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Citadel cracking down on hazing

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Citadel cracking down on hazing

Cpt. Geno Paluso, commandant of cadets, discusses the alleged cases of hazing reported over a six-month period as Lt Col. Brett Ashworth, vice president of communications and marketing, listens during a press conference Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015 at The Citadel. Paul Zoeller/Staff

A total of 11 cadets have either dropped out or been suspended from The Citadel amid an unprecedented inquiry by the military college into alleged acts of hazing.

The effort is being led by the Commandant of Cadets, retired Navy Capt. Geno Paluso, who took the helm as the leader of the Corps of Cadets in July.

“There is no place for any mistreatment,” Paluso said on Wednesday. “We’re not going to tolerate it. We’re not going to put up with it.”

Citadel officials Wednesday confirmed four cases of hazing out of 85 initial reported allegations after the commandant launched an inquiry last month into the mistreatment of freshman cadets.

Paluso said during a press briefing Wednesday that of the 85 allegations, two were dropped after further investigation; 39 cases were determined to be other types of infractions; and 28 cases are still pending review by college officials. The reported incidents took place between September and February.

A total of 39 cadets involved in the infraction cases received on-campus punishments, restrictions or loss of privileges. Four cadets are in the process of being suspended or dismissed from the military college as a result of hazing incidents. Another seven cadets have voluntarily withdrawn or resigned from the college during the investigation. Students who have resigned cannot return. Those who withdrew could be considered for admission.

Paluso said Wednesday he anticipates that more cadets will be leaving the school for “some period of time” as a result of the inquiry.

The scale of the inquiry is a first for the school, said Paluso, who is a 1989 Citadel graduate.

“We haven’t done something like this across the board before,” he said. “We haven’t gone out and said to the entire freshman class, ‘It’s your duty to tell us what the infractions are.’ ”

Paluso met with the first-year students, known as knobs for their extremely short haircuts, last month after conducting an initial investigation into alleged incidents of hazing within a battalion. The leader of the Corps of Cadets gave the students until noon the following day to report any violations or face possible disciplinary action.

Physical hazing of knobs has been an ongoing issue at the Citadel for many decades. In recent years, the military college has investigated several incidents of hazing, including an incident in 2009 when upperclassmen drove an unsharpened pencil into the head of a knob. In another incident in the 2011-12 school year, a photo surfaced showing a freshman cadet taped to a chair in the shower in the bathroom of his barracks.

The college in its regulations for the Corps of Cadets, known as the Blue Book, lays out the school’s definition and penalties for participating in hazing. Each student is required to read and sign the book. Cadets are required to report any suspected incidents as part of their honor code. Cadets who don’t could face disciplinary action.

The college’s definition of hazing includes the wrongful striking of a student by another student or one student threatening another student with violence or bodily harm. It also includes the unauthorized treatment by one student toward another student of a “tyrannical, abusive, shameful, insulting or humiliating nature.”

The school is known for its rigorous fourth-class system that begins with the knob year where freshman undergo physical and military training, and have limited freedoms. The idea is to develop character and maturity through hardship.

Hazing can range from mental or physical intimidation to unauthorized physical training of knobs to physically “laying hands on someone,” Paluso said. The four confirmed cases stemmed from cases of unauthorized physical training, he said.

A former Navy SEAL who has completed missions in 47 countries, Paluso knows about tough training, but he said the difference is that training is to prepare “men to go to combat.” Citadel cadets, he said, are students.

“I’m not training Navy Seals here,” Paluso said. “I’m training, first and foremost, students who chose to come to The Citadel because it’s a unique place to get an education.”

For former cadet Edgar Chambers V, Paluso’s efforts are too little too late. Chambers left last January in the middle of his knob year after repeated alleged incidents of hazing by upperclassmen, ranging from verbal abuse to having a hot iron put on his back. The iron didn’t leave a mark but the incident left Chambers so upset, the college’s infirmary sent him to the hospital for a psychological evaluation.

After that, the alleged abuse was less physical, Chambers said, adding that he was targeted in other ways as a “snitch.” On at least two occasions Chambers, now 20, said his room was “torn apart” by older cadets, forcing him to stay up all night to make sure his room would pass inspection in the morning.

“I was expecting the pushups, the sit-ups, the yelling,” Chambers said. “I don’t think I was expecting the extent of everything that happened.”

Now back in his hometown of Manhattan, Kansas, Chambers said Wednesday that while he is glad to hear the new commandant appears to be cracking down on hazing, he is doubtful about whether there will be a real cultural change at the military college.

“I don’t think anything is going to happen,” Chambers said.

Other Citadel alumni applauded Paluso’s efforts, saying hazing should not be part of the college’s tradition.

Maj. Gen. Arthur Baiden, who served on The Citadel’s Board of Visitors from 2003 to 2009, said the school needs to crack down on hazing. “We have the plebe system, but hazing is not part of that system,” said Baiden, a 1962 graduate of The Citadel.

Baiden said hazing, however, is tough to extinguish because it often happens in rooms in the barracks, or on weekends when alcohol often is a contributing factor. He said he thinks only “a very small minority” participate in hazing.

He’s also certain the school’s alumni are on board with the plan to snuff out hazing. “We need 100 percent no hazing in the Corps,” he said.

Jamie Jenkins, a former Citadel basketball player and 1998 graduate, said hazing “ran rampant” during his time at the college, saying the practice was “at an all time high” in the 1990s.

“I think now the commandant feels pressure from a PR standpoint,” Jenkins said. “The school has been dragged through the mud in the last few years, and he’s been charged with cleaning up the image of the school, and that’s what he’s trying to do.”

But not everyone supports the hazing crackdown. Some parents, whose sons left the school last month out of fear of disciplinary actions, feel their children were railroaded and coerced into leaving under the threat of expulsion.

“There seems to be a witch hunt going on here that is destroying the chance for these cadets to be at The Citadel and jeopardizing potential military careers,” said one cadet’s father, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he hopes to have his son reinstated.

The parent said hazing charges based on incidents involving physical training are inconsistent with the college’s own characterization of those actions as minor infractions.

“They’re calling things hazing that are not hazing and they’re jeopardizing these young men’s futures,” father said.

The rigorous training and fourth-class system, the father said, is part of the school’s tradition.

“This has been considered part of the culture and one of the reasons The Citadel is known for being the toughest freshman year in the country of the military schools,” the father said. “This is one of the reasons many come to the Citadel is to have that experience.”

Staff reporters Diane Knich and Jeff Hartsell contributed. Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5456.

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