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The Citadel Surrenders Its All-Male Tradition : Education: Shannon Faulkner marches onto campus and becomes first woman admitted to military academy.

August 13, 1995|MIKE CLARY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

CHARLESTON, S.C. — The sound of tradition crumbling echoed across the Deep South on Saturday as Shannon Faulkner took her place among the corps of cadets at The Citadel, an all-male bastion for 152 years.

In the wake of death threats, Faulkner, the first female admitted to the state-supported military school, was accompanied by four U.S. marshals as well as her parents as she pulled up to the walled campus about 7:30 a.m.

The tall 20-year-old climbed out of her family's blue van with a flute case and some sheet music under her arm. Her first stop was a band audition.

"All I can say is that everything is going well," she shouted to reporters just after lunch. For her first day as a "knob," as first-year cadets are called, Faulkner was dressed in a mauve shirt, white shorts and tennis shoes. On Monday, however, she will don the epauletted uniform worn by 2,000 male fellow students and begin a tough program of military training and academic discipline. As a Citadel cadet, she will experience the rigors and the rights that generations of young men have shared since 1843.

But that is not to say she is being welcomed.

After two U.S. Supreme Court justices refused to intervene Friday, school officials said they would abide by the federal court order that forced them to admit Faulkner after approving her application in 1993, under the assumption she was male. "The issue concerning single-gender education is a legal controversy about which there are differing views and attitudes," said Citadel President Claudius E. Watts III. "It is not a fight between The Citadel and Shannon Faulkner."

Nonetheless, many administrators and cadets were anything but shy in expressing their resentment of Faulkner's presence.

"She is destroying the single-gender concept of education and a 152-year-old tradition," said Cadet Capt. Sidney Benton, 20, of Covington, Ga. "Those are the things that attracted me to The Citadel in the first place. And I can tell you that 99.9% of the cadets here agree with me."

Some parents delivering their sons to The Citadel for freshman orientation also voiced anger. "She will not earn the others' respect," predicted Larry Sessoms. "She will pass through and be forgotten."

Outside the campus gates a band of protesters held up a banner reading "Save the Males."

"She is motivated by the ACLU and feminists who want to see white men fail," fumed Connie Haynie, who said her husband is a 1981 Citadel graduate.

But clustered under a moss-draped live oak across the corner from Haynie's group, a larger group of women backed Faulkner. "This is a taxpayer-supported institution, and more than half the population of South Carolina can't go here," said Kathy Moore, a marine biologist. A supporter standing nearby held a sign saying, "You Go, Girl."

"This is a pocketbook issue, and people are starting to understand that," added Dawn Barnhart.

But Faulkner's 2 1/2-year struggle to enter The Citadel as a full-fledged cadet, and study to become a teacher, has also become a personal odyssey for her and her family. Her family's home in Powdersville, S.C., has been vandalized, she has received dozens of death threats and bumper stickers and T-shirts bearing anti-Faulkner messages are common. One example: "Shave the Whale," a reference to the tradition of shaving the heads of freshmen, a tradition from which Faulkner has been exempted.

After a federal judge last year ruled The Citadel's all-male policy unconstitutional, Faulkner entered the university as a sophomore day student while living off campus in Charleston with her attorney. But on Saturday she was assigned to India Company, given a single room with a lockable door in a barracks and will have use of a private bathroom. For security, a video camera will be trained on her door 24 hours a day.

Despite the opposition of many cadets, there was little outward sign of hostility. Perhaps the most telling signal of what Faulkner faces, however, came in the early afternoon when she and about 20 men in her platoon were told to take a break.

As the male newcomers fell into two closed circles and chatted, Faulkner stood between them, alone and silent.

Earlier, several uniformed cadets helped carry her belongings into her barracks room, and some of those who have shared classes with her during the last year say they have enjoyed her company. "She's a real nice lady when not around this controversy," said David Abrams, 23, who graduated in June.

"Not one cadet has protested against her personally," said Abrams. "Some of the media has called us beasts and animals. They come down here expecting to see good ole boys from the South who think that women should stay in the kitchen, and African Americans shouldn't be educated.

"But that's not it. We just want single-sex education. We just don't want to open our doors to women."

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