You're Wrong About

Shannon Faulkner & Sex Discrimination at The Citadel

January 18, 2021
You're Wrong About
Shannon Faulkner & Sex Discrimination at The Citadel
Chapters
You're Wrong About
Shannon Faulkner & Sex Discrimination at The Citadel
Jan 18, 2021

Mike tells Sarah how a troll-ish experiment turned a South Carolina teenager into one of the most maligned women of the 1990s. Digressions include Sally Ride, Anne Hathaway and, as usual, "Newsies." Mike struggles with the word "infirmary" throughout.

The pictures of Shannon we discuss in this episode are here.

Support us:
Subscribe on Patreon
Donate on Paypal
Buy cute merch

Where else to find us:
Sarah's other show, Why Are Dads
Mike's other show, Maintenance Phase

Links! 

Support the show (http://patreon.com/yourewrongabout)

Show Notes Transcript

Mike tells Sarah how a troll-ish experiment turned a South Carolina teenager into one of the most maligned women of the 1990s. Digressions include Sally Ride, Anne Hathaway and, as usual, "Newsies." Mike struggles with the word "infirmary" throughout.

The pictures of Shannon we discuss in this episode are here.

Support us:
Subscribe on Patreon
Donate on Paypal
Buy cute merch

Where else to find us:
Sarah's other show, Why Are Dads
Mike's other show, Maintenance Phase

Links! 

Support the show (http://patreon.com/yourewrongabout)

Sarah Marshall: 

Could it be, I have like, this face that like, through no fault of my own, just looks permanently inquisitive. And that's why my life has been this way. Welcome to You're Wrong About. The show where we distract you from the horrible follies of today by talking about the horrible follies of yesteryear.


Michael Hobbes: 

Oooooh! Yesteryear Follies. Those are our favorite.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. Yesterfollies.


Michael Hobbes: 

I am Michael Hobbs. I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post.


Sarah Marshall:

I'm Sarah Marshall. I'm working on a book about the satanic panic.


Michael Hobbes:

And if you want to support the show. We're on Patreon at patreon.com/yourewrongaboutabout and there's lots of other ways to support the show. And I'm speeding through this again, because I want to tell Sarah about Shannon Faulkner.


Sarah Marshall: 

I'm so excited.


Michael Hobbes: 

So I texted you, I think like, three weeks ago now, and I was like, "Sarah, do you know who or what Shannon Faulkner is?" And you said, "absolutely not." And then I basically instructed you to treat Shannon Faulkner the way I treat JonBenét Ramsey.


Sarah Marshall: 

Which is funny because I have never told you my intentions to do a JonBenét Ramsey episode, but you just know that someday I will relent and do it. But yeah, I don't know where this is going and I know that you're very happy about that.


Michael Hobbes: 

I'm so excited.


Sarah Marshall: 

Okay.


Michael Hobbes: 

So I think it's important to cover Shannon Faulkner because she was sort of one of the canonically maligned women of the 1990s, but she was also double maligned because she was almost instantly and completely erased.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah! She wasn't on any of the VH1 countdowns.


Michael Hobbes: 

Were you aware of this controversy over whether or not women could attend the Citadel?


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. I know that there was--is it some military Academy in like, upstate New York or something?


Michael Hobbes: 

South Carolina.


Sarah Marshall: 

South Carolina. All right. Those are completely different places. I don't know where I got that. Yeah. I know that that happened in the 90s and I feel as if the concept of women in military academies and women, just women in the military generally feels to me like, one of the issues that felt like it was really important and divisive in the 90s. And I feel like I grew up hearing a lot about secondhand.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes. Oh my God.


Sarah Marshall:

GI Jane, an iconic film.


Michael Hobbes:

We spent years debating this. This is one of the longest civil rights trials in US history. It's also one of the most expensive. I mean, this to me is the progression that we're going to track in this episode. And I think something really important about social change. So Shannon Faulkner tries to get into the Citadel. She can't get in because she's a woman. The case resolves itself in a very unsatisfying way, which we will get to. And 25 years later, for the first time, the Citadel has a female student body president. It's called something different because there's like, special names for everything there so it's all military ish.


Sarah Marshall:

Right.


Michael Hobbes: 

A journalist goes to this female student body president and says, "well, you know, what do you think about Shannon Faulkner and this massive nationwide controversy?" And this first female student body president says, "who's Shannon Faulkner?"


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh my. So there's no Shannon Faulkner plaque. And no kind--that suggests that like the school--cause schools are so decisive in the lore that their students become adults by believing, you know, I mean the spirit of Thomas Jefferson is like, wandering around the grounds of UVA, probably drunkenly.


