Surviving The Citadel
First African American female graduates of the military college
share their sense of accomplishment, struggles
By Linda Meggett Brown
They had different backgrounds and cultural experiences when they arrived at The Citadel for the biggest challenge of their lives — surviving the indoctrination of first-year students called knobs.
Reasons for enlisting in the military college’s Corp of Cadets varied — for the structured educational environment, to prepare for a military career, simply for the challenge and even because Mom said so.
This month seven young women became the first African American females to graduate from the military college — 32 years after the late Charles Foster broke the color barrier in 1970 to become the first African American male to wear the Citadel ring.
“We’re paving the way for other Black women, any women really, to have the chance to be here,” says Toshika “Peaches” Hudson of Columbia, S.C. “It may motivate or inspire other young women to do the same.”
Hudson and her classmates were among 20 women who received degrees at the commencement for The Citadel’s class of 2002. The Citadel has a 60 percent graduation rate, despite the rigors of the program.
Nearly 100 women are enrolled in the Corps of Cadets and the school has accepted more than 100 females for the incoming freshman class.
It wasn’t easy and every experience was unique.
Among the graduates who endured the disciplined lifestyle was Geneive Hardney of Staten Island, N.Y.
She was one of the first two African American females to arrive at The Citadel in the second coeducational class in 1997. Her classmate, Libbie Henry of Yamassee, S.C., is still a student in the corps. They arrived with the class of 2001 that included 20 women.
When Hardney first arrived, her stepfather and Vietnam War veteran Harry Attlas said: “I hope she can make it through, because she’ll set the example. I told her a lot of things, but the main thing is to stay focused,” he said in a 1997 interview.
Hardney’s mother, June Attlas, helped choose The Citadel, and although she encouraged her daughter to attend, she had concerns about the attitude of the other cadets and staff. But she was confident her daughter would study and that her daughter was in physical shape to endure the vigorous routine.
Hardney, an honor student in high school, took an extra year to graduate because of grades. “My knob year was difficult. It was hard to concentrate with everything that was going on.”
No phones were allowed that first year, so Hardney wrote lots of letters telling of her struggle. When she could phone home, she says, her mother told her she could not leave. “My mom gave me pep talks,” Hardney says.
After spending time away from school after completing her knob year, Hardney wanted to return for her sophomore year. “Once you go through all the BS of the first year, you tell yourself you didn’t go through it for nothing. As an upperclassman you’ve got it easy,” she says. There are more bad times than good times, but now it’s hard to decide where would I be without it.” And now, five years later, Hardney has succeeded in completing her mission to receive her degree.
For Natosha Mitchell of Dyersburg, Tenn., “the freshman year thing was horrible. It was the largest group of women and most were athletes,” she says. She participated in women’s volleyball, track and field.
“I was called all kinds of names, you name it,” Mitchell says. “There were a lot of little things that happened, but I made it.
“I had a fifth-year senior curse me out for no reason. I went to my room and sat there bawling. I couldn’t even tell my roommate what happened. It hardened my heart toward everyone on campus,” Mitchell says. “But I’m stubborn, and my attitude is if you start, you don’t let anybody make you quit.”
Once hell week was over, everyone was proud, Mitchell says. There was an immediate feeling of accomplishment, she says. “When I first came, everyone asked me what was I thinking. Then it became, ‘why are you still there?’ Now they’re proud and say ‘I’m so happy for you.’ “
Mitchell eventually took on leadership roles as squad sergeant, senior mentor and volleyball team captain, along with other extracurricular activities including the student athletic advisory committee. “Nothing worth having is easy to come by. You have to come here with the mentality that you belong here and nothing is going to make you leave,” Mitchell says.
Political science major Lesjanusar “Sha” Peterson of Chicago had a different experience.
She became involved and participated in various extracurricular activities, and she took leadership positions as her company’s human affairs sergeant and regimental public affairs officer.
“It was a culture shock coming here,” Peterson says.
The first few days were fine. “Then they unleashed the hounds. I wasn’t expecting the hounds,” she says. The freshman year was difficult physically and mentally. It was grueling.
“I’m more confident than before I came. I felt a great since of accomplishment after that first year,” Peterson says.
“There are no regrets. If I had to, I would do it all over again,” she adds.
The reaction of Peterson’s friends to her attending The Citadel has been consistent with those of her classmates’ friends. When she decided to attend the military college, her friends asked the usual “why do you want to go there?”
Her response: “Why not? That’s my answer to everything.”
There are more than 1,800 students in the Corps of Cadets, of which about 200 are African American.
“Black male cadets were nice from the beginning, trying to help us,” Peterson says. “An individual’s experience depends on the company. The company set the tone for your experience and the attitude. My company was so laid back they accepted everything.”
At graduation Peterson also received her commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force. Initially, she wanted to be a naval officer.
“I never thought about being among the first Black females to graduate. But it is exciting to know that I’m a part of making history,” Peterson says. “When we came, there were two before us. We were just trying to get through. I never thought about it. Now everyone on campus is being supportive. We took a group photo, and the staff who has it has been asking for autographs.
“Our experience and accomplishments hopefully will inspire other females to want to come here. I was such an average student before. If I can do it, anybody can. It’s definitely challenging and life changing,” Peterson says.
Upon arrival, Peterson also heard the hisses from the windows. “But the corps attitude has improved. I’m very proud how it has evolved. There are still a few bad people, but overall it’s good.”
The Black women graduated six years after the Citadel became a coeducational institution in 1996, a year after Shannon Faulkner’s stint as a cadet under federal court order. Faulkner was admitted but dropped out the first week, as did several male cadets.
Faulkner was admitted after a grueling two-year court battle to decide whether the then- all-male Corp of Cadets was constitutional. The first female cadet graduated in 1999.
Faulkner’s lawsuit, which paved the way for the admission of women into the corps of cadets, was dismissed last April, ending the U.S. Justice Department’s oversight of The Citadel. The college no longer has to file quarterly reports on its progress to integrate women into the corps, and Justice Department officials won’t make check visits.
In his order, U.S. District Judge Weston Houck said The Citadel has made a good faith effort to correct past discrimination.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com