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RIGHTS WATCH : Retreat of Honor

August 22, 1995

The jubilant cadets who crudely celebrated Shannon Faulkner's withdrawal from the Citadel by dancing in pouring rain in Charleston last Friday made a mockery of 152 years of Southern sweet talk from that institution. Sweet talk about the discipline, decency, honor and respect for fellow students instilled through an all-male military education.

Faulkner's long fight to gain admission to the South Carolina school, one of the nation's two tax-supported military colleges that remain all male, effectively ended eight days ago, on the first day of cadet training. Blistering heat landed her and four other cadets in the school infirmary. By Friday she had left the infirmary for home, saying that years of resistance from the Citadel's leaders and relentless taunts and even death threats from some of its graduates and cadets "came crashing in on me at once."

Faulkner was one of about 30 cadets to wash out during what's known as "hell week." But news of her departure, unlike that of the others--all men--became an occasion to celebrate.

Even more disgraceful than the whoops and cheers echoing across the campus were the Citadel leaders' words. "I cannot legislate respect," President Claudius Watts had said as Faulkner enrolled. Last Friday, he and other officials barely hid their pleasure at her withdrawal. "We hope things return to normal as soon as possible," his spokesman said.

The Citadel may have won a battle but the college lost its proud claim to manly virtue. And in time, it will surely lose its war against women.

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