Shannon R. Faulkner, the 20-year-old South Carolina woman who waged a ferocious legal battle to march as a cadet in an all-male military academy, abruptly withdrew from the college Friday, explaining that two and a half years of stress had “all crashed in” on her in her first few days here.
Faulkner announced her departure from The Citadel at an impromptu news conference after informing school officials of her decision. Standing in the rain in front of the infirmary where she had spent the past four days, Faulkner insisted that she was not a quitter. “I don’t think there is any dishonor in leaving,” she said, adding that she was not willing to sacrifice her mental well-being “just for the political point.”
Struggling not to cry, Faulkner said, “It’s hard for me to leave, because this is something I have worked for for so long.”
Asked about her future she said, “I have no earthly idea what I’m going to do now. I know that my life is going to be miserable for a while right now.”
The dark-haired woman fought to be heard over claps of thunder from a sudden storm, and the whoops and cheers from scores of cadets and their supporters, who were thrilled to learn that the state-supported, all-male bastion would be intact once again.
“I think this is the justice that Judge Houck couldn’t provide,” said Cadet James Weatherholtz, 21, a senior from Annandale, Va., referring to U.S. District Court Judge C. Weston Houck, whose decision that a state-supported college could not bar women opened the door for Faulkner.
“She doesn’t belong here. She’s proved that to everybody,” said Holly Scruggs, 20, who stood in the rain with her husband of two months, a 1995 Citadel graduate. “There’s something sacred left in America.”
Yet no one but the jubilant cadets seemed to think that the struggle ended Friday. Instead, lawyers on both sides of this heavily emotional issue immediately vowed to fight it out all the way to the Supreme Court.
“From a legal standpoint, the case is unaffected,” said William Lewis Spearman, the assistant to the Citadel’s president. “But maybe it will make the courts think twice” before becoming embroiled in complex social issues, he said.
Faulkner’s lawyers said they remained confident that the Supreme Court would uphold their argument that the Citadel’s exclusion of women violates their constitutional protections.
The Citadel’s attorneys have argued that the issue will not be decided until a trial, set to begin in November, over whether a newly created state-funded “leadership institute” for women is a suitable alternative to admitting them to the all-male school.
Valorie Vojdik, one of Faulkner’s lawyers, who now teaches law at New York University, pointed out that almost 200 other women had written to the college for information in the last two years and explained that the case would simply shift to others’ shoulders.
“The battles about segregation didn’t involve just one individual,” she said. “It took a lot of people fighting.”
Faulkner first gained entry to The Citadel by having all references to gender blanked out of her high school transcripts. As she fought a legal battle that twice led to the U.S. Supreme Court, Faulkner was continually vilified. The campus newspaper dubbed her “Shrew Shannon.” An attorney for the college argued that she was trying to force a “unisex worldview” onto the Constitution. Her parents’ home was vandalized. She received so many death threats that when she finally arrived to join the corps of cadets last weekend she was escorted by four U.S. marshals.
And yet Faulkner never got a chance to take the cadet’s oath, and now she will never wear the Citadel class ring, which has helped thousands of young men gain admission to South Carolina’s business and political elites.
On Monday morning, at the very start of an initiation process known as “Hell Week,” Faulkner and four other cadets were taken to the school infirmary, apparently suffering from heatstroke after exercising in 100-degree temperatures.
She remained under medical care, complaining of stomach problems, and then on Thursday went to a hospital for tests. The school subsequently announced that she had been cleared to rejoin her fellow cadets Friday morning.
As the hours passed and she did not emerge from the infirmary, rumors that she was about to quit began to spread among cadets, university staff and others on the majestic campus, where the grass is trimmed to perfection and each building is a gleaming white replica of a Moorish castle. A crowd of media, tourists, cadets and alumni gathered in a parking lot across the street from the infirmary.
Across campus, Jalorie Robinson, a school employee whose son became a cadet this week, said Faulkner’s failure to make it through Hell Week was a severe letdown.
“She disappointed me,” Robinson said. “Because she said she is just as good as any man. She said she was ready. So I was like, well, ‘let her try, and if she makes it, good.”’
In a last-minute effort to block her admission, school officials claimed that Faulkner was 20 pounds overweight and not physically fit enough to join the corps, an argument that was rejected in court. But Faulkner said Friday that her illness was due to stress, not the heat or the physical exertion.
“It’s all been an emotional roller coaster and she decided she wanted to step off,” said Suzanne Coe, the South Carolina lawyer who first took Faulkner’s case. “Shannon was lonely. She was very lonely. And she wanted to come home.”