(CNN) — The Citadel has concluded that cadets photographed wearing pillowcases in a manner reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan hoods did not mean to offend anyone, according to a Monday statement.
“However,” said Lt. Gen. John Rosa, president of the public military college in South Carolina, “I am disappointed some recognized how it could be construed as such but didn’t stop it.”
Fourteen cadets were punished as a result of the investigation. The discipline ranges from “on-campus punishments” to two-semester dismissals from campus, The Citadel’s statement said.
A photo of cadets in white pants and shirts wearing white pillowcases with eyeholes cut out sparked social media outrage on December 9. In the photo, which an upperclassman posted, the cadets are seen reading from sheets of paper, which The Citadel said Monday were lyrics sheets for Christmas songs.
Several cadets reported to their leaders they had witnessed the event, and the cadet leaders reported the incident to a company tactical officer, who informed school administrators, The Citadel said.
Rosa launched an investigation the following morning, and eight cadets temporarily were suspended. After initial interviews, seven more cadets were investigated, the school said.
The investigation shows that several freshmen were told to report to an upperclassman’s room on numerous occasions after Thanksgiving break, where they were directed to sing Christmas carols in costume, the school said. It was the week before finals.
“The freshmen used what they had close at hand, including pillowcases and other uniform items, in an attempt to dress as ‘Ghosts of Christmas Past,’ ” The Citadel statement said. “At the outset, not all of the freshmen understood that the costumes could be construed by some as offensive in nature. Those who did thought they could easily explain that they were only dressed as ghosts, and said they just needed to complete the skit so they could resume studying.”
The investigation’s findings mirror the results of a preliminary investigation. Rosa initially called the photo “disturbing” and said it wasn’t consistent with The Citadel’s values.
In Monday’s statement, he said, “While the skit had no ill intent, it did show poor judgment. It demonstrates that we must integrate an even higher level of diversity education into cadets’ daily activities, and into the already extensive leadership and ethics curriculum. We are working on that now.”
The cadets involved, he said, “now understand that the costumes could be considered offensive and hurtful to many.”
Rosa is creating a diversity task force, and cadets are already required to complete four years of leadership and ethics training, which includes lessons on racial sensitivity and ethical decision making, the school said.
The Citadel, founded in 1842, has about 2,300 undergraduates making up the Corps of Cadets, the school website says.