CHARLESTON, S.C. — Fourteen cadets have been dismissed, suspended or are serving on-campus punishments at The Citadel after several of them appeared in photos with pillowcases on their heads similar to Ku Klux Klan garb, the military college's president announced Monday.
The photos of seven freshmen cadets dressed in white pants and shirts with the pillowcases surfaced on social media last month. An investigation found they were ordered by upperclassmen to sing Christmas carols while they were dressed in costumes, college president retired Lt. Gen John Rosa said in a statement. The photos involved a "Ghosts of Christmas Past" skit.
Several other cadets reported the Dec. 9 incident to cadet leaders. Initially, eight cadets were investigated but the inquiry was later expanded to include 14.
"The investigation found that the cadets did not intend to be offensive. However, I am disappointed some recognized how it could be construed as such but didn't stop it," Rosa said.
The song sheets contained only the words to carols and nothing offensive and "at the outset, not all of the freshmen understood that the costumes could be construed by some as offensive," he said.
Rosa said 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."
He announced formation of a task force comprised of representatives from the school and the community to study and make recommendations on the campus climate for minorities, enhancing the curriculum to promote greater understanding of ethnic backgrounds and increasing diversity among students and staff.
Civil rights leaders had called for Rosa to resign last month. But James Johnson, the head of the local chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, told reporters Monday he is "very encouraged" by what has happened.
"We have the opportunity right now to change the race relationship with The Citadel," he said. The group is calling for, among other things, five additional free scholarships for minority students and more Citadel involvement with low-income schools.
Rosa spoke with leaders of civil rights groups before the investigation results were released.
School officials said one junior has been dismissed from the college. Two upperclassmen were suspended and must leave for a semester.
The other cadets are being punished by marching back and forth in the barracks shouldering gun for 50 minutes at a time. Some will have to march tours for three weeks, others until the end of the semester.
Dot Scott, the president of the Charleston Branch of the NAACP, said it was appropriate there was no blanket punishment "because the younger people who are listening to those who are their seniors did what they were instructed to do."
"I feel good about what's happening now," she said, but there is still a ways to go and that the Confederate flag needs to be removed from the college chapel.
The school's Board of Visitors voted to have the flag removed after the Charleston church shootings last June. But under the South Carolina Heritage Act, removing the flag needs approval from the state General Assembly.