I took off The Ring today. I was mortified to see coverage of seven Citadel cadets wearing attire reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan on campus when this unfortunate incident came to light.
While I understand that many of the facts of this incident are forthcoming, and the cadets involved have not yet had the opportunity to explain their actions, I am glad to see that Lt. Gen. John Rosa, president of The Citadel, is taking swift disciplinary action. However, I am not convinced that disciplining these cadets alone is sufficient. A greater culture change is in order, and I implore Gen. Rosa and The Citadel’s administration to lead the charge.
The Citadel’s history of race relations is, at best, spotty; its future does not have to be. As recently as two weeks ago a report was released that showed that minority Citadel cadets graduate at a rate much lower than white ones, a gap that has widened dramatically over the past 10 years. It’s time for change at our institution. Our alma mater cannot — and should not — survive as a “bastion of antiquity” at the expense of becoming a bastion of ignorance, intolerance and prejudice.
In June of this year, shortly following the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church, The Citadel’s Board of Visitors empowered Gen. Rosa to work with the S.C. Legislature to take the actions necessary to remove the Confederate Naval Jack from The Citadel’s chapel. However, I was disturbed to see it still hanging upon my visit in November.
I understand that South Carolina’s “Heritage Act” prevents the administration from lawfully removing the flag, and the flag’s removal will not alone solve The Citadel’s race relations woes. But removal of the flag would be a large, symbolic step in the right direction.
How can our school display a flag that symbolizes bigotry and racism and expect a culture of inclusiveness? How can we hang the banner waved by Klu Klux Klan members in lynch mobs throughout the South and expect our minority students to feel welcome?
It’s time for bold leadership from Gen. Rosa; it’s time to remove the Naval Jack from Summerall Chapel. I, for one, will gladly donate to The Citadel’s legal defense fund if South Carolina sues to enforce the Heritage Act. At least I would know that we’d be on the right side of history.
I’d also like to put my ring back on.
J. Scott Barlow
Class of 2010