The Citadel responds to recent hazing allegations with ‘zero tolerance’

By Shannon Scovel, USA Today
June 5, 2015 5:55 pm

Inside the gates of The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina, sits a large, car-sized golden ring, a fixture that represents the honor and tradition rooted in the institution. Just beyond that ring lies the campus where 85 allegations of misconduct emerged in February.The Commandant of Cadets at The Citadel, an institution that has previously made headlines for hazing complaints and lawsuits, issued the first all-encompassing order in school history for cadets to report cases of misconduct within 24 hours. Captain Eugene “Geno” Paluso, who serves as the Commandant of Cadets and holds the responsibility of commanding and overseeing the Corps, summoned all freshman cadets to a meeting in February. He announced an order to report instances of misconduct after hearing rumors of a hazing incident.Nineteen of the 85 reported misconduct cases have been confirmed as hazing, and nine students have voluntarily left the school.

Captain Paluso (L), and Lt. Gen. John Rosa (R) (Photo courtesy: The Citadel)

Captain Paluso (L), and Lt. Gen. John Rosa (R) (Photo courtesy: The Citadel)

Captain Paluso came to The Citadel in 2014 after retiring from a 25-year career in the Navy. Paluso also wears a Citadel ring as a member of the 1989 graduating class and has received numerous service medals for his military service.

Recent graduate 2nd Lt. Christian Mason says that the Commandant’s actions to curb hazing surprised him at first, but he believes the investigation will produce positive outcomes for the school. “At first, I was like, ‘This is kind of messed up, this isn’t the school I went to,’” Mason says. “But then I guess it’s the difference between being an adult and being a kid. You can see the bigger picture, and in the long run…mentorship is better than intimidation.”

In the upcoming year, the school will fully integrate a new program under the Office of the Commandant called the Officer and Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Academy where cadets will undergo new leadership and ethics training in addition to leadership classes already included in a cadet’s Citadel education. The Citadel also launched a new program in 2014 called “Ethics in Action: Since 1842” to enhance leadership training. This new initiative began with the Class of 2018, and the leadership courses will be integrated in the curriculum.

“As we start looking, a deeper look at hazing and what leads to some of these cases and such, in many cases, you could argue there isn’t enough training,” Lt. Col. Brett Ashworth, vice president for communications and marketing at The Citadel, says. “So what we want to do is make sure that a young man or woman doesn’t think that physical fitness is the only tool in their tool kit when it comes to disciplining another cadet.”

These new programs will continue to enforce the school’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards hazing, Ashworth says.“There are at least six different times throughout a typical academic year that cadets are reminded of the rules and regulations regarding hazing,” Ashworth says. “Those start all the way at the highest level with the president and then the Commandant as well, and then at the lower level — at the company level in the barracks — they get training as well. So it’s a continuous process, it’s not something that we due once and never refer to again.” Ashworth says The Citadel has always prohibited hazing, but the Commandant’s order to the freshman was unprecedented.

The Citadel defines hazing as:
A wrongful striking, an unauthorized laying hand upon, threatening with violence, or offering to do bodily harm by any student to another student, or any other unauthorized treatment by one student toward another student of a tyrannical, abusive, shameful, insulting, or humiliating nature; or otherwise requiring any student to perform any personal service for another student except as specifically provided for in Cadet Regulations.”

The school has faced numerous hazing lawsuits throughout its history. In 2011, a cadet filed a breach of contract and assault and battery case against the institution, and the school investigated the case, ultimately punishing six cadets with demerits and tours. Three of the six cadets in the case were moved to a different battalion within the school.

Cadets run the Corps at The Citadel. Mason says that this traditional remains important at the school. “Let the Corps run the Corps,” Mason says. “We don’t like it when [administrators] step in and try to run the Corps for us, but at the same time, we don’t always do the things necessary to run the Corps the way it should be.”

Ed Pendarvis, a 1965 Citadel graduate and member of The Citadel School of Business Administration Advisory Board, says many of the hazing incidents occur because young cadets fail to rein in their new authority after freshman year. “Every now and then, someone will cross the line, and you’re dealing with 17, 18, 19, 20-year-old people, and you’re turning the discipline over to them as they move up from freshman to sophomore to junior to senior,” Pendarvis says. “Some people can handle that responsibility and good leadership traits and qualities bubble to the top, and others are too exuberant and just have the authority that ‘you have to do it this way,’ even to the point that, ‘I’ll abuse you to make you do it right.’”

Pendarvis acknowledges these hazing incidents bring negative attention to the school, but he believes the administration has handled the issues appropriately. “I’m proud of The Citadel. If there’s a problem, we root it out and correct it, and take responsibility for it,” Pendarvis says. “If we make a mistake, it is our mistake and we need to own up to it and correct it and not do that again if we can. And I think that’s what happened with this thing with hazing.”

Despite the stories of hazing at The Citadel, the number of applicants applying for a spot at the school has increased, according to Ashworth. “We have a wait list, which in higher education obviously is exciting and tells you that people want to be a part of that values based education,” Ashworth says. “It resonates with not just young people, but with their parents, and people who support them.”

Fifty years after Pendarvis collected his ring as a senior at The Citadel, Mason proudly earned the same distinction. Mason says the traditions of honor, respect and duty will last him a lifetime, but hazing is not synonymous with that tradition. “If you’re found, you’re going to get kicked out or in serious trouble, and I mean, kids do it anyways,” Mason says. “Again, that might just be the misconstrued belief that tradition and hazing are supposed to go hand-in-hand. But the school doesn’t allow it, and that’s why I stayed away from it.”

Shannon Scovel is a student at American University and a summer 2015 USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent

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