Two female Citadel cadets who said they endured freshman hazing that included having their clothes set afire announced Sunday they would not return to the military college.
“The school’s promises to me and my family that knob life would be rough but safe were critical to me,” Jeanie Mentavlos of Charlotte, N.C., said in a statement released by her attorney. “Because The Citadel broke its promise, I cannot return.”
Cadets were due back by 10:30 p.m. Sunday for the start of the second semester.
Mentavlos’ older brother, Michael, reportedly only three credits shy of graduation, also announced that he would not be returning because of “current circumstances.”
The women and their families met with U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houck on Thursday and were assured that he would provide “responsible measures” to protect their safety.
He did not say what those measures were, but the U.S. Justice Department had asked the judge to send U.S. marshals to campus.
But “it is apparent to me … that while I might be physically safe on campus, I would not be welcome,” Kim Messer of Clover, S.C., said in a statement.
The withdrawal of half of the women who enrolled in The Citadel last August was the latest development in a four-year battle over the opening of the nation’s public military colleges to female cadets that has cost millions of dollars and been carried to the Supreme Court.
The FBI and state police were investigating allegations that, among other things, male cadets set the clothes of the women on fire, sexually harassed them and put cleanser in their mouths. Authorities were also looking into whether death threats were made against one woman. Eleven male cadets face disciplinary action.
“I never asked for special treatment at The Citadel,” Messer said. “I asked, and was promised, that I would be treated like any other Fourth Class cadet. In return, however, I received special treatment. Special treatment by way of criminal assaults, sadistic illegal hazing and disgusting incidents of sexual harassment.”
Two other female cadets, Nancy Mace of Goose Creek, S.C., and Petra Lovetinska of Washington, D.C., have made no allegations of harassment and returned to campus.
Citadel spokesman Terry Leedom said the school would have no comment on the departure of the women until today.
Lawyers for the two female cadets say they endured weeks of hazing because they feared that telling adults on the staff might only make life more difficult. Finally, they attempted to document their treatment with a hidden tape recorder.
But male cadets ordered Mentavlos to drop her pants so they could recover it, lawyers said. She was permitted to go behind a desk to do so.
The women “knew no one would believe them as to the fact the line had been crossed,” attorney Tim Kulp said later.
As early as September, according to Valorie Vojdik, an instructor at the New York University School of Law who represents women seeking admission to The Citadel, Mentavlos’s mother complained about sexual harassment of her daughter, but nothing was done, while a senior cadet who was in a different company from Mentavlos’s had also reported that he had witnessed her being subjected to improper physical contact - to no avail.
Eventually, Mentavlos told her older brother, Michael, a Citadel senior, who reported his sister’s allegations on Dec. 13 to a family friend who was a member of the school’s board of visitors, according to reports. The incident became public two days later.
The Citadel immediately notified the FBI and state police. The FBI began to examine possible civil rights violations, and police investigated if hazing had occurred because it is a crime under South Carolina law.
Panic buttons have been installed in the women’s sleeping areas, and an adult monitor has been placed in the barracks.
And since the hazing allegations, The Citadel has put panic buttons in the women’s rooms and will post adults to sleep in all barracks. It also plans to launch an investigation of the Fourth Class system, in which freshmen cadets must take orders from upperclassmen.
“No amount of security measures can now make hundreds of cadets, the alumni, the administration and Mr. Leedom accept me into the corps of cadets,” Mentavlos said.
“Even as the daughter of a former Secret Service agent, I cannot imagine needing to have someone responsible for my safety on a 24-hour-a-day basis,” she said.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Mentavlos statement “Despite the Citadel Blue Book and other codes of conduct, the school was well aware that the corps of cadets made their own rules. I was told the chain of command stretched from the bottom to the top. Nobody told me the chain of command might not be followed when the cadets decided to rewrite the rules. “What happened to me were not the acts of a few ‘rogue’ cadets. ‘Rogue’ cadets aren’t allow to lead cadet companies. I really hope the cadets identified as having acted on their own are permitted to come forward and tell the complete story without penalty.”