The Hijab and The Citadel

The Hijab and The Citadel

The Hijab and The Citadel

I am not dispassionate about The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. My only child, my son, is a 2010 graduate of that “bastion of antiquity“. Fourth Battalion, Oscar Company, to be clear. I love that school with every fiber of my being. My son worked hard for and received an education that has enabled him to succeed in his chosen profession. That is what a college education is supposed to do. It was not easy and he wasn’t always happy at The Citadel.

My folks and my husband and I with our son after the Long Gray Line Parade.  His last parade.
My folks and my husband and I with our son after the Long Gray Line Parade. His last parade.

There are rules at The Citadel. There are a lot of rules at The Citadel. The rules govern every activity and action a cadet takes.

Citadel cadets "push" after being accepted into the Corps of Cadets.
Citadel cadets “push” after being accepted into the Corps of Cadets.

The Citadel has been put on notice by a Muslim student that she would like to honor her Islam faith by wearing her hijab as part of her uniform, as reported by NBC News. The Citadel is expected to make a decision in the next few weeks.

The Citadel was founded in 1842, in part, to provide troops to put down slave rebellions. Citadel cadets fired shots at the resupply ship the “Star of the West” at Ft. Sumter in the opening salvo of the Civil War.

Charles Foster, the first African American cadet, entered as a knob in Golf Company in 1966. Asian students had been at The Citadel since the 1920’s and Hispanic cadets since the 1950’s.

The first woman to be accepted, Shannon Faulkner, based her application upon a lie. She did not disclose that she was a female. The Citadel adopted the Honor Code in 1955. The Honor Code states:

A cadet “will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do.”

A lie by omission is still a lie. Shannon Faulkner tried to lie her way in to The Citadel. Not a good start.

The first woman to graduate The Citadel as a member of the Corps of Cadets was Nancy Mace in 1999. The women at The Citadel, just as with the men at The Citadel, succeed or fail based on individual intestinal wherewithal.

Cadets at The Citadel come from every state in the United States and her territories. Cadets at The Citadel come from many different countries. The Corps of Cadets represents every race, color, creed and just about every religion.

Now, a female cadet of the Muslim faith wants to wear a hijab. A headscarf. She would like the blessing of the school to wear her headscarf.

Sadly. I think the school will approve the headscarf. It’s not about the headscarf or the religion of Islam.

Nick Pinelli, a current Citadel cadet, posted this on Facebook and I quote with his permission.

Today, I was called a bigot. Someone who lives a few doors down from me asked me if I, “could not be a bigot for a few hours this morning.” She asked me this while I was engaged in a dialogue with a few of my friends here at the Citadel. She was taking issue with the content of our conversation, and concluded I was a bigot because of it.

Yesterday, on a Facebook post by a friend and fellow Citadel graduate mother, I ventured the opinion that I would rather see The Citadel (and, indeed any other institution) shut down completely rather than caving to an individual’s request. Her son, Adam Gilmore, is a 2010 graduate along with my son. My son considered her son a fine cadet during their four years at The Citadel. Captain Gilmore, USAF, took exception to my opinion. Again, I quote with the permission of Mr. Gilmore.

.You think they should close down a school that has been challenged through race and gender, had alumni fight and die in 10 wars, and closed down only because of the civil war all because of a single girl making a small request? You do see how ridiculous that sounds, right?

Yes, I know he was being condescending. I don’t care. It’s not about the hijab or the religion.

And, as I informed Mr. Gilmore, race and gender are very different from religion/philosophy/ideology.

Again, I quote from Mr. Pinelli’s Facebook post.

This girl should be welcomed to the Corps with open arms, as should any person of any religion, race, gender, or identity. That’s equality. It’s not equality to let one of those groups follow a different set of rules.

Amen. Imagine, if you will a young Quaker man wants to become a member of the South Carolina Corps of Cadets (Citadel Cadet). After his knob (freshman) year, he decides he no longer wants to carry a rifle during parade. It violates his religious beliefs. The rifle is inoperable and he cannot fire it. It still violates his religious beliefs. Quaker cadet knew before he applied to the school that carrying a rifle was part of cadet life.

