BY BRIG. GEN. CONSTANCE L. BOOK
As we celebrate Homecoming this year at The Citadel, we are also proud to celebrate milestones in our institution’s history that have shaped who we are today. Fifty years ago, Charles DeLesline Foster, a 17-year-old high school graduate from Charleston, made history when he became the first African American to join the South Carolina Corps of Cadets.
Foster was a pioneer whose enrollment gave the scores of African Americans who followed in his footsteps the opportunity to benefit from the powerful military leadership model on which The Citadel was founded. Moreover—and part of the diversity conversation in higher education that is often overlooked—desegregation allowed cadets to be engaged in classes and in the barracks with other cadets whose life experiences were different from their own. This diverse learning environment advances cadets’ awareness and understanding, driving the educational goals we seek.
The Citadel today is the Southern region’s most highly ranked public, comprehensive college. Our graduates, representing every demographic, are advancing our military as cadets become commissioned officers. Citadel graduates can be found across South Carolina and the nation, employed in leadership positions in engineering, medicine, law, business and intelligence professions.
More recently in 1996, 20 short years ago, The Citadel Board of Visitors voted unanimously to admit women to its all-male Corps of Cadets after the Supreme Court ruled that Virginia Military Institute must admit women in order to continue receiving public funds. Three years later, Nancy Mace became the first female to graduate from the Corps of Cadets, followed a year later by Petra Lovetinska Seipel.
Institutions with long histories — such as The Citadel, which celebrates its 175th anniversary next year — know which traditions to hold and when to pivot. As history demonstrates, it is the pivot at times of controversy that recognizes the importance of powerful changes and how those changes secure the institution’s strong future.
These events changed the face of The Citadel forever, and with our rocky, and often very public beginnings, came important lessons learned from racial integration and co-education.
Today the core values of Honor, Duty and Respect are deeply rooted in our leadership education program. We recognize and celebrate our diversity as a competitive advantage in our curriculum and our ability to develop principled and effective global leaders for the military and civilian sectors.
Today we celebrate 50 years of African Americans and 20 years of women in the Corps of Cadets.
And indeed, people of color and women hold special places in the Long Gray Line of Citadel alumni. Their ranks include alumni like U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David Wilson, ’91, the first active-duty Citadel African-American graduate to rise to the rank of general and Czech-Republic-born Petra Lovetinska Seipel, ’00, one of only five people in the history of the United States to earn citizenship as a special act of Congress. Now a Marine Corps major, Seipel’s assignments have taken her all over the world, and she proudly represents all Citadel alumni.
Today’s Homecoming football game against Samford University kicks off the first of a series of special events being held in coming months to commemorate the 50th anniversary of African Americans and the 20th anniversary of females in the Corps of Cadets. The Citadel Minority Alumni Association will present a scholarship donation to the college in honor of Charles Foster. The association has also arranged for a congressional record to be read in honor of Foster on the floor of the U.S. Senate with assistance from U.S. Senator Tim Scott.
We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Charles Foster, Nancy Mace and all of the other pioneering cadets who believed in The Citadel and desired our education even when it required perseverance through turbulent times.
Their spirit and resilience have further strengthened The Citadel, ensuring a steadfast and promising future.
Brig. Gen. Constance L. Books herself made Citadel history in 2015 when she was named the first female provost and dean of the college.