Problems run deep at The Citadel; school leaders say they have plans to address them
The Citadel espouses the values of honor, duty and respect, but it often fails to live up to them, Lt. Gen. John Rosa said.
That’s what school leaders have learned in the wake of investigations into the military college’s handling of a complaint against child molester Skip ReVille, said Rosa, the school’s president.
The college in January launched a review of the school’s procedures and operations, hoping to learn where its programs are falling short. The process was led by former University of South Carolina President John Palms and acting James Madison University President Russell Warren.
School leaders have likened it to a business undergoing a risk assessment. The results were released this month.
And they aren’t flattering for the school.
Instances of hazing, especially among the elite Summerall Guard.
Safety issues and lack of adult supervision, especially for cadets in the barracks at night.
Problems with discipline, the honor system and alcohol.
Rosa said the school is publicly releasing the report, then undertaking nothing short of a “cultural change” based on its recommendations to make the school a more professional organization.
But that means little to 18-year-old Antonio Mancheno, who said he continually suffered abuse at the hands of upperclassmen, including an incident where he was taped to a chair and placed in the shower in the bathroom of his barracks.
Mancheno, who left after the 2011-2012 school year, said he doubts the school can change. School leaders say the right things, he said. “But I feel they will push everything to the side if it will hurt their reputation.”
Rose Mancheno, Antonio’s mother, said she has no confidence that the school will improve. “If I knew what I know today, I would never let my son go to that college. Never.”
Donna Phillips, whose son Tyler Phillips left the school in 2010 after he said he experienced many incidents of hazing, said the report and Rosa’s promises bring little relief to many parents whose children’s lives were upended due to abuse they experienced at the school.
Tyler Phillips has said he was hit with a broom and rifle butt, spit on, kicked in the back, and was told by an upperclass cadet that he would light him on fire. He said he struggled for a long time to heal from the damage inflicted on him at the school.
And Debby Kibbee, whose son also suffered myriad abuses, including an upperclassman attempting to drive an unsharpened pencil into his forehead, said the recent efforts demonstrate too little and come too late.
She hopes the report ultimately makes things safer and better for future students. “But it doesn’t make right what happened to my son, and The Citadel didn’t try to make it right,” she said. “I think they need to recognize the students who were hurt, and that our children were telling the truth.”
Rosa said the inquiry on which the report was based was launched in January, after the school came under intense public scrutiny for its handling of a complaint about ReVille.
That complaint was lodged in 2007 by a teen who accused ReVille of watching porn and masturbating with young boys at The Citadel’s summer camp five years earlier. The school closed the matter without notifying police, following an internal investigation that yielded no action.
ReVille, a Citadel graduate and one of the camp’s counselors, went on to molest a number of children.
A subsequent investigation cleared the school of any criminal wrongdoing. ReVille is now serving a 50-year prison term after he pleaded guilty in June to molesting 23 boys in the greater Charleston area.
Rosa said he decided to publicly release the report, even though it is difficult to be that transparent. “Looking in a mirror is tough,” he said. He also said the report includes recommendations that the school already is beginning to put in place to turn things around. He plans to release more details in the coming months.
Palms, a 1958 graduate of The Citadel, said more than 100 people worked on six teams to produce the report. The ReVille case was startling, he said, and it led many people at the institution to pull together and make changes so it doesn’t happen again.
Many things are going right at The Citadel, he said. But many of the campus problems arise from small groups who engage in what they think are traditions, but are outside school policies. “They say, ‘This is our tradition, and you can’t change this,’?” he said.
Current students Julia McCullohs and Matthew Holliday, both seniors, said they know negative things happen at the school, but they think most of them are done by a small group of people. Most cadets try as best they can to live within the school’s value system.
“Overall, the people here are good people and they do the right thing,” McCullohs said.
Rosa said the school is steeped in tradition, and changes there often take time. “I’d rather move at a turtle pace doing it right than at a hare pace doing it wrong, he said.”
This marks the second time Rosa publicly released a report that reflected poorly on the school. In 2006 he released a revealing report on campus sexual assault and harassment. Some people criticized him for that, and he expects some also will be critical of the release of the most recent report.
But he stands by his decisions. “There are people who look at me and say, ‘You’re crazy,’ but I can’t be part of a status-quo organization,” Rosa said.
He’s ready to slowly and carefully guide the school to a new era, he said. “We’re inching along. It takes a long time. It’s like bringing a tanker into the harbor.”