CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Civil rights activists called Friday for the resignation of The Citadel’s president after online photos surfaced showing cadets with pillowcases over their heads similar to Ku Klux Klan garb, but the president says he isn’t quitting.
The South Carolina military college issued a statement saying retired Air Force Lt. Gen. John Rosa has no plans to step down as president and will honor his contract running until 2018.
The school said seven students shown in the photos wearing the pillowcases have been suspended along with an upperclassman who was photographed but did not dress up.
College spokeswoman Kim Keelor said the eight have gone home and are not permitted back on campus. She said there’s been no decision whether they might be allowed to return.
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Photos on social media this week showed the cadets wearing white T-shirts and white pants with the pillowcases on their heads.
Rosa called the images “offensive and disturbing” in a statement Thursday. He said reports indicated the cadets were singing carols as part of a “Ghosts of Christmas Past skit.”
Civil rights activists gathered Friday across the street from a school gate calling for Rosa to resign and for a Confederate flag in the school’s chapel to be removed.
“We believe that accountability starts at the top,” said James Johnson of the National Action Network. “What those students and the leadership have done is open up a wound that is hard to close.”
“Enough is enough,” he said as cadets in uniform walked through the gate.
“Lt. Gen. Rosa serves at the pleasure of the Citadel Board of Visitors and intends to fulfill his commitment to lead the college and honor the terms of his contract,” said college spokesman Brett Ashworth.
The college board last summer extended Rosa’s contract until 2018 at which time he plans to retire. By then he will have served 12 years.
Amid the furor, Democratic presidential campaigns called for the removal of the Confederate flag in the 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.”
The South Carolina state campaign directors for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley also called for removal of the flag.
The Board of Visitors has agreed to remove the flag from Summerall Chapel but the removal must be approved by the South Carolina General Assembly under the state’s Heritage Act.
Two South Carolina lawmakers have called for the expulsion of the cadets connected to the photos.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard said in a statement their acts, across town from the Emanuel AME church where nine black parishioners were shot last summer, adds “insult to injury.” Dylann Roof, a white man who posed with a Confederate flag for online photos has been charged in the case.
State Sen. Marlon Kimpson also wants the cadets expelled.