Michael Hobbes: 

And there's something I think about, sort of, fights for social justice, where entrenched institutions will fight and fight and fight. And the minute they lose, they'll say, "oh, we always wanted to do this. It's not a big deal." And then of course we erase the entire fight and people who had their lives ruined, those are the first people to go. So that's basically what this episode is about, is how all of this happens to Shannon.


Sarah Marshall: 

Well, I'm so excited for this. It feels if I'm about to get on a slow dreadful rollercoaster.


Michael Hobbes: 

It is low and dreadful, but it does have a happy ending.


Sarah Marshall:

Oh wow.


Michael Hobbes: 

So I'll just spoil it for you.


Sarah Marshall:

Okay. Well that almost never happens.


Michael Hobbes: 

So, we're going to start out with a scene. It is December of 1992, Shannon is in a social studies class. They are discussing a Sports Illustrated article that is about hazing practices at this military school called the Citadel. We don't know a ton about Shannon and her upbringing and what she's like. What we do know is she's popular. She's in the marching band, she plays sports, she's an excellent student. Her mom is a high school teacher. Her dad runs a fence building company. The author of the book about her called In Glory's Shadow, makes a big deal out of the fact that she was born prematurely. And she sort of, she was a fighter her whole life, which honestly feels a little like, a little projection to me of like, you don't have much to work with.


Sarah Marshall: 

I would be fine with never hearing another person described as a fighter ever again.


Michael Hobbes: 

I know. This is an excerpt from a Susan Faludi essay in the New Yorker, which is one of the best essays about this case. She says, "one could scrounge around in Faulkner's childhood for the key to what made her take on the Citadel. But there's little point in a detailed inspection of family history because there's no real mystery here. What is most striking about Shannon herself is that she's not particularly unusual. She reads novels by Tom Clancy and John Grisham, has worked at a local daycare center, is partial to places like Bennigans. She wants a college education so she can support herself and have a career as a teacher or journalist. She hasn't yet decided which. She might do a stint in the military. She might not. She's in many ways, representative of the average striving, lower middle-class teenage girl circa 1994, who intends to better herself and does not intend to achieve that betterment through a man. In fact, she has not for a moment entertain such a possibility." So this is something that comes up in a lot of the accounts of Shannon when she's a kid. And also later on, that she doesn't seem to give a shit what other people think. In contrast to a lot of the people that we've talked about on this show, she's actually very clear about what she wants and very confident in asking for it. So there's times later, when journalists will call her and be like, "hey, you know, can I do an interview with you?" And she just says like, "no," and hangs up the phone.


Sarah Marshall: 

That's great.


Michael Hobbes:

So as they're having this debate, the class seizes on this weird detail about the Citadel, that there's only two all male military schools in America that are state funded. These are public institutions, that do not allow women. There's one in Virginia. And there's one in South Carolina, the Citadel. And Shannon immediately is like, "my tax dollars are going to this school and I cannot attend. This just seems fundamentally like bullshit to me."


Sarah Marshall: 

Does she live in South Carolina? Oh yeah, I guess she would. Cause then that's why she's entitled to an education there.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah. She's in Powdersville South Carolina, which is sort of across the state, the Citadel's in Charleston.


Sarah Marshall: 

Okay.


Michael Hobbes: 

And so, this is December of her senior year and she's sort of, in the midst of applying for a bunch of colleges for the following year. Two weeks later, she goes to the guidance counselor's office, and she's applying to four colleges. And so they fill out the first three applications and then Shannon tells the guidance counselor I also want to apply to the Citadel and the guidance counselor was like, "but that's only open to men." And Shannon's like, here's what I want you to do. She asks the guidance counselor to take all of her transcripts and all of the documents that the school has on her and white out all references to gender. So instead of being on like the women's volleyball team, they whited it out so it just says volleyball team.


Sarah Marshall:

I love this. I already love this.


Michael Hobbes: 

I know!


Sarah Marshall: 

She's running an experiment.


Michael Hobbes: 

She also gets the guidance counselor to write her a recommendation letter with no pronouns.


Sarah Marshall: 

Nice.


Michael Hobbes: 

So the guidance counselor writes this very carefully. So it's like, anything Shannon puts Shannon's mind to Shannon can achieve.


Sarah Marshall: 

Do we know very much about this guidance counselor who was in on this? Cause they seem really cool.


Michael Hobbes: 

I love that all of the adults around her are like, this is troll-y, but also, go for it.


Sarah Marshall: 

This is like tricksterishness motivated by a sense of injustice.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes. When her mom hears about this plan, apparently her mom just says, classic Shannon. She does this.


