December 17, 1996 in Nation/World

Father Wants ‘Brutality’ Ended Daughter Cursed, Slapped, Set On Fire While A Cadet At The Citadel, He Says

Anna Griffin Charlotte Observer
 

Harvey Messer’s daughter Kim has been cursed by drunken upperclassmen, slapped, punched, hit with rifle butts and set on fire in the four months since she became one of the first four women to enroll at The Citadel.

Now her father says Messer, of Clover, S.C., is considering withdrawing - and he’s hired an attorney to explore the family’s options.

“The tradition of brutality has to end,” Harvey Messer said Sunday. “It’s time the kind of crap that goes on there is exposed, and if it takes the justice system to do it, that’s what I’ll do.”

As state and federal agents continued their investigation into charges that an upperclassman splashed Messer and another female cadet, Jeanie Mentavlos of Charlotte, with flammable liquid and lighted it, Messer’s father outlined a series of abuses against women and other freshmen at South Carolina’s 154-year-old military college.

Harvey Messer says a male cadet has routinely harassed, hazed and abused Messer and Mentavlos since they became two of the first four women ever to enroll at the school.

Kim Messer has told her father that the cadet hit her in the head and shoved her against a wall with a rifle butt. Messer also told her father that the cadet hit Mentavlos, and that upperclassmen forced the two women to march and perform physical training exercises when they were officially excused because of injuries.

Mentavlos and her parents, who were in Charleston over the weekend visiting her, were not available for comment.

“The upperclassmen do anything they want to do, they get drunk, they curse at the freshmen, they push and shove and punch,” Harvey Messer said. “The school turns a deaf ear and a blind eye to it. They know what’s happening, but they look the other way.”

Messer said he appreciates that state and federal agents have been called in to investigate, but he said the treatment of his daughter goes far beyond hazing.

“It was the intention of the person who had the flammable liquid to do bodily harm,” he said. “These girls are not being hazed, they’re being tortured.”

Physical contact between upperclassmen and freshmen is prohibited under Citadel policy, unless cadets are helping one another straighten their uniforms or attach insignia. Hazing violates Citadel policy and South Carolina law.

School officials called in the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the FBI last week after another cadet reported that three freshmen, including two women, were verbally and physically assaulted and had a flammable liquid splashed on them and lighted.

One student - a sophomore - was suspended from school Saturday. Five student leaders in E Company, to which Messer and two of the other women belong, were temporarily removed from their leadership positions.

“We want everyone on campus to know that this type of incident, this hazing, will not be tolerated,” school spokesman Terry Leedom said Sunday. “If Mr. Messer has other charges or if any of the women has other allegations, we’ll consider those along with this investigation. We’re not going to put up with any kind of bullying.”

Citadel officials said the fire incident took place sometime within the past month, and Brigadier President Clifton Poole, the school’s interim president, said he believes the hazing incident was isolated and wasn’t directed specifically at the women.

“From what we know so far, this appears to be an upperclass-knob situation,” Poole said.

Freshmen at The Citadel are called “knobs” for their close-cropped haircut, and under school policy, upperclassmen are responsible for disciplining them and teaching them how to succeed.

Every freshman faces extreme mental duress: Upperclassmen discipline by screaming, ordering push-ups and belittling first-year cadets.

“Every knob has their time,” sophomore Kenneth Price said Saturday. “Everyone gets their share of the fun.”

But Harvey Messer said the attack on his daughter was part of a semester-long series of abuses against Messer and Mentavlos. Kim Messer, her father said, is considering dropping out.

“She is a tough woman, but she is being terrorized,” he said.

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