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The Citadel Suspends 8 Cadets Over White-Hooded Photos

After images emerged on social media of cadets wearing white pillowcase hoods, The Citadel says it has suspended those involved in the incident. Citadel President Lt. Gen. John Rosa says it seems the cadets "were singing Christmas carols as part of a 'Ghosts of Christmas Past' skit."

Suspension proceedings began at the Charleston, S.C., school Thursday morning shortly after Rosa saw the images, which he called "offensive and disturbing." Rosa said the images depict an upper-class cadet and seven other cadets and that in addition to pursuing suspensions, the school is still investigating the matter.

The images reportedly came to light after a woman rebuffed a man who was making advances via social media, according to Charleston's ABC 4 News. But the failed connection enabled her to see what was in his feed, and she was stunned by what she saw.

The woman wasn't interested in the man's overtures — which reportedly included the line "I always wanted a black girl." But ABC 4 says the woman noticed that the man's Snapchat account included images of white men dressed in white hoods with eyeholes cut out, along with a man in a Citadel sweatshirt — so she saved a copy and posted it online.

From ABC 4's report:

"The woman says in the post that the guy told her the pictured cadets were ghosts and they were only joking. She says the guy asked her to remove her post, and she did because she was scared.

"But then she reposted it, she said because she thought it was important other people saw the photos."

A portion of the images' caption notes that the men had supposedly been trying to look like ghosts — but it adds, "we all know what they look like, they know what they look like and it's just rude."

At The Citadel, Rosa held a school-wide meeting today to discuss the case. He also issued a statement saying:

"A social media posting, which I find offensive and disturbing, was brought to my attention this morning. It shows an upper class cadet in front of seven cadets with pillowcases over their heads. In accordance with college policy, we immediately began suspension proceedings for those cadets known to be involved, and we are continuing to investigate this incident. Preliminary reports are cadets were singing Christmas carols as part of a 'Ghosts of Christmas Past' skit. These images are not consistent with our core values of honor, duty and respect.

"We will provide more information upon completion of the investigation."

On Facebook, the top-rated reaction to Rosa's notice comes from Michael McDowell, a member of the military college's advisory board, who said, "A swift pluralist response by Lt. General Rosa. Well said. The stupid and utterly unacceptable and deeply offensive actions of a few, should not sully a whole college."

After today's meeting, The Post and Courier says it spoke to an African-American sophomore on The Citadel's campus who said, "I think it was stupid, I think the upperclassmen made them dress like that."

The newspaper also notes that The Citadel's cadet corps, which was integrated in 1966, is now around 8 percent black — a figure that places it between other state schools such as Clemson University and the University of South Carolina.

The Citadel Minority Alumni Association's chairman, Lamont A. Melvin, says the posting was "disgraceful" and shouldn't be treated as a simple mistake.

A statement from Melvin reads in part:

"We are pleased that Lt. General Rosa and his staff have taken swift action to address the situation and look forward to the results of his investigation; however, much more needs to be done to address the culture that continues to house recurring prejudices against minority cadets. At the very least, there needs to be a zero tolerance policy established immediately for racially charged and racially-motivated rhetoric and activity. Furthermore, increased funding should be committed to cultural competence and diversity training for the entire Corps of Cadets and staff on a regular basis. This is not the first, second or third time that racially charged events have been documented to have occurred at The Citadel."

In his statement, Melvin says, "When racist acts occur on campus, ALL students, black and white should feel the same degree of outrage that we do. As minority alumni and wearers of the ring, we expect The Citadel to carry out the core values of creating principled leaders... not racist leaders."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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