Roused from bed before daybreak with shouts and heavy-metal rock, the four women cadets at The Citadel got short haircuts, received uniforms and started intense military training alongside their male counterparts Monday.
Although two of the women shed a few tears - as did some of the men - everyone seemed to be adapting well, said interim college President Clifton Poole.
“They’re trying to march. They’re trying to stand straight. They’re trying to salute and they are trying to just keep their composure together,” he said.
In June, after a 3-1/2-year legal battle, The Citadel decided to end its 153-year-old men-only policy and admit women. The move came two days after the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the all-male admissions policy at Virginia Military Institute, the nation’s only other all-male public college.
The four women made Citadel history late in the day as they marched onto a field and took the cadet oath in a light rain.
The beat of the AC/DC song “Hell’s Bells” echoed through a barracks courtyard in the dark as the intense freshmen military training known as “Hell Week” began. Upperclassmen shouted, “Get up, knobs!”
Later, while the 572 men received the traditional close haircuts that earn freshmen the name “knobs,” the women got slightly longer cuts, though their hair was still well off the collar and above the ears.
“I didn’t think it would be that short,” senior Gary Foster said after seeing Nancy Mace’s new trim.
Reporters weren’t allowed to talk to the women to get their reactions.
After getting their haircuts and picking up supplies at the bookstore, Kim Messer of Clover and Jeanie Mentavlos of Charlotte, N.C., lost their composure and cried briefly. Messer wiped her eyes while holding her cadet handbook.
A few minutes later they were stoically heading back to their barracks, carrying duffel bags holding their uniforms and other supplies.
Cadets are known to cry during the stressful training, said Harold Poston, senior class president. Several men were also seen crying at the bookstore.
“I know you’re scared,” Regimental Commander Bryant Butler, the highest-ranking student officer, told the freshmen earlier in the day.
“Everybody’s been there, but it’s not impossible. You can make it. You can do it.”
Soon the freshmen must stand and run at attention in the barracks and must turn square corners wherever they walk. And on campus streets, they may walk only in the gutters.