Shannon Faulkner passed through the stone gates of The Citadel and into history Saturday as she prepared to become the first woman sworn in to the corps of cadets at the 152-year-old South Carolina military college, one of the South’s most tradition-bound institutions.
Escorted by federal marshals, although not as obtrusively as the black students who first integrated state universities in the South more than 30 years ago, Faulkner arrived in Charleston for the orientation that precedes Monday’s official matriculation of this year’s cadet class.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for so long,” Faulkner told reporters at a news conference in Charleston on Friday night after the college’s last-minute request to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep her out was rejected. “It really has been a long struggle. When I started this lawsuit, I was told I would never enter The Citadel.”
Like the civil rights ground-breakers who preceded her, Faulkner won admission to the state-supported college only after using the federal courts to overcome the often determined, and sometimes vicious, resistance of college and state authorities. Even Saturday, demonstrators on both sides of the issue were at the college’s gates for her arrival.
Two years ago, federal District Judge C. Weston Houck ruled that Faulkner, 20, from Powdersville, S.C., could attend academic classes during the day at The Citadel, which receives $12.6 million in state money.
But he ruled that she could not become a cadet, live on campus or receive military training until her lawsuit against The Citadel could be tried.
Houck ruled for Faulkner on that issue summer of 1994 but appeals had delayed her entrance until now.
Faulkner’s days in court are far from over.
This fall, Houck will hear testimony about whether the state’s plan to create a women’s program at Converse College, a private college in Spartanburg, S.C., will satisfy constitutional concerns about unequal educational opportunities for men and women.