Two female Citadel cadets who had charged that male students harassed them and set their clothes on fire announced yesterday they will not return to the South Carolina military college for the second semester of their freshman year.
"It is apparent to me . . . that while I might be physically safe on campus, I would not be welcome," Kim Messer said in a statement released on the day she was due back on campus at 10:30 p.m. "I never asked for special treatment at The Citadel," Messer said, but "I received special treatment . . . of criminal assaults, sadistic illegal hazing and disgusting incidents of sexual harassment."
Classmate Jeanie Mentavlos said The Citadel had broken its promise that her freshman year would be "rough but safe." Her older brother, reportedly only three credits shy of graduation, also announced that he would not be returning because of "current circumstances."
The withdrawal of half of the women who enrolled in The Citadel last August was the latest development in a four-year battle over the opening of the nation's public military colleges to female cadets that has cost millions of dollars and been carried to the Supreme Court.
"I am deeply saddened that . . . female cadets have felt compelled to withdraw," said Valorie Vojdik, an instructor at the New York University School of Law who represents women seeking admission to The Citadel. "I am very concerned about the chilling effect this could have. There are many ways of excluding women. One is to keep the door closed. Another is to open it but by your conduct send the message that women are not welcome."
Messer and Mentavlos charged last term that fingernail polish remover was twice poured on them and ignited, that cleanser was put in their mouths and that they had been shoved with rifles. They were not injured in the incidents, which are under investigation by the FBI and South Carolina police.
The college has filed disciplinary charges against 11 cadets in the case.
Two other female cadets, Nancy Mace of Goose Creek, S.C., and Petra Lovetinska of Washington, have made no allegations of harassment.
The four women entered The Citadel in August, a year after the school's first female cadet, Shannon Faulkner, was enrolled under a federal court order but dropped out after five days.
Messer, in an interview with the Charleston Post and Courier newspaper in August, called Faulkner "unmotivated, undetermined and physically unfit." By contrast, Messer had spent six week at a Reserve Officers Training Corps camp to prepare for The Citadel. She planned a military career.
The women reported incidents of mistreatment to their superiors in the student chain of command soon after they enrolled in The Citadel, according to reporters and attorneys who have monitored the situation, but the situation did not change.
Lawyers for the two female cadets say the young women endured weeks of hazing because they feared that telling adults on the staff might only make life more difficult. Finally, they attempted to document their treatment with a hidden tape recorder.
But male cadets ordered Mentavlos to drop her pants so they could recover it, lawyers said. She was permitted to go behind a desk to do so.
The women "knew no one would believe them as to the fact the line had been crossed," attorney Tim Kulp said later.
As early as September, according to Vojdik, Mentavlos's mother complained about sexual harassment of her daughter, but nothing was done, while a senior cadet who was in a different company from Mentavlos's had also reported that he had witnessed her being subjected to improper physical contact -- to no avail.
Eventually, Mentavlos told her older brother, Michael, a Citadel senior, who reported his sister's allegations on Dec. 13 to a family friend who was a member of the school's board of visitors, according to reports. The incident became public two days later.
The Citadel immediately notified the FBI and state police. The FBI began to examine possible civil rights violations, and police investigated whether hazing had occurred because it is a crime under South Carolina law.
Panic buttons have been installed in the women's sleeping areas, and an adult monitor has been placed in the barracks.
The women and their families met with U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houck on Thursday and were assured that he would provide "responsible measures" to protect their safety.
Messer said in her statement that she had found that The Citadel's administration is "incapable of impressing on some of its cadets what is expected of every member of the United States military -- the requirement that they obey the law and follow orders." "When the criminal investigations are complete," she continued, "it will be shown that The Citadel's administration either knew or should have known . . . of the complete failure of its command structure." The Citadel withheld comment pending a news conference set for 1:30 p.m. today.
Langhorne A. Motley, a former ambassador and Citadel graduate who has closely followed events at the school, said that "the school has suffered another black eye. What is unclear is how much of a black eye it deserves. It is tough on the remaining corps of cadets, the vast majority of whom were not involved at all."
"It is," he said, "a historic period, fraught with risk for all." CAPTION: Above, Jeanie Mentavlos arrives at the federal courthouse in Charleston, S.C., last Thursday with her lawyer, Tim Kulp, for a meeting about safety at The Citadel. Following are her mother, Marian, and brother, Michael. Mentavlos and another female freshman cadet allege they were hazed at the military college. At left, Michael Mentavlos, a Citadel senior, walks with his sister on check-in day last August. He also will not return to the school because of "current circumstances."