Sarah Marshall: 

It all seems like fun and games until someone ends up in a three-year long civil rights lawsuit.


Michael Hobbes: 

And also, it turns out that at the Citadel, a couple years previously, there had been a relatively well-known football player named Shannon. That's not a super uncommon boys name. So the people at the Citadel see this application from Shannon Faulkner, they just assume, well, it's obviously a boy because why the hell would a woman ever apply here? Everybody knows that women aren't allowed in. So on January 22nd of 1993, Shannon Faulkner gets an acceptance letter that says, "Dear Mr. Faulkner, welcome to the Citadel," basically.


Sarah Marshall:

Nice.


Michael Hobbes: 

And so, the high school where her mom teaches, the assistant principal has a son who attends the Citadel. Shannon's mom starts saying, "LOL, my daughter got into the Citadel." Rumor of this goes through the high school. Then the rumor ends up with this, whatever sophomore at the Citadel. And so he is the one that then contacts like, the board of the Citadel and is like, "uh, do you guys know that you admitted a woman?"


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh no.


Michael Hobbes: 

And so two weeks after she gets the acceptance letter, she gets another letter revoking the acceptance. It's written very dickishly. They send her a letter and then they send a separate letter in the same envelope to her mom basically scolding her. Like, why did you let your daughter do this?


Sarah Marshall:

Oh my God, she's an adult.


Michael Hobbes: 

And also, Shannon has now been accepted into the other three schools. I have no evidence for this, but it is very possible that if the school hadn't revoked her admission, Shannon would have just gone to one of these other schools.


Sarah Marshall: 

If I were her, my response would have been like, "cool, that's funny, I'll go to wherever else I applied." But then if they revoke it, I'd be like, "fuuuuuck you guys."


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes!


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah!


Michael Hobbes:

So basically, classic Shannon, she goes through the Yellow Pages. She finds a civil rights lawyer like, this super awesome lady who does like abortion cases and stuff and walks her through the whole thing and says, do I have a case? And the lawyer's like, yeah, I don't see why not.


Sarah Marshall: 

This is also the rare case of a malign 90s woman who wasn't dragged into the spotlight by her bangs.


Michael Hobbes: 

And so the first thing the lawyer does is she calls a press conference and that attracts the ACLU because remember how I mentioned, there's only one other military institute in the country that is publicly funded, that doesn't allow in women?


Sarah Marshall: 

Yes.


Michael Hobbes:

That school is called the Virginia Military Institute and it's getting sued by the Department of Justice for not allowing women in. And one of its main arguments is that there's no demand to attend an all male military institution from women. So the ACLU is fighting back against this idea that there's no demand from women to go to military institutions. And here comes Shannon, who is demanding to attend a military institution. And so the ACLU offers all of their legal services for free. So by the time they actually filed a case in March of 1993, she has eight lawyers.


Sarah Marshall:

It seems like a lot of big cases happen this way, where it's like, you have a legal concept that you need to find a vehicle for.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah.


Sarah Marshall: 

And then the plaintiff is like, "this person who, sort of, the luck of the numbers game of American populations, like, embodies the problems that you were trying to address."


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes. And we all have to pretend that it's about this individual when it's very obviously about this larger issue and the precedent that it's going to set.


Sarah Marshall:

Right. And where they have to be like, "I volunteer as tribute."


Michael Hobbes: 

So, what do you know about the Citadel? Have you ever heard of this before this controversy?


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. I've heard that word. I know that the Citadel is a school that basically fought to keep women out, that's really all. I know.


Michael Hobbes:

It's also a very weird thing because, people are gonna get mad at me for this, but it's sort of army cosplay.


Michael Hobbes: 

I mean, West Point and these other official military institutions that we have in America are--they have official relationships with the military. It's like a pipeline into the military. The Citadel is just its own thing. So only around a third of graduates end up going into the military.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh...


Michael Hobbes: 

There's all of this sort of pomp and circumstance within the school, like, the students have these ranks that are sort of quasi military ranks. And there's this vocabulary that you have to use. And you have to stand at attention and say, "sir," and all this kind of stuff, but those are just rules at the Citadel. They're not in any way officially linked up to the military.


Sarah Marshall: 

So it's interesting that the school is like, silly and the lawsuit is kind of revealing their silliness in an uncomfortable way perhaps, cause they're like, "we can't allow women in because it would interfere with the importance of us pretending to be soldiers."


