Shannon Faulkner's lawyer criticized the attitude toward women at the Citadel, an all-male military academy, telling an audience of 100 at the Law School last night that women should not be forced to attend separate and inferior institutions.
"The exclusion of women reinforces a disrespect and denigration of women that is already prevalent in the Citadel," said Valorie K. Vojdik, who served as head counsel for Faulkner during her two-and-a-half year legal battle to gain entrance to the academy.
After the protracted legal battle, a federal district court ruled in June that Faulkner, who was 19 at the time, should be allowed to attend the Citadel because a similar program was unavailable to women. After only a few days of training. Faulkner withdrew from the academy due to stress and exhaustion.
Vojdik is currently leading a legal battle against a school set up as an all female alternative to the Citadel, arguing that the new school does not offer a comparable or equivalent program.
Last night she decided the Citadel's claim that the new school is better for women.
The all-female school, Converse, which was established by South Carolina and is supported by $5 million from Citadel alumni in response to the Faulkner case, is formulated around the Citadel's "stereotypical" view of what is appropriate for women, Vojdik said.
The Citadel has said it has the right to exclude women because Converse offers a program that is parallel to the one available at the all-male academy.
"We like to refer to it as a holy war since both sides see it that way," Vojdik said. "The Citadel is bound and determined to argue that men and women are essentially different, and that the enrollment of women would destroy the institution."
Vojdik charged that the establishment of a separate and allegedly equal program for women would have negative effects on how society perceives women and how women view them
"There's a stigmatizing effect on women when they're told that they can't handle the stress, that they'll cry, that women need to be built up, not torn down, which is the Citadel's main defense," Vojdik said.
"The state-sponsoring of a gender-based educational system is one of the most dangerous things that can happen," she added.
Vojdik said the new all-female academy is not comparable to the Citadel for a number of reasons.
Converse offers "leadership" training instead of military training--which the Citadel deemed inappropriate for women--and stresses music and the arts as opposed to military related subjects, Vojdik said.
Converse also has few of the grueling routines that have forged the Citadel's reputation as a rigorous training ground for South Carolina's military and business elite, she said.
"It's like a finishing school, with a few elements of the Citadel grafted on," Vojdik said. "You see silver tea sets and rows of baby grands, where in the Citadel you would see tanks."
Vojdik said a small, newly established school could not possibly offer women an experience of the same caliber as the Citadel.
The Citadel is one of the "most fundamental institutions in South Carolina, a stepping stone to wealth and power," she said. "It's just simply impossible to replicate 150 years of history and prestige."
Despite Faulkner's withdrawal from the Citadel as a result of her isolation, stress and exhaustion, Vojdik said the fight for women's admission to the school is not over.
"[Faulkner] became a flag-bearer for all women," Vojdik said. "Unfortunately it didn't work out for her, and that's tragic. But already, about a hundred women have expressed an interest in attending the Citadel. She opened the door for others.