CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Months before a woman who had been a cadet at The Citadel dropped out, complaining of harassment, college officials had received detailed complaints from her parents that she was being mistreated by a male cadet.
Yet, after the officials decided on a punishment for the man, they reduced the punishment at the urging of other male cadets and despite his disciplinary record.
This account of The Citadel's handling of a woman's harassment complaint -- laid out in federal court records in Charleston -- provides evidence the college knew of accusations that at least one woman in the first group of women to enroll was being harassed, months before she dropped out.
Citadel officials have said that they reacted to her complaint promptly and that, under the circumstances, it was proper to reduce the cadet's punishment. They have also asserted that, despite a long and bitter court battle to keep women out of The Citadel, they are now committed to a program of training women.
Yet the court records of testimony from a college official back up the contention of cadet Jeanie Mentavlos' parents that they complained for weeks about the abuse of their daughter, to no avail.
"From early on in the first semester, Marian and I expressed grave concerns about serious incidents that occurred as the semester progressed," Nick Mentavlos said in an interview, referring to his wife. "We were repeatedly told these incidents were being taken care of. They obviously were not."
At the Jan. 8 hearing -- part of the Justice Department's oversight of the integration of women at The Citadel -- Col. Joseph W. Trez, the commandant of cadets, said that the December day when harassment complaints by Jeanie Mentavlos and Kim Messer were corroborated was "a day that will go down in my memory forever."
But under cross-examination by Valorie K. Vojdik, a lawyer for the women who sued to gain admittance to The Citadel, Trez acknowledged that in October he had met with Mr. Mentavlos to hear complaints that his daughter was already being ill-treated.
Mr. Mentavlos told Trez that a junior at the college had shoved a piece of cardboard into his daughter's face, according to the colonel's testimony.
Indeed, Trez testified that he was ready in October to charge the offending cadet with a "major violation." But he later reduced it to a "minor violation" -- despite the cadet's record of two violations in 13 months, one of them major.
After the reduction, the unnamed cadet approached Messer and shoved her rifle up against her face, causing her head to hit the wall, the colonel testified. He said that she was forced to hold the rifle in front of her and was in tears.
Trez suspended the cadet after he was accused of shoving a uniformed officer in the barracks and using profane language.
For months, Messer and Mentavlos -- two of four women admitted to The Citadel last fall -- were subjected to taunts and physical harassment by male cadets. Vojdik and the lawyers representing the pair, who both withdrew, say the testimony shows that college officials knew about the harassment as soon as it began and failed to stop it.
Vojdik said in an interview, "The message that sends to the women is, 'We're not going to protect you.' "
College officials complained that the women failed to come to them directly with their concerns.
When the harassment accusations became public last month, The Citadel suspended two cadets and relieved five others of their commands. Besides the two suspensions, nine cadets now face disciplinary charges. A state criminal inquiry is expected to be completed by the end of this month.
Pub Date: 1/22/97