Wouldn’t one, say The Citadel’s governing body, question his motivation for attending the school in the first place? Would the school be inclined to even hear his argument? I think the fear of the charge of Islamophobia is partly behind this. Fears of lawsuits and cries of bigotry (see Mr. Pinelli above) make all institutions risk averse.

Parade at The Citadel
Parade at The Citadel

I remember working Matriculation one year. The day freshman arrive at the school to begin training to become cadets. The gates to the barracks had been closed. Parents had been packed off to the Fieldhouse to listen to the President of the school and other worthy speakers. All incoming cadets should have been behind the gates being trained.

I was late getting to the Fieldhouse because I had to run paperwork somewhere. I really don’t remember. As I rounded the corner by Third Battalion, I heard crying. A girl with long, blond hair was sobbing in her father’s arms.

As my son once told me, “Everyone cries at The Citadel. Everyone. At night into their pillow. At some point, everyone cries.”

Training hadn’t really begun yet. A black, female TAC officer comes screaming up in a club car. The car took the corner on two wheels. She gets out and begins saying soothing Citadel things. Things like, “We are committed to your success”. After about two minutes, the young woman looks up from her father’s shoulder and she is wearing HUGE, SILVER, HOOP EARRINGS. The TAC officer gets a horrified look on her face and says, “Oh, those have got to go”. The Citadel is committed to your success, but not while you are wearing gigantic earrings. I didn’t stick around to see if Miss Earrings stuck around.

If she did, the earrings were gone. The hair was cut short or pulled back. Most importantly, Miss Earrings wore the Uniform of the Day. She did not call attention to herself or her beliefs. She became a member of the team.

If hijab girl is already a member of the Corps of Cadets, has she been praying five times a day? Has she left formation to go pray? Has she been following dietary restrictions during fasts?

If she is not already a member of the Corps of Cadets, I would ask her to reconsider. I also question her motivation for attending the school.

Yes. I want to know her motivations. They certainly seem suspect to me.

I encourage you to read all of Nick Pinelli’s thoughtful and insightful post here.

I am very interested in our readers POV. I truly do believe this is the camel’s nose under another tent. Pun intended.

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  • Jennifer says:

    Amen Toni! You do the Citadel proud ma’am!!

  • Dorota says:

    There are reasons for rules, and ostentatious religious symbols have no place in a military institution–no jarmulkas, no crosses, no stars od David, to be displayed. Why make an exception for a hijab? Our political correctness is giving way to political absurdity.

  • Nina says:

    Her motivations are indeed suspect.

    The Citadel should not give in to the request of one in this case. Should they do so, they will indeed end up turning themselves and a long proud tradition of service/excellence/honor into one of subservience. And much will be lost.

    Nick Pinelli is a young man who will go far. Incredibly insightful post!

  • Gail Boer says:

    Toni exactly. And the expectations for cadets at the Citadel and similar institutions are not the same expectations for a freshman at U of M or San Diego State or Grand Rapids Community College. And it is obvious that this is a Military Academy well before one applies. Hope the young lady finds a college or university that will accommodate her religious requirements as well as the requirements of an Orthodox Jew, a Hindu or any devout follower of a particular faith group.

  • Loretta says:

    Kudos to the young cadet Nick Pinelli. I wish him the best and certainly appreciate his perspective on the issue. First however, my son Captain Adam Gilmore, USAF has done pretty well for himself already. While my son needs no defense from his mama, I do feel the need to just step in and say a word because he is my son, and because it was my Facebook share that started this (I think). Second, I want to say that I love and admire my friend Toni and understand why she is so passionate about The Citadel. I don’t know if dads are as passionate, but I have yet to see many like a Citadel Mom. Third, being SC born and bred and having family in this state that have fought in each war starting with the Revolutionary War, I tend to get defensive of our state history. So with the combination of my beloved SC history, my son, The Citadel, and my sweet friend Toni, I have a “whammy” of an issue here. Let me say that I do not believe the Citadel should close it’s doors as Toni has suggested. While it would certainly be a dark day to see someone wear a hijab, I do see that The Citadel has gone through many dark days and changes in it’s history but has continued to prevail. Our US military has even started the approval of wearing a hijab (what a shame). I imagine with time and cultural shifts, we will indeed see this type of dress not only at The Citadel and VMI, but maybe even our US Military Academies. (By the way, the media loves this stuff and blows it out of proportion especially when it comes from the south, but even more so when it comes from Charleston.) So as sad as it is, it may not happen now, but eventually we will see this change and many others that we cannot even imagine at this time. A quick story; While at parade one Friday afternoon I happened to see a dear friend down the field from me. He is a fine lawyer practicing family law. He looked so sad watching the parade. I stepped over and asked why the long face? He said, “Loretta, I haven’t been back to this school in 25 years since I graduated. I stand here today and see girls on field. It’s not right I tell ya. It’s just not right.” And then my friend walked off. I had to laugh! My son and his classmates don’t know any difference as there have always been girls there as far as they are concerned. Hence, The Citadel just as our culture, is always changing. Do I like the changes? Not usually. With that said, I do want to address one small item in Toni’s article (Thank you for being so passionate Toni. That’s why you are my friend.) But, I have never heard that “The Citadel was “…founded in 1842, in part, to provide troops to put down slave rebellions.” With all of my studies of SC history I had never hear of that. This is certainly a negative take on The Citadel, and not something to be proud of. So I went to The Citadel history page and did not see any reference to it being created in part to put down slave rebellions. I know that Arsenal Hill (not far from my house) was one of the first state military schools, and that it was combined with a school in Charleston to become The Citadel, but that it was to put down slave rebellions is news to me! I don’t want to bore anyone, but this is the webpage from The Citadel, and if you like to do your own research, you will see that it doesn’t mention “slave rebellions”. Now, granted I know how history books change with time and perspective, so Toni, I have no doubt that you found this reference from what appeared to be a reliable source. But we are talking about my beloved state, and our son’s school, so I want it to be shone in the appropriate light. One must remember that the SC was receiving federally imposed tariffs at the time causing a lot of tension. This is where many historians tend to get confused over why the Civil War was even fought. there were certainly rebellions, but this is the first time I have seen it associated with The Citadel. But enough about history! 🙂 In closing, I just want to say that I think the media is blowing this out of proportion for a good story, that my son is a credit to The Citadel (as is Toni’s son and many more like ours), that we will see change as we go forward, and that small adjustment on the history of The Citadel. I love a good exchange of ideas and this was a one of those times! Thank you Toni for being so passionate, writing a fun column, and raising a great kid. Thank you Adam, I am proud of you. And best wishes to Nick Pinelli in his future adventures. God bless.

    • Toni Williams says:

      Loretta- Please forgive me. I thought I was clear in what I wrote. I must not have been.

      1. Your son, Adam, is an absolute credit to The Citadel. You didn’t need to puff my son or stand up for your own. I admitted in the post that my son felt your son was an exceptional cadet.

      2. Again, I was not clear. Your story about the graduate being offended by women on the campus was very cute and I know graduates who feel that way.

      However, race/gender are very different than religion/ideology/philosophy. I am sorry that I was not more clear on that point.

      I did use The Citadel, The Early Years as a reference. The speaker refers obliquely to the founding of The Citadel for the purposes of quelling slave issues.

      I also used the College of Charleston website.
      Again, I apologize if you do not believe that is a reputable website.

      The reason for the founding of the school does absolutely nothing to change or denigrate what the school is or who our children (boys and girls) have become because of the school.

      I do not believe this is being blown out of proportion by the media because it is not about the hijab. It will never be about the hijab.

      Love you so much, Loretta. I hope we can agree to disagree.

  • GWB says:

    Given the hammering these folks took over the gender “equality” issue, why should they bend over this? The hijab sets female muslims apart from male ones, and shouldn’t be allowed (or the men should wear them too). Right?

