Freshmen cadets at the Citadel spent the days leading up to last month’s holidays in all manner of costumes. At the Charleston, S.C., military college, it is a tradition for underclassmen to sing carols to upperclassmen, and so they did, clad in the guise of elves, reindeer and nutcrackers.
The occasion lost its festive tune when, on the fourth night, the cadets were asked to dress as “Ghosts of Christmas Past” and appeared in social media images with white pillowcases over their heads. The makeshift hoods had pointed tops and holes cut out for eyes, calling to mind the trademark uniform of the Ku Klux Klan.
The images incited outrage, with activists and alumni calling for the resignation of Citadel President Air Force Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa.
“Why would anyone think that this is ok?” a post from the Citadel’s minority alumni Facebook page read. “Will the administration at The Citadel let this go? This picture is a disgrace and a slap in the face.”
That investigation concluded Monday, as the military college said in a news release that 14 cadets have been disciplined — one dismissed, two suspended and the others facing on-campus punishments — for their participation, the Associated Press reported.
One junior has been dismissed and will have to spend two semesters away from campus before reapplying. According to the AP, two suspended upperclassmen will have to leave for a semester, while the others have been ordered to march back and forth in the barracks shouldering guns for 50 minutes at a time.
“The investigation found that the cadets did not intend to be offensive,” Rosa said in the statement. “However, I am disappointed some recognized how it could be construed as such but didn’t stop it.”
Although the Christmas skit bore no ill intent, Rosa added, “it did show poor judgement. It demonstrates that we must integrate an even higher level of diversity education into cadets’ daily activities.”
In response, the college is launching a task torce on advancing diversity and inclusion, a group that will include faculty, staff and cadets who will make recommendations on how to move forward in the fall.
Pressure mounted for the administration to take action earlier this month, when a notable basketball recruit backtracked on his decision to attend the school. Mohammed Kabir, a Nigerian exchange student at National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, Md., had signed a binding letter-of-intent with the Citadel but asked to be released from it after he learned about the pillowcase photo.
“It was messed up,” Kabir told The Washington Post’s Mark Giannotto. “I talked to my family and my coach about the situation, and it was not a good move for me because this is not the first time something like this has happened at the Citadel.”
In 1986, five Citadel cadets stormed toward the bedside of one black freshman cadet in the middle of the night dressed in Klansmen uniforms, holding a burning paper cross and lobbing racial slurs.
A report released by the Education Trust last month found that the average graduation rate for underrepresented minority (African American, Latino and Native American) students at the school has decreased nearly 10 percent from 2003 to 2013. Meanwhile, the average graduation rate among white students has gone up about 2 percent.
Calls for an administrative response to the pillowcase costumes were spearheaded by the National Action Network, a civil rights organization founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
James Johnson, a local leader with the network in Charleston, told the Charleston Post and Courier that he was “satisfied with the punishment.” The group also laid out a new set of demands Monday, including the establishment of five new scholarships for minority students from Charleston.
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