Catching Hell

updated 08/28/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/28/1995 01:00AM

FAULKNER! STOP LOOKING around!" The cadet officer glared at the husky plebe whose gaze had wandered during a march across the parade grounds with India Company, Third Battalion. As the mercury inched past 100 degrees, a black flag atop a nearby building reminded cadets to drink plenty of water. Farther down the field, an officer watched to see that cadets' arms were straight and their fingers curled properly. "Faulkner!" he barked. "Cup your hands!"

Welcome to hell week, freshman orientation at the Citadel, the Charleston, S.C., military college that until two weeks ago was exclusively a bastion of maleness. That changed on Aug. 11, when the U.S. Supreme Court, refusing to hear a last-ditch appeal by the college, handed Shannon Faulkner, 20, a victory in her more than two-year legal battle to join the school's 2,000-member cadet corps. One day later, Faulkner, accompanied by her parents and several federal marshals, walked through the school's Moorish gates and claimed her place as the first female cadet in the school's 152-year history. "It really has been a long struggle," she said. "When I started this lawsuit, I was told I would never enter the Citadel."

In fact, she had been attending classes, under court order, for the past 18 months as a day student. But now she is a full-fledged knob, as entering cadets are called—in reference to their gleaming shaved heads. (Faulkner, however, is not required to be shorn.) Although she reported to school overweight, Faulkner eventually has to pass a physical test that will require her to run two miles in 18 minutes and do 50 sit-ups and 18 push-ups. At the same time, her life will be different from that of her classmates. Although she hopes to live in a barracks with the band (she is a flutist), she has for now been assigned a room in another barracks with a private bathroom, her own shower and locks on her door. Two video surveillance cameras monitor the hallway outside her room. It seems likely she will be rather lonely. "The average cadet will be very reluctant to engage her in any way," says Brig. Gen. R. Clifton Poole, vice president for academic affairs. Faulkner's company commander, senior Alex Pettett, echoed nearly universal sentiments among cadets that women should not be admitted to the school. "I learn better in a single-gender education," he says. "It trains you for a life of integrity with your wife and with Christ."

Faulkner began her struggle for admission to the Citadel in 1993 when the school rescinded her acceptance after discovering she was a female (she had deleted references to her gender on the application). Since then, her family's white colonial home in Powdersville, S.C., 225 miles from the school, has been vandalized repeatedly, its mailbox smashed, the swimming-pool pump torched. Her father Ed, 53, who owns a fence company, awoke one day to find the words "bitch, lesbo, dyke, whore" spray-painted on the front of the house. He painted them over before his daughter awoke and didn't tell her about the incident for six months. "I've been with her when boys would come up to her wearing 'Over My Dead Body'T-shirts," he says. "Last year when a lot was going on, I went to her and said, 'Do you need to cry?' I wanted her to let it out. But she said, 'No, I'm fine.' "

"Shannon will be fine," insists her lawyer Val Vojdik, an instructor at New York University School of Law. "She's very determined, and she's got tremendous inner strength." Those who know her well agree. "She's got more guts and strength at 20 than most people have at 40," says Donna Duncan, her former algebra teacher. "Two things are going to happen at the Citadel. After a while those cadets are going to start wondering what all the fuss was about. Then they're going to wonder what they ever did without her."

SUSAN REED
MARY ESSELMAN at the Citadel

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