT:||Black History Timeline||First Black Grads||Black Women||Oral Histories|
|First Black Woman in the Corps of Cadets: Cheryl Butler McDonald|
[Tape 1, side 1]
Kennelly: Where are you from?
McDonald: Originally from Norfolk, Virginia. My father was in the Air Force, and we did a lot of traveling around, and he eventually retired in Norfolk, but I'm originally from Norfolk.
Kennelly: What did your mother do?
McDonald: She was a housewife the whole 20 years my father was in.
Kennelly: You grew up with the military?
McDonald: Yes, I did.
Kennelly: Was it something that always drew you or...?
McDonald: Not really. It was always fun as a kid traveling around seeing new places and meeting new people and different cultures and everything. But when I came here, I had absolutely no plans to go into the military at all.
Kennelly: Why did you come to Virginia Tech?
McDonald: I liked the reputation of the school, and I was going for a math major at the time, and it seemed to have a good math program and engineering type program which I was interested in.
Kennelly: Where did you go to high school?
McDonald: My first few years were out in California because my father was still in, and he came back my senior year, and it was in Virginia Beach at Bayside High School.
Kennelly: So when you were growing up, were you all over the world, or just all over the United States, or did you just do a lot of traveling?
McDonald: We did a lot of traveling, I spent some of my elementary school years were spent here in Virginia in the Tidewater area. Part were spent in New Mexico. Junior high were spent in Okinawa, and my early high school years were in California, and my father retired back to Virginia for my last year.
Kennelly: So were you going to military base schools?
McDonald: Not all of the time. When we were here, I went to public schools. When we were overseas, I went to military schools, and I went to military schools when I was in New Mexico. But my high school was just in the local neighborhood, and they just bused us.
Kennelly: So you were bused when you went to school?
McDonald: From the base yes, but all the kids were bused from the base to the high school. It wasn't that far away, but it was the closest high school.
Kennelly: Was it a pretty well integrated school?
Kennelly: So you were used to an integrated community and school.
McDonald: Yes, pretty much.
Kennelly: Do you have brothers and sisters?
McDonald: Yes, I'm the oldest of four kids. I have one sister that is a year younger than I am, and then two brothers, one three years younger and the other is seven years younger.
Kennelly: Did anyone else decide to go into the military?
McDonald: My youngest brother.
Kennelly: What did he do?
McDonald: He is still in, and he is an emergency medical technician.
Kennelly: In what branch?
McDonald: He went in the air force.
Kennelly: So it wasn't like you were in one community when you were growing up.
McDonald: No, we traveled and went a lot of different places.
Kennelly: Why did you join the Corps of cadets?
McDonald: It's really weird. When I was a freshman one Friday afternoon a friend of mine when I was living in West AJ [Ambler Johnston], asked me if I wanted to go take the qualifying exam for the Air Force ROTC program. And I said, "When is it?" She said, "Saturday morning." And I wasn't doing anything Saturday morning, so we went and took the exam, and I scored fairly high on it, and I said, "Well I really don't know what I want to do, so maybe I'll join the Corps." And that was probably the reason why I joined.
Kennelly: So had you been at Tech for a whole year?
McDonald: Yes, I had gone through my first semester, and it was right after Christmas.
Kennelly: And you joined then?
McDonald: No I went through a whole year, 'cause they didn't even allow women until the following year.
Kennelly: And did your friend go in?
McDonald: No, she didn't. I was the only one. She did want to go, and I was the only one that went. I just went along to be with her, but she never went in.
Kennelly: Was she black?
McDonald: No, she was white.
Kennelly: So you had a year of being a student at Tech before you even went into the Corps. What was your experience that first year as far as the racial climate at Tech?
McDonald: I guess I didn't have that many problems with it. I had grown up in an integrated environment, so I didn't have any adjustments to make. Some people did, but it didn't even occur to me to treat people differently because they are black or white.
Kennelly: Well, were there....
McDonald: And I never had anything directed towards me. I was just a dumb freshman, like all the other dumb freshmen there that year.
Kennelly: And was your roommate black or white?
McDonald: She was black, but the school paired us up like that. It wasn't because of preference on her or my part.
Kennelly: So the school automatically paired by race it seemed?
McDonald: Yes, it did.
