ALL Shannon Faulkner ever said she wanted to do was attend the college of her choice, which in this case was a state military school that has never allowed a woman to wear its cadet blue-and-gray.
So, over the past 2-1/2 years, she has been involved in a bayonet-sharp legal fight with the all-male Citadel in Charleston, S.C. - a fight that has made her a national symbol of the enduring debate over the merits and demerits of one-gender schools.
Now, barring last-minute intervention by the US Supreme Court, Ms. Faulkner is scheduled to step onto the campus of The Citadel tomorrow and begin a rigorous and regimented life that includes shining shoes, polishing brass, and marching with a rifle.
Her admittance into the institution's white-walled barracks would mark a turning point in the protracted legal battle to force the school to admit women - and perhaps hold implications for other schools.that still don't.
"If they admit her, other women can know they can apply," says Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, a sociologist at the City University of New York graduate center. Since Faulkner's suit was brought, four other women have applied to The Citadel and about 200 have written for applications, says Valerie Vojdik, Faulkner's lawyer.
While Faulkner is making history, she is also tampering with 152 years of staunch tradition. The Citadel, which boasts that its cadets fired the first shots in the Civil War, has supporters and alumni in every corner of South Carolina, including many in the legislature, who have backed the fight to keep the state-supported institution all-male. The legal battle has taken different turns and the outcome is still uncertain.
Last April, the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Faulkner, who has been attending The Citadel as a day student since January 1994, could join the corps of cadets unless South Carolina came up with a comparable military program for women by August. Although the state is developing a $10 million women's leadership program at a private South Carolina college, the judge in the case ruled in July there was not enough time to hold a trial to determine if the plan was acceptable before she joined the corps Aug. 12. He has scheduled a trial on this Nov. 6.
On Wednesday, the Court of Appeals refused to stay its order admitting Faulkner. The school has asked US Chief Justice William Rehnquist to block her entrance until the high court can hear the case. A decision is expected by midday Saturday.
Faulkner sued the Citadel in 1993 after it rescinded a letter of acceptance when it discovered she was a woman. Since then she has been the target of both ridicule and admiration, receiving death threats as well as letters of support. The Citadel, which plans to continue exploring every option to keep women out, has spent $25,000 building a room and bathroom for Faulkner. "We will obey the law; we're not going to stand in the schoolhouse door," says Col. Terry Leedom, Citadel spokesman.
AS a cadet, Faulkner will be treated well but will be subjected to a great deal of indoctrination and orientation, Leedom says.
Cadets "are not necessarily demeaned but equalized. They build lifelong friendships because of the various ways they look out for each other as they go through this common experience," he adds. It is the kind of bonding, Leedom and others say, that distinguishes the college. "Her coming here will destroy forever something that's been working very well for 152 years," he says.
Faulkner's admittance would likely mean the college will have to change procedures and routines in order to accommodate the courts and Faulkner's lawyers, says Richard MacMillan, Jr., president of The Citadel alumni association. "If a young man signs up to go to a school and he wants to go in an all-male environment, he ought to be allowed to do that," he says.
The Citadel is not the only all-male state-supported military college fighting a battle against admitting women. Since 1990 the Virginia Military Institute has been the subject of a Justice Department suit to overturn its policy.