Citadel President Lt. Gen. John Rosa and Commandant of Cadets Captain Geno Paluso
More details were released Monday afternoon regarding The Citadel’s investigation of controversial photos that surfaced online in December showing cadets wearing white pillowcases that some say resembles Klan attire. Over the course of the investigation, officials say the school uncovered numerous rule violations, although it is believed that the cadets had no ill intent. Seven juniors and seven freshmen have been punished for their involvement with the case.
During the three nights leading up to the evening on which the cadets donned pillowcases, there were other instances of underclass cadets being gathered to dress in costumes and perform Christmas carols during their designated study periods. During a press conference with Citadel President Lt. Gen. John Rosa and Commandant of Cadets Captain Geno Paluso, Citadel staff showed photos similar to those depicting the cadets wearing pillowcases, but these images showed the cadets dressed as elves, reindeer, and other Christmas characters. The cadets were said to be dressed as ghosts to perform “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” which includes the lyrics “there’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of the Christmases long, long ago.” After realizing that the ghost costumes could appear offensive, several upperclass cadets brought the situation to the attention of school administration.
According to the school president, a group of underclassmen refused requests by upperclassmen to dress in costume in one instance on the evening before the controversial photos were taken.
“Tuesday night, they went back and said, ‘We’re not singing. We’ve got to study,’” said Rosa.
Paluso added that the students violated the rules by carrying out skits in their rooms during study periods, and it is against
school policy for cadets to be pressured into inappropriate behavior by upperclassmen
“A freshman absolutely has the ability to say, ‘No, I’m not doing that,’” said Paluso.
Rosa said that although the cadets’ actions were found not to be racially motivated, he was disappointed that some students recognized how the costumes could be perceived as such, yet they failed to stop the skit. Citadel officials say it is this breakdown in peer leadership, along with minor offenses such as cadets participating in unauthorized activities at unauthorized times, that led to the school’s disciplinary actions.
Citadel President Lt. Gen. John Rosa and Commandant of Cadets Captain Geno Paluso revealed additional photos of cadets dressed as Christmas characters
As a result of the investigation, 11 cadets will receive on-campus punishments. These include restrictions, confinements, and “tours,” which involve cadets marching with a rifle for 50-minute periods. Citadel regulations limit punishments to 12 hours a week, so some cadets will carry out their tours over the course of several weeks, while punishments for other cadets will continue throughout the semester. Two cadets were suspended for a single semester, and one cadet was dismissed for two semesters.
Paluso would not provide a specific breakdown of the punishments received by each cadet, but he did say that the students receiving suspensions were upperclassmen. School officials added that the cadets’ standing as upperclassmen in a leadership position played a role in their receiving more extreme punishments due to their failure to intervene in a situation that could be construed as offensive.
“Those punishments are a spectrum based off of their level of involvement, not just with this incident and not just because it was in the press, but continued violations of the rules we have to govern the cadet body here at The Citadel,” Paluso said. “In the end, it was extremely poor judgment, violating those rules, as well as bad leadership.”
As a result of the incident, Rosa plans to implement a President’s Task Force on Advancing Diversity and Inclusion led by the school’s Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Council. Rosa said the task force will consist of school staff, faculty, cadets, and representatives from outside of the college, and he hopes to have the program implemented by this fall. According to Rosa, the group’s main goals will be to enhance the school’s curriculum to foster a greater understanding of people from different backgrounds and identify ways in which to increase diversity among the student and staff populations.
Representatives from the National Action Network said that they are pleased with the results of the school’s investigation, and they have designated a team to work alongside Citadel officials to improve race relations for the college across the country. The organization also announced five directives that the school is advised to implement. They include mandatory classes for cadets that detail the complete history of The Citadel, five new scholarships for minority students, the establishment of an annual program to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, an increased involvement with local Title I schools, and the removal of the Confederate flag from the school’s chapel.
“We’ll find out just how sincere The Citadel is,” said the National Action Network’s Rev. Nelson Rivers. “There are many ways they can do better, many ways they can improve the understanding of diversity, commitment, and training, so we’re looking forward to it.”