Kennelly: As far as, let's say, eating, were you eating with a mixed racial group of black and white?
McDonald: Yes. I ate with the girls that were on my floor 'cause I knew them better than I did anyone else. And maybe some people out of my classes. But no, I didn't pick a group to sit with just because they were black or because they weren't.
Kennelly: So it didn't seem difficult to you that you were a minority? Did you feel lonely?
McDonald: Not really, I knew I was there because I was a minority, but that didn't seem to make too much of a difference.
Kennelly: Were you recruited to come to Tech? Did you get a scholarship?
McDonald: I got a scholarship once I got up here. I wasn't actively recruited, no.
Kennelly: Was it a Rockefeller scholarship?
McDonald: I don't think so, it was a work study scholarship.
Kennelly: What about the town? Did you feel comfortable in the town of Blacksburg and how the people treated you downtown?
McDonald: Oh yes. I never noticed anything. I really didn't experience racism in the military until I was stationed down South. And that's when it really struck me. Even when we were living here and even in Norfolk, there were black sections of town, but no one would refuse to serve you. I ran into that in Florida.
Kennelly: What happened down there?
McDonald: I had gone into a store in the mall to buy something. I was the only customer in there, and another lady came in, and I needed some help with something, and the salesperson just refused to even work with me, and she helped the other lady, so I just left.
Kennelly: But there was never a feeling here of that when you were a student?
Kennelly: What about--did you go to dances when you were here?
McDonald: I went to a few, and parties and stuff. But they were all black/white parties. I did go to a lot of parties where I was the only black person there, and I went to some where there were no whites at all. I was just kind of one of the gang 'cause they were used to me hanging out with them.
Kennelly: Did you have any white male friends. Would you've felt comfortable going out with a white male if you'd wanted to?
McDonald: I imagine so, yes.
Kennelly: That didn't happen though here?
McDonald: No, not here it didn't.
Kennelly: You came here, and you were studying math. When you got into the Corps, did you think of yourself as a pioneer joining the Corps?
McDonald: Yes, because we were the first ones, and we felt more like specimens. We were kind of put under a microscope, and everything we did, everyone was watching in the Corps. And I think on campus too. We were kind of a novelty item. I remember when we would drill, and we'd happen to leave the_____ ladies people would be like, "Oh look at the ladies." We just created a sensation because we were something new.
Kennelly: Did you find that difficult being under the microscope?
McDonald: It was frustrating at times because no one knew exactly what they wanted us to do, so it was kind of hard to take direction when every time you turned around, the direction changed.
Kennelly: I read this paper that one of the other women of the Corps wrote, and she said that when you would go down to eat meals, you wouldn't know from one day to the next whether you should have your hair up or down. Did you find that difficult?
McDonald: It wasn't difficult in so much that it was frustrating, you know, because we didn't have a standard. Well we did have a standard we were trying to set, but nobody knew what it was because they couldn't figure out whether they wanted us to emphasize being feminine or de-emphasize it.
Kennelly: So just sort of a basic thing of whether you like express your femininity in a sense with your hair and stuff, and your dress, is that what you're saying?
McDonald: Back then, you know, we didn't, we didn't. When we first started off, we weren't allowed to wear pants. We had to wear the skirts and heels. Which was ridiculous to march in and stuff like that. And when we got pants, it was the most wonderful thing. We just loved it. And the cut of the uniforms had to be feminine. They didn't want to put us in the Corps uniform because it was too masculine looking, and the color was unflattering. There was a whole bunch of emphasis placed on the fact that we were women.
Kennelly: I noticed in the pictures they're very short skirts, but I know that was the style too of the time. But there was a lot of leg....
McDonald: Oh yes, and we had a regulation. They could be so high and so low. They could be between two inches above the knee to four inches above the knee or something like that. We had a specified height they could be at above the knee.
Kennelly: And everything was?
McDonald: Yes, it was fairly uniform.
Kennelly: Where were you living when you were in the Corps?
McDonald: I was in Monteith.
Kennelly: And were all the women there?
Kennelly: Was that partly a civilian dorm?
McDonald: Yes, we had the first floor, and the other three floors were civilian.
Kennelly: Was that difficult having a mixture of civilians and women in the Corps?
