The Citadel military college in South Carolina has begun suspension proceedings for more than a dozen students after photos of them wearing what appear to be Klu Klux Klan costumes surfaced on social media this week.
A woman posted images on Facebook showing a group of Citadel cadets dressed in all-white clothes and white hoods, according to local ABC affiliate WTVM. She posted the screenshots after she saw a video of the incident on Snapchat because she reportedly found them offensive.
John W. Rosa, the college's president, called the images "offensive and disturbing" in a statement issued on Thursday, saying that they went against The Citadel's "core values of honor, duty, and respect." The school has immediately begun suspension proceedings for the cadets involved, he added.
The cadets were said to have been singing Christmas carols as part of a "Ghosts of Christmas Past" skit, according to the school.
"Whether they are supposed to look like ghosts or not, we all know what they look like and they know what they look like and it's just rude," said the woman who posted them on Facebook, according to WTVM.
A person with knowledge of the school's culture told ABC News 4 that the incident could have been an example of The Citadel's hazing ritual for first-year students, known as "knobs." During the first weeks of the school year, upperclassmen test knobs on their knowledge of The Citadel's history and lore as a way "to build esprit de corps," according to the school's website.
This isn't the first time that The Citadel has made headlines for an incident of hazing or racism on campus. In 1986, the FBI opened an investigation into a hazing incident in which five upperclassmen wearing white robes and pillowcases burst into a black cadet's room shouting racial insults and burning a paper cross. The state Human Affairs Commissioner later decided that the school was not racist, but should be more "sensitive" to diverse backgrounds.
In 1997, CBS's 60 Minutes exposed a decades-long history of racism, harassment, and the routine display of KKK and Nazi imagery around campus. The school responded by insisting that it does not tolerate any racism whatsoever while affirming that it would address any allegations of such immediately.
According to The Citadel student handbook, racism — defined as a "commission of an act of an immoral or vicious nature" — is considered to be a Class 1 offense and subject to immediate suspension or expulsion. This class of violation also includes possession of pornography or failing to comply with the open door/lights on policy when a person of the opposite gender is in your room.
Citadel administrators said that they would release more information about the investigation once it is completed.