On Hazing at the Citadel
The Citadel’s Fourth Class System is a very complex mechanism that has proven successful in developing exceptional people and an exceptional interrelationship among them. I was a “knob” in the 1964-65 academic year, a time I shared at the Citadel with Pat Conroy and my experiences where vastly different. We wanted to participate in the world’s toughest plebe system and believed that perhaps only Sandhurst came close. I’ve never regretted the experience.
It was extremely challenging physically, mentally and emotionally and it did weed out many among us. My first sergeant, Woody Goble, was an example of how it should be run. There were abuses and they were inappropriate and the weeding out should be bidirectional, it should eliminate those who cannot cope but also those whose sadism and lack of judgment also make them inappropriate members of our brotherhood. That is a very difficult task and tradition plays a much more important role in making it work than does regulation.
Our Fourth Class System can work because it is intimately tied to the other great cultural institution at the Citadel, the Honor Code. Elimination of either and we have an interesting institution, perhaps a good one, but not the Citadel that produces not just great individuals but a brotherhood, for many years now expanded to include sisters, one that is second to none. They are both systems that require constant monitoring, that’s true, and systems almost impossible for outsiders to understand, they do not create sadistic automatons but rather humble, humorous, generous and very creative men and women, imbued with unusually strong leadership characteristics and loyalty. The very best people I’ve ever met.
Hopefully the systems’ abusers and detractors will not succeed in destroying them.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé (Citadel, class of 1968); Manizales, 2015; all rights reserved