McDonald: At times, because we were a lot more restrictive than the civilian population was. So we had lights out at ten o'clock, and weekends they had to have passes and stuff in order to leave, and the civilians were running out of the dorms at all times, and we couldn't have guys visiting, and the civilians could. And so it was sometimes hard to explain to the underclassmen why the restrictions were there just because they were in the Corps.
Kennelly: So it would be hard to have lights out when people were.....
McDonald: Well we'd have the lights out, and it was an adjustment on the part of the civilian population in the dorm too because they weren't used to having the Corps there. So they had to learn to adjust to us and quit making fun of the fact that oh you guys have to be in bed by ten o'clock, which they did.
Kennelly: So they would give you a hard time?
McDonald: Some of them did, some were pretty understanding, some of them just looked at us like we were crazy, like, Why are you putting yourself through this? But it was a learning experience. And after the first semester, they got used to the fact that the women were in the corps and they were there, and it made it a lot easier for all of us.
Kennelly: Do the women in the Corps tend to sort of stay together, like not mingle that much in Monteith?
McDonald: Yes, I think so.
Kennelly: And when you joined the Corps, you must have known people from the first year. Did you maintain those friendships?
McDonald: I maintained some of them, but it was no where near as close because I couldn't get out all the time and do all the stuff. Like I couldn't go to all the parties and stuff. I couldn't just take off on a whim to go shopping because we had the pass system where you weren't allowed to leave the campus unless you had a legitimate reason for leaving. And as a civilian you don't have that restriction. If you feel like going downtown to go shopping anytime that you didn't have class and sometimes even if you had class, you could do that. But the Corps you weren't allowed to do that, and the common interests weren't there anymore. We had classes in common. But we were in the Corps, and that was so much different than being a civilian, and that was kind of hard sometimes to keep track of the friends that you made freshmen year.
Kennelly: So when you went to classes, did you tend to sit with people who were also members of the Corps?
Kennelly: You would just sit wherever? It didn't matter?
McDonald: Well for us I came in the Corps as a sophomore, and there were only three other sophomore females in the Corps, and all of us were taking different disciplines, so we never had any classes together. And the males in the Corps we didn't know and some were really resentful of the fact that we were in there. So why put up with that hassle? I'll just go sit with the people I already know, and I don't care if they are Corps or not.
Kennelly: Were you ever hassled by any of the men?
McDonald: Not hassled so much as you got the feeling that sometimes they didn't want you to be there.
Kennelly: How would they express that?
McDonald: Well they would come out right in the meeting and say that they felt their standards were being lowered because women were in the Corps and we weren't physically as capable as they were, and we couldn't take all the Corps discipline stuff. They're just afraid of change.
Kennelly: Why do you think they admitted women to the Corps?
McDonald: I think it was a numbers game. Corps manning was going down, and they needed to get some numbers in. And plus with the climate back then--women's lib and all that good stuff--I think they decide particularly with the services starting to integrate more with the females in the military that they wanted to bring women into the Corps so they could start being in the military more.
Kennelly: The military itself was starting to accept more women?
McDonald: Yes, because the Air Force Academy--I was in the Air Force ROTC--the Air Force Academy started taking women in 1975. And, I don't know, we were like a pilot program for them or not.
Kennelly: So were any of the staff advisors you had--were any of them women?
McDonald: Yes, we had a female advisor. She helped us put our uniforms together.
Kennelly: Was she helpful to you with dealing with the problems you were facing?
McDonald: Yes, she kept things really calm, and everyone really respected her. She was a nice influence.
Kennelly: Were there any black advisors or any black regimental staff?
McDonald: My first year no. My second year the regimental XO was black.
Kennelly: Was that an improvement?
McDonald: Oh I thought he was an idiot. Not because he was black. Just because of his person. It didn't really change things that much.
Kennelly: Did you all eat in Monteith?
McDonald: We ate in the dining hall with the guys, we stood formation, and we marched into the dining hall just like all the other units.
Kennelly: How was that when you were eating? Did the guys tend to hassle you?
McDonald: Some of the stuff was kind of petty. We ate in the dining hall. We ate on the lower level. You came in on the upper level, and then you had to go down stairs to eat. And going downstairs in skirts--first we were standing against the outside railing along with everyone else, but everyone could just look up and look underneath the skirts, so we had to scoot over to the inside railing. It wasn't really a hassle; it was just kind of childish.
