Faulkner Makes History at the Citadel
by Lisa Bennett-Haigney
NOW Woman of Courage Award winner Shannon Faulkner addressed the NOW Conference in Ohio. Photo By Beth Corbin
Shannon Faulkner is prepared to make history as the first female member of the Corps of Cadets at the Citadel in South Carolina. The Citadel and the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) are this country's only state-funded, all-male military colleges. Both academies stand determined to refuse women military education within school walls. "That tradition needs to end and it will end on August 12," Faulkner stated as she accepted a 1995 Woman of Courage Award at the NOW National Conference.
Faulkner's case began in 1993, when she was accepted for admission based on her qualifications, and then denied based on her gender. Greenville, S.C. NOW President Suzanne Coe took on the case as lead counsel. (January 1995 NNT). For the past two years Faulkner has attended the Citadel as a day student under adverse conditions.
Faulkner has prevailed despite some recent defense maneuvers. In June, U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houck ruled that Faulkner would not be housed in the infirmary as the Citadel proposed, should she become a cadet. Houck said that this plan "would be treating her vastly different," and that she must live in the barracks and receive the same confrontational discipline as the other cadets.
After a year of deliberation the Citadel relented, saying Faulkner will not have to shave her head if she joins the corps. Dawes Cooke, a lawyer for the college, says the reversal was not based on publicity, claiming the idea was originally "to maintain uniformity," but "as times goes by, we realized she would not be uniform even with the haircut."
However, the Citadel and the state of South Carolina filed an 11th-hour proposal with the court, offering an alternative to admitting women to the corps. The "parallel program", named the South Carolina Institute of Leadership for Women, would be located at Converse College in Spartanburg, 190 miles away.
"I don't know how they can equate a modest women's school with military training," said South Carolina NOW State Coordinator, Liz Clark, who actively follows the case.
Faulkner's lawyers say any alternative to her attending the Citadel itself is segregation by sex.
Of the $10 million cost for the program, $3.4 million would be state funded, said State Attorney General Charlie Condon. Liz Clark says taxpayers are becoming "frustrated with the money expenditure" imposed upon them by the Citadel's continued resistance. Faulkner noted in her speech that half of the students at the Citadel are from out of state, "I pay for them to go to school but (the state) won't give me the right to go to school."
Angered by the late filing of the Converse College agreement, Judge Houck agreed with Faulkner's lawyers that there is not adequate time to assess and rule on the alternative plan before August 12. With the trial date stalled, Faulkner is now set to enter the corps under a federal appeals court order, unless the Citadel intervenes last-minute through a higher court.
The Virginia Military Institute battle began in 1989, when a still unidentified woman was refused admission. The Justice Department sued the school, and lower courts found VMI's admissions policy violated women's equal protection rights.
The academy responded by creating the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va. The state of Virginia agreed to pay the same subsidy to Leadership students as is paid to VMI cadets. The charter class is scheduled to start this fall.
In a 29-page appeal filed with the Supreme Court in May, the Justice Department says VMI's plan to remain all- male through its alternative program is "patently unequal" and similar to the "separate but equal" tenet of racial segregation.
Justice attorneys reprimanded the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond for its January ruling upholding the Baldwin program as "substantively comparable." The appeals court is reinforcing stereotypes of women as less assured, less aggressive and less fit to withstand boot-camp conditions, the Justice Department said.
The program at Mary Baldwin will lack the "adversative training" that is at the center of VMI's tradition, as well as the resources and prestige of the nation's oldest military college.
NOW State Coordinator Clark thinks the "glass ceiling" argument is overlooked. Both the Citadel and VMI may efffectively exclude female students from the vast alumni networking that could offer commercial success in their post-graduate lives. Alumni of both schools hold many influential positions in their respective states. The Governor of South Carolina is the son of a Citadel graduate, and has placed his support with the college.
The Supreme Court may decide as early as September whether to hear the VMI case. The fate of women's education at both academies may lie in the hands of a volatile court. Liz Clark notes "With this particular Supreme Court, anything can happen."
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