CHARLESTON, S.C. — Johnny Mcallister, a 1980 Citadel graduate, views the abrupt departure of two female cadets as an opportunity to promote healthy change at his 154-year-old alma mater. The military school's message, he says, should now be a zero tolerance for hazing - male or female.
"We moved forward with a plan to integrate females that we thought was fair. Obviously, it wasn't perfect, but we'll fix it," he says. "We're going to err on the side of having a secure environment."
So far, the fallout from the hazing incidents - which included setting afire the clothing of one cadet - has not been what some expected. Among the 26 women who have applied for admission next year, none has withdrawn. But school leaders worry that alumni like Mr. McAllister, and other supporters, will pull their financial backing.
Citadel officials have promised to put adult supervisors in the barracks, install "panic buttons" for female cadets, and conduct a review of the school's system for the indoctrination of freshmen.
More difficult will be changing a male culture that has historically beaten down and weeded out "weak" cadets while turning a blind eye to abuses committed in the name of building character and forging leaders.
The traditions and attitudes at The Citadel mirror some of the challenges faced by the military service academies and the US armed forces as they integrate women into their ranks.
In 1990, a female midshipman at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., was handcuffed to a urinal. An internal Naval Academy report done after the incident stated that "low-level sexual harassment can pass as normal operating procedure" in some classrooms. Recent allegations of rape and sexual harassment committed by Army drill sergeants have also raised the profile of the problem.
But to many Citadel old-timers, establishing new safeguards means tampering with time-honored traditions, something the school's leaders have long viewed as sacrilege.
"One of the problems with The Citadel is, it's not the military and they really sort of go overboard trying to emulate what they think the military is like. It's not going to change overnight," says Laura Miller, a military sociologist at Harvard University and an expert on gender relations.
Earlier this week, Jeanie Mentavlos and Kim Messer, two of the four women who entered the first co-educational class at the college, departed after one semester, citing harassment and hazing that occurred under the nose of administrators and upperclassmen.
"We have made mistakes.... We will correct those errors," interim president Clifton Poole says. Any cadet involved in hazing will be kicked off campus and the case turned over to local law agencies, says Mr. Poole.
In this case, 11 male cadets face disciplinary action stemming from the allegations. Two were suspended from school, and the rest were moved out of the barracks where they can no longer have contact with the women cadets.
The withdrawal of half its first female cadets is the latest in a string of public embarrassments for The Citadel, which sits on the banks of the picturesque Ashley River near downtown Charleston, S.C. In recent years, The Citadel has suffered scandals that include white cadets burning a paper cross to intimidate a black cadet, the departure of four freshmen athletes whose stories of hazing were recounted in Sports Illustrated magazine, and the sophomoric behavior of cadets celebrating the departure of Shannon Faulkner in 1995.
The recent notoriety notwithstanding, the school is considered a bedrock of Southern values. The Citadel's influential alumni include World War II hero Mark Clark, Sen. Ernest Hollings (R) of S.C., Gen. William Hartzog, head of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, and Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley.
In recent years, Citadel officials and its well-heeled alumni have fought the admission of women to the school, one of two male-only state military colleges in the country. When the US Supreme Court issued a ruling last year that The Citadel and the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., must admit women, Citadel officials pledged they would comply.
Alumni reaction to the latest scandal ranges from disgust to vows of finding a way for the school to move closer to society and to an active-duty military that increasingly relies on women to fill the ranks.
Connie Best, a commander in the Naval Reserve and a psychologist who helped produce the landmark study "Rape in America," agrees that the school is faced with a difficult struggle to adapt to a world where 13 percent of the armed forces are women, and drill sergeants are prohibited from cursing at recruits.
But The Citadel, like other military institutions, can take steps to ease the transition, she says.
"They need to have mechanisms in place that allow you to watch, monitor, and make sure changes get implemented the correct way. That has got to be not just at the senior leadership level, but all the way down," Commander Best says. "People all over the country are watching and [The Citadel] has become a laughingstock."
Ms. Miller, who recently completed a three-year study of gender harassment in the military, says there is one traditional method available if all else fails: "Punish the whole group when you can't find out who's causing problems.... This is a controlled environment; if the institution can control the behavior of cadets for drug abuse or racial incidents, it can do it for this."