Kennelly: So they wouldn't actually say anything?
McDonald: No, because each squadron was responsible for disciplining their own squadron members. The freshmen rats were being taught all the rules and regulations, so their eating habits were really prescribed, so you had to take a bite of food, put your fork completely down, chew your food, and then you could pick up your fork again take another bite. I mean it was really restricted. So most of the emphasis and the attention for the individual squadrons and companies was placed on getting their folks into the military mind set and following regulations. So they didn't pay that much attention to us once we got in.
Kennelly: What about you then? You were coming as a sophomore, so it would be odd to be a rat as a sophomore. Did you ever feel like you were a rat?
McDonald: We had maybe a day of being a rat, and they had to have an upper class for the female freshmen.
Kennelly: So there were three of you?
McDonald: No there were seven of us, there were three juniors and four sophomores.
Kennelly: So suddenly you became upper class?
Kennelly: So did you ever experience the rat system?
Kennelly: And then did you try to enforce the rat system on the underclassmen?
McDonald: Yes, they have what they call Cadre Week--the week prior to the freshmen getting here when the upperclassmen come back, the ones that are going be responsible for the "rat system." So all the upperclassmen L Squadron were there so we could learn what the rat system was, and how to enforce it.
Kennelly: So what kind of things did you enforce then?
McDonald: It was teaching the girls how to march, how to wear the uniform, setting up the regulations, setting up the squadron because we really didn't even have a chance to set up the squadron because we were just brought in prior to the freshmen rats being on campus. So we were doing a lot of different things to try to set L Squadron up because we were going function as a squadron and nobody knew exactly how that was going be. Everybody had different ideas of how it should be. We spent a lot of time just trying to find ourselves and to learn how to function as a squadron as well as learn all the Corps regulations and teach the freshmen all the Corps regulations. That's what the rat system is. It teaches the freshmen. It's a water hose where you get all this information thrown at you. There was a little bit of yelling but not too much. We were a lot less abusive than the men were.
Kennelly: Did you make them do the thing about making them put the fork down?
McDonald: Yes, they learned how to do that. It was a form of learning to take orders and discipline, and plus as a freshmen, you had to make eye contact with the person across from you. You couldn't talk unless you were given permission to talk, or you were asked a direct question, and you could give the direct answer. You couldn't just carry on a conversation with the people sitting next to you or across the table from you.
Kennelly: I think in that one paper I read the woman said something about getting in trouble for sign language?
Kennelly: Because people would do that, and it wasn't allowed either?
Kennelly: So you would be enforcing....
McDonald: Yes on our freshmen.
Kennelly: Was that difficult to enforce that since you hadn't been through that yourself?
McDonald: No, not really. We knew what the regulations were, and we were bound and determined that our male counterparts were not going find anything wrong with our freshmen system. Plus the girls didn't want to be embarrassed because they knew they were under the gun just like the rest of us were, so they were going do their best to follow the regulations, but you know they had their friendships and would try to get away with stuff.
Kennelly: Your first year, who was the commander?
McDonald: Debbie Noss.
Kennelly: Did you have a position that year?
McDonald: I did, and I've been racking my brain trying to think of what it was. But yes, I did.
Kennelly: And you became commander the following year?
Kennelly: Did you feel welcomed to the Corps, as an individual?
McDonald: Pretty much. Within L Squadron I was thoroughly welcomed. I was just an oddity cause I was a female member to the Corps. Some people made you feel more welcomed than others.
Kennelly: Was there any camaraderie between you and the other black males in the Corps?
Kennelly: They didn't try to support you in a different way than they would anyone else?
McDonald: No, not really.
Kennelly: So there wasn't a connection with that or anything?
McDonald: No, I was dating a guy that was in the Corps. He was in one of the other squadrons, and I was dating him. He came in the same year I did. We were both freshmen, and we both joined our sophomore year.
Kennelly: So did he give you a hard time about being in the Corps?
McDonald: Well it was kind of funny because I came in as an upperclassman and he came in as a rat. Even though he was a sophomore according to the college, he was still new to the Corps system, so for people who come in their second and third year they still go through a modified rat system. It's not as long. They have to go for a month where the rats go for an entire semester before they get "turned" and become human beings. I was an upperclassman and was given upper-class status, and he was still a lowly rat even though we were both sophomores.
