Seven cadets have voluntarily withdrawn from The Citadel as part of an ongoing investigation into widespread hazing and training violations, Citadel officials said Wednesday. Dozens of upperclassmen have been disciplined.
The seven includes three more who have left The Citadel since the military college first announced a widespread disciplinary crackdown on Feb. 20.
The seven will not be allowed to come back, officials said. A voluntary departure allows a student to withdraw without having to gamble on disciplinary proceedings that might result in a cadet’s being formally expelled – an outcome that would be part of that person’s permanent record at the school and might prohibit someone from becoming an officer or performing another role in the military.
None of the seven who left are female. But officials said a number of the cadets who allegedly suffered the hazing or training abuses were female. And at least one female cadet faces allegations as a perpetrator. The Citadel is 90 percent male, and how women are being integrated into the military culture has been a topic of interest since they were first admitted in 1996.
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Of the 85 training and hazing violations first reported last month, two were dismissed, officials said. In another 39 cases, various on-campus forms of discipline, such as loss of privileges, were meted out. An investigation into 28 alleged hazing and training infractions is continuing, with 28 cadets scheduled for disciplinary hearings. Officials did not rule out the possibility of more Citadel students leaving the school. Five other cases are under review and cadets are awaiting a ruling.
Hazing “is not what we are about – this is not good leadership,” said commandant of cadets retired Navy Capt. Geno Paluso, who briefed news media Wednesday afternoon on the progress of the investigation.
“There is no place in training leaders for any mistreatment in any way, shape, form or fashion,” said Paluso, a 1989 Citadel graduate who characterized most of the school’s student body as “great young men and women who are doing great things day in and day out.”
No student was harmed by the incidents, he said. Asked about any possible civil or criminal charges arising out of any of the incidents, Paluso said he could not comment on what any individual might or might not do on his or her own.
Paluso said regulations governing student behavior in how cadets train other cadets are very clear and there’s no room “for any mistreatment anywhere ... and that’s especially true here at The Citadel. We are not going to tolerate it. We are not going to put up with it.”
An example of a training infraction is the ordering of unauthorized physical training, he said. Hazing ranges from physical or mental intimidation to using unauthorized physical exercises “all the way up to physically laying hands on somebody,” Paluso said. Paluso did not define “laying hands on” but the phrase presumably could include hitting, kicking or choking another student – or more. Another type of violation is when an upperclassman makes a freshman do excessive physical training behind closed doors.
On Feb. 8, Paluso held a meeting with all 700-plus freshman cadets “to remind them of their duty to report any instances of hazing.” He gave them until noon the following day to report violations or face possible disciplinary action, according to a statement released last month.
Asking freshmen in a meeting specifically to report violations is believed to be a first, officials said. Violations sometimes have gone unaddressed in the past because underclassmen have been highly reluctant to report them.
On Feb. 20, Citadel officials announced that four cadets had voluntarily resigned and that an investigation was continuing into 85 other alleged student-on-student violations. Paluso said Wednesday that most of those allegations – involving events from last September to February – concerned training, not hazing violations.
Paluso, a former Navy SEAL, said the Citadel environment is designed to be stressful. But he said the college environment is not supposed to replicate SEAL training for combat, reportedly some of world’s toughest training.
“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,” with academics the priority along with the school’s values of honor, duty and respect.
The Citadel’s student body numbers 2,300, with 1,230 from South Carolina. More than 90 percent of the students are male.
In the past four years, U.S. News and World Report has ranked the school the top public regional university. It has more than 20,000 alumni and is a lobbying force in the S.C. General Assembly. Citadel graduates are known for assisting each other in politics and business.
Part of The Citadel’s military culture has been allowing upperclass cadets to discipline “knobs,” or freshman, who are made to wear their hair very short.
Over the years, periodic newspaper stories have examined the school’s hazing and described it as a deeply rooted part of the school’s culture. Supporters say student-on-student rough treatment weeds out the weak and toughens those who remain for the rigors of life-and-death combat, since many graduates go on to stints in the military.