Seven cadets at the Citadel who appeared in photos with pillowcases over their heads, similar to Ku Klux Klan robes, have been suspended, officials at the state military college in Charleston, South Carolina confirmed Friday. Meanwhile, local activists called for the resignation of the college's president.
An upperclassman who was photographed but not dressed up was also suspended.
College spokeswoman Kim Keelor said the eight suspended students have gone home and are not permitted back on campus. She said there's been no decision whether they might be allowed to return.
Photos appeared on social media this week showing seven freshmen cadets, called knobs because of their short haircuts, wearing white T-shirts and white pants with the pillowcases on their heads.
John Rosa, president of the military college, said in a statement that the images were "offensive and disturbing." He said initial reports indicated the cadets were singing carols as part of a "Ghosts of Christmas Past skit."
Meanwhile, civil rights activists called for Rosa to step down.
"We believe that accountability starts at the top," said James Johnson of the National Action Network during a news conference across the street from the gates of the military college. "What those students and the leadership have done is open up a wound that is hard to close."
"Enough is enough," he said, saying the group wants Rosa to step down and the state to stop funding the military college. As he spoke, cadets in uniform walked through the gates across the street.
Two South Carolina lawmakers have called for expulsion of the cadets who were suspended.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard said in a written statement that such an act, just across town from the Emanuel AME Church where nine people were shot and killed last summer, adds "insult to injury." Dylann Roof, a white man who posed with a Confederate flag for online photos, has been charged with killing the nine black parishioners.
State Sen. Marlon Kimpson is also calling for the expulsion of the cadets.
The photos of Citadel students in KKK-like garb prompted Democratic presidential candidates on Friday to call on the college to remove a Confederate flag from a school chapel.
Hillary Clinton sent a tweet Friday saying, "Symbols of hate create more hate. It's time for the Confederate flag to come down at the Citadel." Chris Covert, the South Carolina director for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders campaign and Tyler Jones, who directs former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's campaign, also called for removal of the flag.
After the shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in June, the college's board of visitors agreed to remove the Confederate Naval Jack from Summerall Chapel, but that move requires approval from the South Carolina General Assembly under the state's Heritage Act.
The Associated Press