Kennelly: So you had rank over him?
McDonald: Yes, I did.
Kennelly: Did he ever mention anything about the racial climate of the Corps, as far as his perception of it?
McDonald: There were some people who were a little racist. But I never had anybody ever come in my face and say I don't like you because you're black. It was more I don't want you here because you're female as opposed to you're black.
Kennelly: Did you ever hear about the "Midnight Dixie" ritual? Supposedly the Highty Tighties at midnight would play Dixie songs that would be offensive to black people?
McDonald: Well, I didn't like "Dixie." I don't remember them playing it at night, but they were on the other side of the quadrant from us. They could've done that. I don't know.
Kennelly: But it wasn't some sort of thing that was happening that you heard about?
McDonald: No, he didn't mention that. I knew he had a hard time occasionally because he was black.
Kennelly: Was he rooming with a white person?
McDonald: Yes, he was. But him and his roommate got along great.
Kennelly: So it was....
McDonald: Yes, and not so much within his squadron, but other people in the Corps.
Kennelly: Would they make comments?
McDonald: I don't think they ever made comments to his face like calling him boy and stuff like that. There were comments that were made behind his back that he would get word of that people would bring to him.
Kennelly: So would it be like offensive language?
McDonald: It be more of the fact that he is black and in the Corps and substandard race.
Kennelly: Painful and make you angry?
McDonald: It was disturbing because it was like look at us for who we are and not because the fact that we are black or white or Asian or Hispanic or whatever.
Kennelly: So did you feel funny because you were the only black woman in the Corps?
Kennelly: Just because of being a woman?
McDonald: Being a woman was tough enough. We were all just sort of lumped together. I wasn't singled out. It was more of a gender thing.
Kennelly: How did you find the professors here? Did you feel that they particularly reached out to you, or were helpful or welcoming, from the point of view of being a student?
McDonald: Most of them were pretty good. I enjoyed most of the professors of most of the classes. The computer programming course I took I didn't like 'cause it was in a huge auditorium, and when you have a huge class, it's hard to get individual attention from the professor.
Kennelly: Did you feel anybody especially made the special effort?
McDonald: Oh yes. When I switched over to art a lot of my art teachers were really good to us.
Kennelly: You switched to art?
McDonald: Yes, my junior year. I had always liked art. I had taken some art classes before, and I decide to switch over.
Kennelly: And were you happy with the switch?
McDonald: Yes, oh yes.
Kennelly: Pretty big switch from math to art.
McDonald: I enjoyed art. It was an entirely different class of people. It was as different from the Corps as you could possibly get.
Kennelly: Were there any other Corps people in art?
McDonald: I don't remember too many.
Kennelly: That would be a totally different population with respect to the Corps.
McDonald: Yes, it's unstructured as opposed to structured.
Kennelly: Did you feel that you were a part of the Corps as a whole, or did you feel the L Squadron was over there and not....
McDonald: The first year I didn't feel like we were that much a part of the Corps. The next two years I think everyone else was more used to us being there so we weren't an afterthought like we were the first year in a lot of cases.
Kennelly: It sounded like you had to work out a lot of the standards for yourselves in a sense. It wasn't like when you hear now in the media women going to the Citadel or at VMI where they are trying to do a lot of things like the men with the hair and uniforms. You had to work out your standards.
McDonald: We had the Corps standards, and we tried to adjust to them as much as we could. But in the instance of the uniforms, there were no uniforms for women, so we had to figure out what we wanted to wear and how we were going get it and stuff. I was looking at some pictures, and you could see the different phases where some of the people would have some of the uniform parts and other people wouldn't. I have one picture where all the upper-class were in their jackets and the freshmen were in short sleeves because we got here first so our jackets got made first.
Kennelly: Was the uniform the biggest problem of dealing with standards?
