CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Officials with the Citadel announced the results of an investigation into photos of cadets with pillowcases on their heads that appeared on social media in December.
Fourteen Citadel cadets were disciplined in connection with the photos, which went viral after a woman posted them on Facebook. The 14 include seven juniors and seven freshmen, school officials say.
The punishments range from on-campus punishments to suspensions and one dismissal. A dismissal requires a cadet to spend two semesters away from campus, school officials said in a statement.
"The investigation revealed that the cadets attempted to dress as 'ghosts of Christmas past,'" Citadel President Lt. Gen. John Rosa said. "What disappoints me is when several of the people, both the younger folks and the older cadets, realized the way it might be perceived, nobody took any action, and it continued."
The second they thought the cadets' appearance could have been viewed as offensive, they should have stopped, Rosa said, calling their failure to do so a "leadership failure."
"It's not what we do," Rosa said. "We produce principled leaders, and we expect folks to step up and make the tough decisions and the timely decisions."
"The investigation found that within an hour of the event, several cadets reported to cadet leadership that they had seen a small group of freshmen dressed in costumes with white pillowcases on their heads," it continues. "As the cadet leaders looked into the matter, two photos of the costumed cadets were posted on social media by an upper class cadet who was in the room. The cadet leadership reported the incident to the company tactical officer (a staff member assigned to the commandant's department), who informed the administration. The following morning, Rosa announced that an investigation had been initiated and eight cadets were temporarily suspended. After subsequent interviews with witnesses, seven more cadets were added to the investigation."
According to the statement, the investigation revealed:
- A group of freshmen were directed to report to an upper class cadet’s room over a number of nights after Thanksgiving furlough to sing Christmas carols while dressed in costumes.
- This incident occurred on the night before finals week. The freshmen used what they had close at hand, including pillowcases and other uniform items, in an attempt to dress as “Ghosts of Christmas Past,” in reference to a stanza of the Christmas song, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," which refers to "scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of the Christmases long, long ago."
- At the outset, not all of the freshmen understood that the costumes could be construed by some as offensive in nature. Those who did thought they could easily explain that they were only dressed as ghosts, and said they just needed to complete the skit so they could resume studying.
- The lyrics sheets in the photos were for Christmas songs: “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas”, and “Joy to the World.” Officials say there was nothing offensive on the lyrics sheets.
"While the skit had no ill intent, it did show poor judgment. It demonstrates that we must integrate an even higher level of diversity education into cadets' daily activities, and into the already extensive leadership and ethics curriculum. We are working on that now," Rosa said.
He said the school already has several programs in place to address diversity and support and recognize minority cadets.
"But we've got to do more across our campus, and we realize that," he said.
Rosa is creating the President's Task Force on Advancing Diversity and Inclusion as a result of the incident. The council will be led by the college's Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Council.
"What this proves to us is that even as we have an assistant provost for diversity and we have a diversity council, we need to come together and take a hard look at where we are and where we need to improve," Rosa said.
According to the news release, every Citadel cadet must successfully complete four years of mandatory leadership and ethics training.
Some of the courses and programs cadets are currently required to complete include:
- Ethics 4-1, Values, Loyalty, and Stereotypes. Cadets study common stereotypes and learn how different types of loyalties co-exist, as well as how to articulate personal values professionally in a diverse environment.
- Ethics 4-2, Making a Better Call. Cadets study ethical dilemmas and explore ethical responses.
- Ethics 4-3, Life in the Barracks. Cadets learn to identify situations in the barracks that may influence individual behavior, how that occurs, and learn coping skills enabling them to maintain their personal values according to the principles of honor, duty, and respect.
- Bystander Intervention. Cadets are required to apply bystander intervention techniques to safely resolve a situation.
Officials say racial sensitivity and ethical decision making are both covered in the training, but will be addressed more expansively.