The Citadel has punished 14 cadets for their involvement in a Dec. 9 incident in which freshmen wore pointed white hoods in an upperclassman’s barracks room.

New demands

The National Action Network laid out a new list of demands for The Citadel in a Monday press conference:

1. That the school teach its own history to cadets “so new cadets can know exactly why The Citadel was started.”

2. The establishment of five new scholarships for minority students from Charleston.

3. The creation of a program for cadets and the public to be celebrated on The Citadel’s campus every Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

4. That the school and its cadets become “more involved” in volunteer work in Title I high-poverty schools.

5. That The Citadel’s leadership work to convince state lawmakers to remove the Confederate battle flag from a chapel on campus.

The 14 cadets included seven freshmen and seven juniors, according to the school. The public military college is also creating a new task force for diversity and inclusion after the incident sparked an outcry from civil rights activists who compared the hoods to Ku Klux Klan uniforms.

“The investigation found that the cadets did not intend to be offensive. However, I am disappointed some recognized how it could be construed as such but didn’t stop it,” said Citadel President Lt. Gen. John Rosa in a press release.

One cadet was dismissed, meaning he or she will have to spend two semesters off campus before re-applying to the school. Two cadets were suspended for one semester. Eleven received on-campus punishments including restrictions and “walking tours” in the quadrangle.

‘Dressed as ghosts’

Photos appeared on social media in December showing six freshman cadets wearing white clothes and white pointed hoods that were reportedly made from pillowcases. An internal investigation found that a group of freshmen were directed to report to an upperclassman’s barracks room over the course of several nights after Thanksgiving furlough to sing Christmas carols in costume.

Under The Citadel’s long-standing cadet structure, first-year cadets are known as “fourth-classmen” and must obey any lawful order from an upperclassman officer.

On the night before finals week, according to the release, the freshmen in the photograph attempted to dress as “Ghosts of Christmas Past.” On previous nights they had dressed as elves, reindeer and nutcrackers, according to school leaders.

Commandant Capt. Geno Paluso said the ghost costumes were inspired by lyrics from “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” one of the Christmas carols they sang in the barracks that night: “There’ll be scary ghost stories / And tales of the glories of / Christmases long, long ago.”

According to Paluso, the cadets broke a rule by gathering in the upperclassmen’s room during a designated study period leading up to exam week.

“It was really a more festive environment than you might imagine,” said Rosa at a press conference Monday.

“They got caught up in the time of year,” said Paluso.

Within an hour, according to the release, several cadets had reported the incident to cadet leadership. Shortly afterward, an upper-class cadet who had been in the room posted two photos of the incident on social media.

Cadet leaders reported the incident to a company tactical officer, a staff member assigned to supervise a cadet company, who in turn informed the administration. According to Paluso, the tactical officer was not in the barracks at the time of the incident, and “he and cadet leaders did everything they possibly could” afterward, including gathering the “Five W’s” — who, what, when, where, why — to report to the administration.

“While the skit had no ill intent, it did show poor judgment,” Rosa said in the press release Monday.

“It demonstrates that we must integrate an even higher level of diversity education into cadets’ daily activities, and into the already extensive leadership and ethics curriculum. We are working on that now. The bottom line is that the cadets involved now understand that the costumes could be considered offensive and hurtful to many.”

Working on image

In response to the incident, Rosa is creating a new President’s Task Force on Advancing Diversity and Inclusion, which will be led by the college’s Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Council. Rosa said the task force would include faculty, staff, and cadets and would make recommendations to him starting in the fall.

“You can’t move this forward without cadets,” Rosa said.

Elder James Johnson, a local leader with the National Action Network, said he was “satisfied with the punishment” the cadets are receiving and that he and other NAN leaders will remain involved with The Citadel’s diversity efforts. The school’s minority enrollment is about 22 percent, including eight percent African Americans, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Department of Education.

“[Rosa] made a statement to me this morning that he wants to change the image of The Citadel around America, and the National Action Network will be a part of changing that image,” Johnson said.

The matter of public image came to light again in January when standout Citadel basketball recruit Mohammed Kabir asked the NCAA to release him from a letter of intent to play for The Citadel because “this is not the first time something like this has happened at The Citadel,” according to an interview with The Washington Post.

The National Action Network laid out a new list of demands for The Citadel Monday afternoon in a press conference outside the school’s gates that includes a Martin Luther King Day celebration at the school.

“We’ll find out just how sincere The Citadel is,” said local NAN leader the Rev. Nelson Rivers.

Rosa said the task force would look into the demands being made by the NAN.

“Whatever we can do to work together,” he said.

Leadership training

Most military colleges maintain some form of fourth-class system, in which freshman “plebes” or “knobs” follow a strict daily regimen. According to The Citadel’s Blue Book, a manual for cadet life, the purpose of the famously difficult first year is “to accelerate and make second nature the habits of self-discipline, teamwork and a collective sense of accountability for everyone on the team.”

Unlike many modern military colleges, The Citadel maintains an adversarial system that pits the upperclassmen against the fourth-classmen, according to former assistant commandant Lt. Col. Kevin Dopf, who previously worked as an administrator at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In 2014, while working at The Citadel, Dopf published a doctoral dissertation on what he described as an outdated cadet structure in need of reform. The report was based on interviews with past and current school leaders.

“Nearly all of the people interviewed for this research agreed The Citadel had a two-class system,” Dopf wrote. “The freshmen who survived were well-trained in followership, but there was little to no leadership development of the upper-class cadets.”

Recently, following input from the school’s Krause Center for Leadership & Ethics, The Citadel added mandatory leadership training for all four classes.

According to the press release Monday, “Racial sensitivity and ethical decision making are both covered in the training, but will be addressed more expansively.”

Cadets are currently required to attend courses and programs on topics including “Values, Loyalty and Stereotypes,” “Making a Better Call” and “Bystander Intervention,” according to the release.

Reach Paul Bowers at (843) 937-5546 or twitter.com/paul_bowers.