McDonald: It was probably the most physical and dress because we were entirely different from the guys, so they didn't know what to do with us. So we were like, Do we wear make-up? Do we not wear make-up? If you do, how heavy should the make-up be? What color should it be? Again, hair up, down, short, long. And I remember that we made the decision that we were going follow the Air Force standards at the time for time which was basically it could touch until it got to the collar edge at the bottom or you could wear it up, and if you wore it up it had to be neat. But we looked to the military services for a lot of stuff for uniform wear and dressing appearance, because the Corps didn't have anything for us to look too. All we knew was that they weren't going put us in the Corps uniforms.
Kennelly: What about standards as far as physical stuff?
McDonald: It was different, because we knew there were certain things that we couldn't do, so yes, we modified like the run. On the run, they did like two miles; we did like a mile and a half. When we had to do the physical part of it. But we drilled just like they did. We learned the same formations, the same steps. We spent as much time out on the drill field as the men did. We didn't do all the excessive push-ups as the men did, but we did have a physical conditioning program for the women, but it wasn't as stringent as the men.
Kennelly: So you wouldn't have to carry the same amount of pounds as the men, something like that?
McDonald: Well we really didn't carry equipment. We couldn't carry riffles; we couldn't carry sabers because we were female. So we never learned the really neat handling things like how to handle the rifle. That was one thing we all regretted was that none of us got to carry senior sabers, our senior years, or our senior cape.
Kennelly: You didn't have a senior cape?
McDonald: Not the first couple years we didn't.
Kennelly: Cause they wanted to keep that for themselves?
McDonald: I guess because our uniform was so different. I guess it was hard for them to imagine us having some of the same uniform parts. Like we finally got a wind breaker and it was gray, but it was specifically made for us, but it was built up on the pattern for the men's wind breaker, but we got that my senior year. And the capes were kind of hard to come by. They didn't have that many. It was like you rented it for the year and turn it back in.
Kennelly: Do you think the fact that you grew up with your father in the military that would make it easier for you to get into the ideas of the Corps and to deal with it and understand it?
McDonald: I think yes; I think so.
Kennelly: Were many women of the Corps from a family where the parents had been military?
McDonald: Yes, I would think that there would be 30 per cent where the fathers or brothers were in the military.
Kennelly: So the other thing is you would come in with just an understanding of the discipline?
McDonald: Yes, a lot of us when we came in had an understanding of having discipline and for having rules and regulations. Maybe we didn't agree with them all of the time, but we at least had an understanding of why we had to do it.
Kennelly: So that was something through growing up that you had a sense of just from things your father had said, and understanding of how things worked that you picked up as a kid? Would that be right to say that?
McDonald: Yes, because they kind of ran their households the way they were ran in the military, somewhat strict. My father was strict but not real strict. He was pleased when some of us did go into the military, but it was no requirement. We didn't have to have the military haircuts, but he enforced discipline.
Kennelly: Well what did he think when you went into the military?
McDonald: He thought it was great.
Kennelly: But he didn't think differently because you were a woman?
McDonald: No. He was enlisted in the military, and I went in as an officer. He thought that was great because I was one of the first officers in the family--the entire extended family.
Kennelly: So that is an honor?
Kennelly: When you got into the Corps, did you attend the school dances then?
McDonald: Yes, I attended a few because I had the steady boyfriend, so we would sometimes go to dances, but we really didn't go to that many.
Kennelly: Were you involved in any organizations?
McDonald: I was on the women's track team my junior and senior year. For my work study I worked in the student art gallery.
Kennelly: All the time you worked in the student art gallery?
Kennelly: So that may have helped you decide to switch your major?
McDonald: Yes, I enjoyed that. I had always been interested in art, and I had been fairly good at it.
Kennelly: Did you do a lot with track?
McDonald: Yes, oh yes. I competed in all the meets. I think, I don't remember when women started running track at Tech, but it wasn't too much before I joined.
Kennelly: Was that an integrated team?
Kennelly: Was there a good feeling with the team?
McDonald: We were all jocks. There weren't that many of us. My first year there were only ten of us, and then it expanded after that when we got more accepted, and we'd go to off campus meets and compete against other schools, and we were a team, and we were out to win.
Kennelly: I think Emily said you did quite well on the track.
McDonald: Yes, I enjoyed it. I did the sprints, and the high jump, and the relays.
Kennelly: So the Corps would make exceptions for you to go on the meets and travel with the team?