    And, yes, this is absolutely a culture war attack, just like Faulkner’s was.

    I will admit that I might have a bias in this. I was classmates with someone who spent a lot of time and energy politicizing everything into gender politics. She kept it up (prominently so) while on active duty, too. It is not an enjoyable experience.

    • Toni Williams says:

      GWB – Do you wear the Ring.?


      • GWB says:

        I wear a ring. 🙂
        Mine happens to be from that small boy’s school* in the Rockies. Almost 30 years ago (’88).

        (* I don’t know if Citadel uses the nicknames for the different US Military Academies. The other two are Canoe U and Hudson High.)

    • Shirley Cawthorne says:

      Why should the same “hold true for Christianity”? First of all Islam is not simply a religion; it is an all encompassing ideological way of life. Secondly, our Country was founded on Christian/Judeo principles….that is our culture.

  • Shirley Cawthorne says:

    Occidentophobia: A refusal to accept the essential concepts of life in the West.
    A quote from Brigitte Gabriel: “Our western values, culture & freedoms are what make us who we are but it’s also those same core ideals that make us feel guilty. Guilty for not doing enough or for doing too much. It’s time we stop scratching our heads in dismay. It’s time we stop blaming ourselves and our Western way of life. As long as the Muslim community continues to refuse adaptation of the western “state of mind”, they will perpetuate resentment and a culture of violence”.

    The hijab is not a ‘religious’ form of dress. There were no head coverings among the Muslims in Pakistan until the Islamist Extremists introduced gender inequality. This truth is from one, Raheel Raza, a Sunni from Pakistan.

    The Citadel would do well to contact the Muslim Reform Movement to clarify the position of this hijab nonsense.

  • Jason Morris says:

    I came across this blog and found it particularly interesting, so thank you for the invite to comment. I don’t agree with alot of what happens in the middle east, but the above comments are feathering bigotry. There is a young lady that followed the rules of the Citadel and requested an accommodation in accordance with her faith and their set of procedures so she can attend. And the problem is what exactly?

    I remember when the Citadel wouldn’t allow women, because of their long tradition! The thing about blatant bigotry is you cannot hide it, it stinks and is antithetical to the American Way of Life. I for one am looking forward to the Citadel becoming stronger and more diverse.

    What a strong statement that we will be sending to the terrorist , extremist and bigots. The US welcomes everyone regardless of gender, ethnicity, faith and skin color.

  • Zakariya Musallam says:

    As my statement towards this whole Muslim woman coming to The Citadel I would like to quote the blue book section “The Citadel places a high value on the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. Furthermore, the development
    of spiritual, moral, and ethical values is paramount to a Citadel cadet and is one of the four pillars on which we stand. For
    this reason, religious services, religious activities, and the Ethics Seminar are key components in the college’s program to
    develop principled leaders. The College and the Corps of Cadets will protect and respect the religious customs of all faiths
    represented in the Corps of Cadets (reference Citadel Policy Memo 2-22 Religious Activities Policy).” also under Memo 2-20 established in August 16, 2010 states “Types of Requests. Requests for religious accommodation
    generally fall into five major areas:
    i. Worship practices;
    ii. Dietary practices;
    iii. Medical practices;
    iv. Wearing and appearance of the uniform; and
    v. Personal grooming.” Changes are made on a regular basis, the ring has changed over the years, the types of ties we are allowed to wear with blazer has changed because cadets wanted to wear the ones that were sold at the bookstore, which was a change made not for a religious reason. Citadel takes great pride in its dealings with the religions of cadets, and it will not be changing any of its policies, they have a policy already in place dealing with accommodating for religious practices. This has been in play for 6 years now. Over the years The Citadel has made many changes to the citadel uniform standards. The history of the Blue Book shows policy changes to uniform standards over the years, like the introduction of the duty uniform, from long sleeve to short sleeve, and then of the ACUs as a uniform, and ACUs rarely worn and then as the regularly worn uniform they are today on Mondays and Thursdays. Also uniform changes to the types of pt’s we have, all so the citadel can market the school they are using us as human billboards by adding the ethics in action to our pt uniforms. so tell me how a woman who wants to cover her head, legs and arms will ruin the way the uniform looks. Remeber guys and girls “ethics in action” not ethics inaction.