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes! It's basically theater camp. So, I read two histories of the Citadel and most institutions in America. If you look into them, have pretty rough history. The Citadel has maybe has like, the worst history I've ever seen. It's like a fucking SNL sketch of like, how offensive can history be. So the school was founded in 1822 to respond to a slave uprising. It's actually a bit of a You're Wrong About.† The uprising was organized by a guy named Denmark Vesey. The narrative was always that this was a sprawling plot of all these people and hundreds were involved and it was this massive conspiracy. And when historians went back in the 1960s to actually look at the primary documents, they found that it was basically just a bunch of rumors. It wasn't planned, they had no date. It was just something that they talked about as like, wouldn't it be cool if. So academics now refer to it as a legal lynching where it was essentially just an excuse to execute Denmark Vesey and his quote unquote "co-conspirators."


Sarah Marshall: 

That's awful.


Michael Hobbes: 

So that in itself is a really gross story. But then what happened right after was there were all these vigilante squads that wandered around Charleston, like, burning down churches. And the reason the Citadel was founded was to train, quote, unquote, "citizen soldiers to prevent any future uprisings of enslaved peoples." Like that was the point.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh my God. Well, do you see how like, letting a female student into the school with sully, beautiful history?


Michael Hobbes: 

My God.


Sarah Marshall: 

You're right. I really was ready to be like, I don't know, but like, yeah, Jesus Christ.


Michael Hobbes:

Eventually it turns into just a normal military college. And then according to its graduates, people at the Citadel fired the first shots of the civil war. I didn't really look into whether that was true or not just because it's like such a big part of the lore of the school that they're really proud of this, which I feel like is like, that in itself is telling whether or not it's true.


Sarah Marshall: 

Right. Like, either it really happened or it didn't happen and they thought it would be cool if it did happen.


Michael Hobbes:

Yes.


Sarah Marshall: 

Most history is like, kind of made up, but then it's more useful and revealing like, who the people telling it are.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes. So over time the Citadel becomes an increasingly closed loop.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh!


Michael Hobbes: 

It becomes more conservative over time because the more it drifts away from the general progressiveness of the country, you know, 1960s, student protests, et cetera, it pushes back against all of these things. And over time it starts to attract students that are interested in this sort of increasingly archaic lifestyle and [inaudible].


Sarah Marshall: 

It's like 4chan.


Michael Hobbes: 

It is! Like, it becomes this distillation chamber and also the alumni network. They also protect the school. So every once in a while, an outsider, a sort of reformer, will be appointed as the president and will try to institute reforms. And the entire alumni network threatens to pull donations.


Sarah Marshall:

Oh!


Michael Hobbes: 

There's also a series of scandals that make it even worse. So I'm going to send you a photo.


Sarah Marshall: 

Okay. We're looking at a photo of, it looks like a high school portrait of a guy who I got to say has like, young farmer in Babe energy.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes.


Sarah Marshall: 

This looks like it was taken in the 60s or the 70s because I'm seeing kind of what looks like a loud patterned tie. And he's got some thick glasses, some sticky out ears. And he looks just like a lovely and ungainly boy in a large man's body of like 17 or 18.


Michael Hobbes: 

This is Harry Delaroche. He is 17 when this is taken. He ends up getting into the Citadel. And the minute he gets into the Citadel, he experiences this absurd system they have of hazing cadets. It began as an explicit way to build solidarity and to build school spirit. So it used to be, they would give you this history handbook of the school and you had to basically memorize it. If you were a freshmen, you had to sort of stand at attention nd if an upperclassmen came up to you and was like, "who was the president of the school in 1924?" You'd have to say like, "Norman Poindexter" or whatever. And then they would correct you or not correct you.


Sarah Marshall:

You know what builds school,spirit? Acapella. Acapella builds school spirit, try harmonizing with someone you don't trust.


Michael Hobbes: 

I mean, it ultimately seems very silly to me, but also it was designed as something that would be sort of shared knowledge between students at the school, like a way of developing, like, an inside language for people within this institution. But so what happens is over time, this hazing just becomes more and more brutal. And also because it's a closed loop, whatever you experienced as a freshmen, you're going to do to the freshmen when you're a senior. So the first week of school is known as "hell week." And by the time Harry Delaroche gets there in 1976, it's just like, beatings and stuff. It's not creative?


Sarah Marshall: 

This is the most you criticism I have ever heard. I love what you're saying, which is that obviously it's horrible, but also they're not even doing what they said they were doing.


Michael Hobbes: 

Right?


Sarah Marshall:

What happens? What kind of stuff do kids have to endure?


Michael Hobbes: 

One of the things that happens to Harry is they cut his shins with a razor blade and then they pour shoe polish on them.


Sarah Marshall: 

They're like, "I can't cut your face cause you got to go work the streets tonight."


Michael Hobbes: 

I mean, a big thing is sort of keeping your shoes polished and keeping your uniform crisp and tight. And so this, I believe, is a punishment for having scuffed shoes. Another big thing is technically upperclassmen have the right to take away food from freshman. So if an upperclassmen demands food, you have to give it over.


Sarah Marshall: 

No!


Michael Hobbes:

So, for weeks, Harry just isn't eating, because every time he sits down to eat in the cafeteria, some upperclassmen comes and takes away his food.


Sarah Marshall: 

You know what's funny, is that like, when I was a teenager, I think this stuff didn't hit me as hard because I was like, I'm basically an adult. And now that I see teenagers as children, I'm just like, how are adults condoning this?


Michael Hobbes: 

I know... I mean, at various points, the teachers try to push back against this because the teachers are like, people are coming to class and they haven't eaten and they haven't slept.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. How the hell are people learning anything?


Michael Hobbes: 

Again, closed loop. A lot of the adults in the administration, they went to this school. They think that it builds character. And not only is it not seen as a problem, this is seen as an essential component of masculinity. You have to experience abuse.


Sarah Marshall: 

You know what builds character? Working in a waffle house, do that. Those people can deescalate like nobody. I think that the thing that we think of as masculinity is something that you basically need to be abused to become, but that's not actually a masculinity. It doesn't relate to being male. It just relates to having been abused. And we just confuse the two things.


Michael Hobbes: 

So, Thanksgiving of his first year, Harry, he says that his mom has terminal cancer and he has to go home for Thanksgiving early. He's lying just to get out of the school. And once he gets home, he sort of, in his head has decided he's not going to go back to the school. He's like, I can't take this anymore. But because his dad is like this military asshole, he's got a history of abusing Harry, it's really terrible. He's not going to let him quit. And so brace yourself, Harry Delaroche murders his entire family.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh wow. Yeah.


Michael Hobbes: 

He kills his mom and his dad and his two brothers. Because this is such a huge national story at the time, it contributes to the closed loop nature of the Citadel because who wants to apply to a school where the hazing practices are so severe that they lead to an outcome like this. It's only going to be people who don't see the hazing as a deal breaker, or are specifically attracted by the hazing. This closed loop thing gets even worse in the 1980s.


Sarah Marshall: 

Like everything!


Michael Hobbes: 

The school started allowing in black students in 1966, but it did so very quietly. The school was never more than 5 or 6% black.


Sarah Marshall: 

What's their student body on the whole? Is this in like the low thousands? How big is it?


Michael Hobbes: 

2000 students total.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh, that's small.


Michael Hobbes: 

So in 1986, there is a student named Kevin Nesmith who is black. And this is super fucked up. A bunch of upperclassmen think that he's like, not pulling his weight. So, as a quote unquote galactically large fucking quote marks, "prank." They dress up in Klan robes and go into his room at night with a burning cross.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh my God.


Michael Hobbes: 

He is okay. Nothing really happens. They sort of go in there and they shout at him and his roommate who is white, wakes up and is like, you've got to be fucking kidding me. Get the fuck out of here. And like, it's just chaos. This also becomes a national story because it's fucking outrageous. Kevin ends up quitting the school pretty soon after because yes, of course.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah...


Michael Hobbes: 

Meanwhile all five of the kids who dress up in Klan robes as a quote, unquote "prank" end up graduating. They're not given any major punishment.


Sarah Marshall: 

This is the kind of wonderful culture that a female student body might challenge, you know, you just can't like girls and they'll ruin everything.


Michael Hobbes: 

What's so fascinating about this is that this also ends up reinforcing the closed loop thing because what happens to minority enrollment after this? Black people basically stop applying to the school, cause of course they do.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. If you have a hundred black students sprinkled into a culturally white institution, the culture can remain fundamentally the same. It seems like.


Michael Hobbes: 

Exactly. And I just think there's this kind of cultural stereotype that as the country becomes more progressive, all of these conservative institutions will sort of inevitably come along, like, you know, be dragged by the tide of history or whatever. But what we tend to see is that a lot of these institutions actually become more conservative because they feel like they're the only ones left. So by the 1990s, by the time Shannon applies, it's actually like part of the school's identity that we're one of the last schools to not allow in women. Like, that's actually a huge draw for students and like, a big part of the way that they think about themselves.


Sarah Marshall: 

It's not a cute look.


Michael Hobbes: 

It's not cute. So, next section. We're eventually gonna talk about the court case, but there's about six months before the court case really happens. There's all these sort of preliminary hearings and motions, blah, blah, blah. What happens almost immediately after Shannon files the lawsuit is that she becomes a massive celebrity.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh my.