Former Citadel cadet Jordyn Jackson said she became the victim of racial harassment at the military college almost from the moment she walked through its doors in the fall.
By the numbers
Undergraduate Citadel enrollment by race and gender:Total undergraduates: 2,477White 1,968 79%Minority 507 21%Unknown 2 —Male 2,259 91%Female 218 9%S.C. Commission of Higher Education, figures from Fall 2011 enrollment
Jackson, who is black, said a slip-up during her “knob” haircut left her with a bald patch that led to nicknames which, in turn, morphed into racial epithets, such as “jungle monkey.” Most of the abuse came at the hands of male upperclassmen, she said.
The Citadel said it can’t discuss any aspect of her statements.
The 19-year-old freshman said things got better for a spell after she complained to campus officials in the fall, but problems cropped up again when she moved in with another black cadet this semester. Notes stating “KKK” and worse were hung on their door, she said.
Jackson, who withdrew from the school Monday, said the final straw came when she was subjected to a strip search in her dorm room Friday based on an unspecified smell. Nothing was found, she said.
“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “They say they’re trying to build principled leaders at that school, but then they pick on knobs like this.”
Allegations of hazing and gender discrimination have surfaced at the school on several occasions over the years. The school has said it is making a concerted effort to curb those problems.
Citadel officials said Wednesday that federal student privacy laws prevent them from discussing any aspect of Jackson’s allegations or her departure from the school.
Jeff Perez, the college’s vice president of external affairs, said under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, “the reason for a student’s departure from a school, particularly if it is the result of a disciplinary matter, falls into that category.”
Jackson, daughter of former Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson, and her attorney, Don McCune of Charleston, maintain that her departure had nothing to do with a disciplinary action.
Perez said he also couldn’t say whether the school received or is investigating any complaints of racial harassment filed by Jackson. To discuss such matters would risk identifying other cadets who could possibly face disciplinary action, he said.
“Because we’re such a small college, we have to be particularly careful not to release information that could be used to deduce the identity of a particular student,” Perez said.
Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., said The Citadel appears to be heeding broad, cautious recommendations issued by the U.S. Department of Education. While Goldstein said he thinks those parameters are an over-reach, they are the guidelines schools have been urged to follow.
“It’s a broad reading,” he said of The Citadel’s interpretation. “But based on everything the Department of Education has said, it’s a fair reading.”
Jay Bender, attorney for the S.C. Press Association, said there is a distinction between protecting individual privacy and using the law as cover to shield an institution from scrutiny over its handling of matters.
“Their first instinct can be traced back to frontier days, and that’s to circle the wagons,” Bender said. “I think their reputation in the state at large would be enhanced with more openness and candor.”
The only thing the school did provide late Wednesday was a police report filed Tuesday by a former roommate of Jackson who accused Jackson of leaving harassing messages on her phone after withdrawing. The roommate said she had accused Jackson of credit card fraud, and it resulted in an honor violation that led to Jackson being expelled, the report stated.
Jackson said she did leave a message telling her former roommate she was responsible for driving her from the school. The credit card charge involved money they spent on getting tattoos one day, and Jackson said she paid her back. Jackson said she was not convicted of an honor violation nor expelled.
Jackson enrolled at The Citadel this school year with dreams of becoming a military officer, McCune said. He described her as “bright and tough,” and he said Jackson expected a certain amount of abuse by upperclassmen as a knob. McCune said the harassment that ensued was beyond what anyone could reasonably have expected.
Jackson said she believes some of the male cadets didn’t like her because she is a strong woman who stands up for herself. She recalled one instance in which she alerted a human-affairs officer when male upperclassmen tried to force her and another female knob to shave their faces. They were forced to stop, she said.
“They knew I wasn’t going to back down,” she said.
McCune said the school has been investigating her complaints about harassment, but he hasn’t been told of any findings.
On Monday, Jackson filed an assault/intimidation complaint with campus police after she reportedly was strip-searched in her dorm room at the direction of Col. Thomas Harris, an officer in the commandant’s office.
Jackson told police that Harris and male cadets were in the room for some portions of the search, but left when she stripped to her underwear and was naked, the report stated. A female cadet was called in to observe that portion of the search. Jackson was not touched during the incident, the report stated.
No one has been arrested or charged in the episode, which remains under investigation, Perez said Tuesday.
Jackson said Wednesday she has returned to her Ohio home, is looking for jobs and mulling how she will complete her education. She has no plans to return to The Citadel.
Her attorney said the incident calls into question the environment that exists at a school that is supposed to function as a “leadership laboratory.”
“No one should be subjected to a strip search,” McCune said. “The school is a public university. It is not the military, and students there still have the right to be treated with basic human dignity. I certainly hope this is the exception and not the rule.”