  • GS Baldwin says:

    As a Citadel graduate, I welcome any young man or woman who is willing to take the road less traveled and enroll at The Citadel. I am confident college leaders will offer a reasonable accommodation in the instant case, one that preserves the uniform standards of appearance for all cadets, and the essential premise of the college – a true meritocracy. Personal preferences, expressions of social or cultural status should have no place at The Citadel. One succeeds or fails based on their own initiative and persistence.

    However, I mostly wanted to comment on Toni Williams erroneous statement in her article that “The Citadel was founded in 1842, in part, to provide troops to put down slave rebellions.” This is a myth perpetuated by those eager to denigrate the success of the college in producing outstanding leaders over three centuries. The best information on the State’s purpose in establishing The Citadel is found in the legislative record – including then Governor John P. Richardson’s comments to the General Assembly seeking approval of legislation to create The South Carolina Military Academy (comprised of the Citadel in Charleston and the Arsenal in Columbia:

    “If the success of these institutions should form the basis of future and important improvements, which may judiciously be extended to our free schools; if they should supply better teachers from their alumni; if they should suggest higher standards and better systems of morals;…or if they only awaken greater ardor in the people, and a warmer interest… to advance the cause of education; they will achieve more for the weal and honor of our State than all the other labors and appliances of government could in any other manner confer.”

    I grew up and live in the North, and have no stake in Southern history or heritage. But I know it is easy to fall prey to myths about the South, especially those intended as pejorative slights at it’s Confederate heritage and history. While the Citadel’s Corps of Cadets and officers, fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy, this was no different than students and faculty at many other southern educational institutions.

    The purpose of the State in establishing The Citadel in 1842, however, was for educational purposes – to educate mostly 14, 15, and 16 year old boys. It’s graduates were expected to form an officer corps for state militias if needed, but the primary focus of the State was improving public education. It did this in a remarkably egalitarian way by using the military organization, uniform, personal appearance and conduct standards, similar to those at the United States Military Academy, and by providing a practical and scientific education.

    Ms. Williams cites an essay she attributes to the College of Charleston as one of her sources. Actually, this is a short essay by a student at the College paying homage to Denmark Vessy – a freed Black unjustly put to death for inciting a failed slave revolt in 1822. The essay includes a pejorative reference to The Citadel. This essay contains no supporting references for the author’s attempt at irony.

    Ms. Williams also cites an essay appearing on The Citadel web site, as “obliquely referring to slave issues.” This excellent article is by Rod Andrew Jr., Associate Professor of History, Clemson University, and entitled: How Much is Still Relevant? The Citadel and American Military Traditions in the 19th Century. The article contains a wonderful discussion of the history of military colleges in America, including the educational purpose for establishing Norwich University, VMI, and The Citadel. Nowhere in this article is there an oblique reference to The Citadel and “slave issues.”

    In fact, getting back to the issue Ms. Williams wrote about – the question of altering The Citadel’s uniform and personal appearance standards to permit an individual to express their religious preferences – Mr. Andrew’s article in relevant part points out the essential purpose of uniforms and personal appearance standards in eliminating social barriers at military academies:

    “Military school leaders conceived the state military schools as beacons of opportunity for poorer young men who, they claimed, would otherwise not been able to continue their education. [I]n military colleges, rank and authority within the corps of cadets rested on experience and past achievement, not social class. …Regulations forbade cadets from keeping civilian suits in their barracks, which ensured that planters’ sons and farm boys were always dressed alike. The Citadel’s regulations explicitly mandated that “no difference shall be made in the treatment, or in the duties required, between…cadets, nor shall any distinction between cadets be known in the Academy, other than that arising from merit.”

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