McDonald: Yes, if any of the Corps were in school recognized functions, then we could always get passes to do them. We never got any hassle off of that. And I had to have a pass for my work study too, so they knew where I was.
Kennelly: Was it hard to fit all of that in with the Corps?
McDonald: My junior year, the first semester was kind of difficult.
Kennelly: Because that's when you became a commander?
Kennelly: How was that being a commander? Was that difficult?
McDonald: It was challenging.
Kennelly: In what way was it challenging?
McDonald: Well the biggest problem was even though we were a separate squadron, we had a lot of outside help and opinions on how we should be doing things even after the first year, and you would sit at the staff meeting and say well such and such squadron thinks we should be doing this and it happened to be her boyfriend. So she would say I don't care we are not going do that just because his squadron or his company may do that, we're going do it because we're L Squadron and that's the way we want to do it not because someone else wants us to do it. So it was frustrating in that regard, 'cause of a lot of outside interference. Outside of L Squadron, a lot of pressure was put on by their boyfriends that were within the Corps to conform to how that certain unit did certain functions. It was inside the Corps, but it was outside of L Squadron.
Kennelly: But it was spoken through the women in L Squadron?
McDonald: Right, as opposed to being brought up in, say, commanders' meetings. I wasn't really told how to run my squadron.
Kennelly: Well now when you went to a commanders meeting and you at that point were a junior, were the male commanders of the other squadrons seniors mostly?
McDonald: Yes, you had to be a senior to be a commander.
Kennelly: Did they resent the fact that you were a junior?
McDonald: Well they couldn't really cause I don't think until '77 we had a senior commander. Debbie was a junior, and we lost one of the juniors between our first and second year, and they made me a commander, and I was a junior, and then I couldn't be a commander the next year, and then we lost another from my class well two from my class, and the other one didn't want to be an officer, didn't want to have a senior rank. She was more interested in her college pursuits. She was in chemistry. So she didn't want to be commander, so they looked to juniors again and they made exceptions for us. We were granted senior status. So they were used to dealing with juniors in the command position from the L Squadron.
Kennelly: You were coming in as a junior and as a woman and as a black woman. Did you feel accepted? Was there any problem with that?
McDonald: I didn't have that many problems with the other commanders.
Kennelly: So they weren't ignoring you or anything like that.
Kennelly: I really don't know how it works, but when you would meet with them, you felt like you were treated like an equal?
Kennelly: Why do you think you were chosen to be the commander? Was it because people fell out, or did they recognize that you had leadership?
McDonald: I think that they recognized I had leadership more than anything.
Kennelly: Did you enjoy having the role as commander?
McDonald: It was challenging. It was fun at times. Sometimes it was hard work. Sometimes it was frustrating, but I think I would've rather gone through the experience as opposed to not have gone through it. And to me it was an honor to be named as commander.
Kennelly: Was the hardest part dealing with those voices that wanted it to be a certain way?
McDonald: No, believe it or not that wasn't the hardest part. The hardest part was my executive officer the girls didn't really like that much so there was a lot of tension because of that dislike. So we had a lot of internal problems that year in that regard.
Kennelly: So the executive officer is another student officer?
McDonald: Right, who is also second in command of the unit.
Kennelly: So it was something about the way that person was....
McDonald: Right. She was a heavy smoker, and she would get up in your face, and very abrasive at times. Unfortunately I had no say in the fact that she was my XO. The only say I had was that I wasn't going room with her because she was a heavy smoker, and I couldn't stand to be in that type of atmosphere.
Kennelly: And you had a choice of whom you could room with?
McDonald: Yes. It was more tradition that the XO and the commander roomed together, and then you stayed within your class, sophomores roomed with sophomores, freshmen roomed with freshmen, juniors roomed with juniors, but we were different because there weren't that many of us and for the first year we had no seniors.
Kennelly: Did you feel comfortable with your roommate?
Kennelly: Did anyone room with the heavy smoker?
McDonald: Yes, as a matter of fact, another heavy smoker. She was a sophomore and the XO was a junior. But the biggest problem was that they were both gay, and that made a lot of particularly freshmen uncomfortable. It was fairly obvious sometimes, and some of their behavior wasn't really appropriate. It's was like, you know, you guys have got to keep your personal life behind your door.
[End Tape 1, Side 1]
Send questions or comments to: