Report from the Trenches at The Citadel:
Integrating females into the corps of cadets after more than 150 years of all-male tradition at The Citadel has been dramatic, exciting and at times painful, report the women inside South Carolina's only public military college.
"Every person has been personally touched and molded by this experience," said Conway Saylor, professor of psychology at The Citadel. She led a panel highlighting the 12th annual Women in Higher Education conference in Charleston SC in January, sponsored by the National Association of Women in Education (NAWE).
Others on the panel were Suzanne Ozment, dean of undergraduate studies and dean of women; Lt. Col. Bonnie Houchen, assistant commandant of cadets for assimilation; Cadet Nancy Mace, scheduled to be the first female ever to graduate from The Citadel, and Bernice Sandler, consultant to the school on gender equity.
Female pioneers invaded The Citadel
In August 1995, The Citadel was forced to admit Shannon Faulkner as its first female cadet after two and a half years of legal battles. Faulkner quit after a week of stress.
In August 1996, four females became cadets. Two quit after their first semester; they're suing the school for hazing incidents they said threatened their physical safety. Of the two who remained, one is Nancy Mace, a member of the conference panel. Having entered The Citadel with 30 college credits, Mace is scheduled to be the first female cadet to graduate this spring, after " four more long months." Another of the original four, Petra Lovetinska, is scheduled to graduate next year with 10 other women who transferred in. Last fall, 44 more women became cadets.
For the fall of 1999, leaders hope to attract 50 women, 8% of a class of 625 new cadets. Their strategic plan is to have at least 88 women cadets among the corps of 1,760, or 5%; about 90 women already have applied for 1999.
Although the transition to women cadets wasn't easy and remains incomplete, Saylor assembled the conference panel to share some of their struggles, victories and visions for the future, and perhaps enlist some participants as colleagues to help it work better.
'Easing into a less stressful situation'
With a husband and three children, Conway Saylor came to The Citadel's psychology department in 1990, thinking she was " easing into a situation that was more relaxed and less stressful" than her previous position. " Mostly my optimism matched my experience for the first two years," she reported. Students actually attended class, said " yes, ma'am" and followed an honor code. She even found her new environment less sexist.
In June 1996, when the Supreme Court ruled that the Virginia Military Institute must admit women, the decision clearly applied to The Citadel as well, which was also being sued separately. Saylor was forced to grapple with her roles as a woman, a professional and a mother. " The issues were legal, moral and complex," she said.
" I want to be part of making this work," Saylor decided after school leaders decided to begin recruiting female cadets immediately. To prepare for female cadets, the court listed 79 issues the college must address, including major issues like creating a policy on sexual harassment, and minor ones like what kind of uniforms women would wear.
In true military fashion quite unlike what would happen on most campuses, leaders created a chart listing the 79 issues, who would complete what actions addressing each and when, and who would sign off on them. Although The Citadel leaders originally opposed coeducation, once ordered to do so, they followed military orders. They also embraced a new goal: Not only would they integrate females into the corps, they would become the best coeducational military college in the country.
Media attention magnified every step and mis-step, and everywhere Saylor went colleagues asked her about the awful things reportedly happening at The Citadel. " It was a nightmare," she said. " If it were as bad as they said, I wouldn't be here."
Bringing in women immediately enriched the classrooms, Saylor reported, but the situation in the barracks is still troubling. " The 18-year-olds still make poor judgments, as 18-year-olds will," she admitted.
Although the 79 issues have been addressed, Saylor said more subtle nuances remain, including the low representation of minorities and continued decision-making on issues that affect female cadets without input from females.
Female faculty hired in 1982
The Citadel's first female dean, Suzanne Ozment, came to the college in 1982, one of five women faculty hired to join the only other female there. " It was something of a jolt," she reported, having no previous experience or connection to the military. " We five were groundbreakers," she said, especially because she got pregnant two months after her arrival. Since all full-time faculty wear military uniforms, her apparel during pregnancy became an issue.
After 15 years on the English department faculty, Ozment became dean of undergraduate studies and dean of women. Her specialty is Victorian literature; as a self-described bleeding heart liberal, she had assigned anti-war poetry as required readings. Today women are 30 of the 150 faculty who have tenure or are on the tenure track.
As dean, Ozment helped make a controversial decision to spread the women cadets into as many of the 18 companies as possible, rather than cluster them together. That way a wider range of male cadets get the benefit of working with women cadets.
" When the college decided to include women, we went through very careful planning," Ozment reported, developing workshops led by NAWE senior scholar Bernice Sandler, creating a very complex policy on sexual harassment and establishing a coeducational council, which reports directly to the president.
" We're not ready for a women's studies program yet," Ozment quipped, but the college did celebrate women's history week. " It's so refreshing to look across campus and see women cadets. The 44 females in the new first-year class doesn't sound like much, but it has made a big difference on campus."
Hired top talent
To facilitate the transition, The Citadel also hired two women with experience in campus gender equity:
Lt. Col. Bonnie Jo Houchen became assistant commandant for assimilation. A member of the very first class of women to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1980, she learned first-hand the challenges female cadets face in military schools.
Her job is to make the women feel at home there. " I tell them I'm first of all a woman, the daughter of parents who have been happily married for 54 years, a retired Air Force officer, and finally an employee of The Citadel," she said.
Houchen encourages the female cadets to keep their identity through the process of becoming a cadet. " It's real easy to lose your identity here," she said. " We dress them up, cut their hair, and make them look alike," but she's noticed the young women are already rising to leadership positions.
Having retired from the Air Force after a final assignment as military aide to Vice President Al Gore, Houchen said she was looking for a transition. When the Citadel job opened, she recalled her first years at the Air Force Academy. " I understand the stress they're under," she said, but as the job developed she has thought to herself, " I did this 22 years ago. What am I doing it for now?"
Of the male cadets who continue to make life difficult for the women, Houchen said: " Some will never learn, but the majority will." Male administrators at the college needed educating as well, she said. But once they learned to see the female cadets as women who could be their daughters, they worked to assure that diets were appropriate for women, shoes fit the female foot, and other modifications supported women.
" I honestly feel The Citadel is about 10 years ahead of where the Air Force was when it first got females. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think the institution's heart was in the right place." she said. " My dream is that 200 years from today, there'll be a lawsuit for young men to be admitted."
Bernice Sandler, a consultant to schools and employers in gender equity whose pioneering work led to the development and passage of Title IX, served as a consultant to The Citadel. " I've never seen an institution that did as much planning and preparation," Sandler said, praising the school's leaders for attention " not just to the letter of the law but to the spirit." Sandler cited positive factors:
Existing buildings were designed for coeducation.
Trustees at the Citadel voted unanimously to admit women to its corps of cadets. (At the nation's other public military college, Virginia Military Institute, coeducation won by one trustee's vote.)
Leaders made a commitment to accommodate women's inherent differences, including blinds for privacy in the barracks, haircuts that required more than a razor, and uniforms that fit the female body.
Some school leaders realized that unless the transition was done right, The Citadel might not survive.
Leaders examined many of the school's key policies and procedures, recognizing an opportunity to make a lot of other changes that " really needed to be made."
The Citadel hired a special assistant to the president in charge of the transition, retired commandant of cadets Joe Trez, who never asked Sandler what leaders at many other schools asked: " What can we do to avoid a lawsuit?"
Sandler helped conduct workshops on sexual harassment with faculty and students, including training students to intervene if they saw one student harass another. She cited three positive stories about The Citadel:
Cadet Petra Lovetinska, one of the first four female cadets, was able to attend the school only because a group of alumni raised money for a full scholarship for her.
A male cadet who was engaged to be married asked Sandler how to handle the teasing from other cadets after he admitted his best friend at the college was a female cadet. Sandler said this demonstrates the new Citadel represents friendship between women and men.
A group of female students discussing why they came to The Citadel included one whose brother was a graduate. Her entire family was against females there, but when the court order came to admit women, she said, " Why not?" Sandler said her presence showed " They changed, she changed, and The Citadel changed."
Other gender issues she cited include:
Memorizations. Cadets are required to memorize and recite on demand a large number of facts and definitions about the college, including one on cows and lactation. Sandler considered the passage sexist and advised discontinuing it, " one of the few battles I lost," she said.
Uniforms. Women's uniforms cost more because they include both skirts and pants, which the cadets must buy. Some questioned whether females having to spend more was discriminatory. Sandler felt if the cost was only $100 or so more, it was not discriminatory.
Pregnancy. The school's existing policy forbade cadets from being married and would have expelled pregnant cadets. The new policy provides for a leave of absence, so a pregnant cadet can return to the school later.
" I've never seen an institution act so quickly and fairly," Sandler said. " The Citadel got on the train late and had the advantage of benefiting from others' experience and wisdom. The Citadel is not perfect, but then again, none is."
'I'm just a kid going to college'
Nancy Mace, who is scheduled to be The Citadel's first female graduate this spring, said " I wanted to enter The Citadel for the military experience and for the academics, and I also wanted a challenge." But experiencing it first-hand was something else.
" It was a very somber day when my parents drove me to the gates," she recalled, not sure she wanted to get out of the car. " I couldn't look at myself for a week after I came here because I was so ugly," she recalled, with a buzz haircut and no jewelry or makeup.
First impressions included " curiosity, angst, resentment and excitement," she reported; each day was " an emotional roller-coaster" but " I've learned to laugh a lot." Sometimes she thought she was crazy to stay: " I'm actually paying for all this."
Mace explained, " It's a mental game to stay here. Anyone can do it." She said hazing was part of the challenge to first-year cadets, to stretch their limits. " I learned to actually enjoy the screaming. I'm a very calm person now. I was never physically hazed." She said she reported any sexual harassment she faced and " it was handled just like that," snapping her fingers, or she continued until it was.
Mace believes her years at The Citadel have helped build her character. " Once you leave the school, the military aspect is left behind, but the education stays forever. What we learned about honor and duty and teamwork will stay with us."
They've also helped her develop into a leader. As academic officer in her company, she's responsible for helping other cadets make it academically. " I've had a lot of opportunities to help make decisions in this school," she said. " That's unique for a 20-year-old, as dumb as we are."
She continued: " In our society, I think we need leaders to uphold and respect people, and The Citadel is training women to take those positions. The experience has also allowed me to understand the other sex better, a definite plus for me."
Later she told WIHE she didn't plan a military career after graduation, but was sending resumes to Southern Bell, the FBI, and an investment firm, where she hoped to work for a few years before graduate school. Asked if the magnitude of her making history by being the first female to graduate from The Citadel had hit her, she replied, " I'm just a kid going to college."
--Mary Dee Wenniger
Contact Conway Saylor, Suzanne Ozment, Bonnie Houchen and Nancy Mace at The Citadel: (843) 953-5000. Bernice Sandler at NAWE: (202) 659-9330.
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