Two freshman female cadets at The Citadel have accused upperclassmen of spraying them with a flammable liquid, then setting their clothes on fire in what may have been a hazing incident, South Carolina authorities said yesterday.
Neither of the women was injured in the alleged incident, which took place sometime within the past month, said Robert M. Stewart, chief of the State Law Enforcement Division. He said he heard of the allegations yesterday afternoon in a telephone call, followed by a faxed letter, from William L. Spearman, assistant to the president of the Charleston military school, requesting a criminal investigation.
The Citadel's spokesman, Col. Terry Leedom, said yesterday that a male cadet had reported the incident Thursday night to the school's commandant, Col. Joseph W. Trez, who then contacted the college president's office.
"We're investigating it fully," Leedom said. "We have no evidence at this point, but we're going to run it to ground and find out what did happen. The assertion is a very serious one, and we're taking it quite seriously. We've gone to great lengths to ensure the assimilation of female cadets here."
Leedom said the state police were notified after the school received the report of a hazing, which is against the college's rules.
Neither Stewart nor Leedom would identify the women. Four women were admitted to the formerly all-male bastion in August, shortly after The Citadel dropped its men-only admission policy after several years of controversy. In August 1995, Shannon Faulkner became the first woman to join the cadet corps after she filed a lawsuit and was admitted under a U.S. District Court order, but she dropped out several days later because of stress.
The Citadel agreed to admit women this year only after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Virginia Military Institute's all-male policy was unconstitutional. The Citadel's 21-page plan to admit women, submitted to a federal judge, included sexual-harassment sensitivity training for all cadets.
Stewart said the allegations involved "three categories. One is physical abuse, which may constitute hazing under state law. The second is threats of harm between students, and the third is flammable liquid being placed on articles of clothing being worn by two female freshman cadets, then ignited."
Stewart would not say how many upperclassmen allegedly were involved.
"We have just received the allegation, and we have a team of agents on campus," Stewart said. "We will be making a report to the appropriate prosecutors."