A week after winning her two-year fight to gain entrance to The Citadel, Shannon Faulkner on Friday said she was dropping out of the all-male military college, the victim of stress.
"I do not think there's any dishonor in leaving," Faulkner told reporters outside The Citadel, the 152-year-old state-funded academy in Charleston, S.C. "I think there's [no] justice in my staying and killing myself just for the political point."
Faulkner, 20, had been taken to the infirmary Monday, the first day of training during what is known as "hell week," when she and a number of other corps members became ill because of 102-degree heat.
She was to have been released Friday morning to rejoin her unit after a doctor deemed her fit to return. Instead, she stayed in the infirmary and later in the day, with her father and her lawyer by her side, announced that she was leaving.
Cheers echoed through the campus when Faulkner's decision became known, and cadets rejoiced in the rain that they were once again an all-male school. Citadel officials, who had fought to the end to keep Faulkner out, said they were pleased that she was gone. "We hope things return to normal as soon as possible," a spokesman said.
But women's rights advocates Friday hailed Faulkner as a pioneer and predicted that other women would soon follow her lead.
"I don't see her as a quitter," said Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred, who was not involved with the case. "I see her as a winner.
"I think she has undergone, in her attempts to enter The Citadel, a personal endurance test that possibly very few men could endure and survive," Allred said. "The heat that she took on Monday is nothing compared to the heat that she took . . . in her battle to enter this school."
It was only last week, the day before new cadets were to arrive at the school, that two U.S. Supreme Court justices refused a request by The Citadel that they intervene, thus clearing the way for Faulkner's admittance to the school.
During her fight to get into the school, Faulkner said that she had endured death threats and that her home was vandalized. Bumper stickers and T-shirts appeared in Charleston with slogans "Save The Males" and "Shave Shannon," a reference to the legal fight over whether she would have to shave her head like male cadets.
In fighting to keep her out, school officials had said she would not be able to endure the physical rigors of training and had noted that she is 20 pounds over Army weight standards for her height. But Faulkner said Friday that her physical condition or stamina was not the issue.
"All the problems that they thought that I may have had if I did join the corps, those are not the reason I'm leaving," she told reporters as she stood in the rain, sometimes choking back tears, just before leaving the campus.
She said she was felled by the stress she endured during her long fight to enter the school. "I wanted to make it through this, but circumstances before hand have just made it very difficult for me to," she said.
She said she had been physically keeping up with the other cadets, but "the past 2 1/2 years came crashing down on me in an instant. . . .
"But I really hope that next year a whole group of women will be going in. Because maybe it would have been different if the other women would have been with me."
She said it was hard to leave because she had worked so long and hard to get in. Asked by reporters if she felt she was letting down her attorneys and others who have stood by her during her long ordeal, Faulkner said: "It's not going to do my attorneys any good if I get in there and have a mental breakdown or anything like that."
She added: "I know that by me leaving today so many people are either mad at me or disappointed in me, and some are elated that I am leaving. All I have to say is I have to think about my own health right now."
Faulkner said she did not know what she would do now. "I have no earthly idea," she said. "I know my life is going to be miserable right now for a while, but . . . I'll just have to deal with it the best I can."
Rumors that she would drop out circulated Friday before the announcement. A Spartanburg, S.C., television station reported at midday that her father was traveling to Charleston to pick her up. He earlier had been quoted as saying Faulkner was treated for dehydration and had been vomiting.
Faulkner's lawyer, Suzanne Coe, attributed her client's decision to leave to the extreme isolation of being the only woman among hundreds of men.
"She feels alone here. She doesn't want to be here," Coe said. The lawyer said she was disappointed and concerned about the possible effects of the decision on Faulkner's lawsuit, but added: "I'm not the one who has to sleep alone in the barracks."
During her long fight to enter the school, Faulkner had become a hero to women and others who thought single-gender schools are discriminatory and should be abolished. Her supporters on Friday praised her while expressing sorrow for the pain she endured.
"I think that she did a great thing," said Peg Yorkin, who chairs the Feminist Majority, a nonprofit women's rights group. "I think that she has all the guts in the world to go through with it.
"The important thing is that she opened the door," Yorkin said. "We didn't have to prove anything beyond that [in terms of physical ability]. We have done that. The top graduate at West Point this year was a woman."
Women's Legal Defense Fund President Judith Lichtman said: "It's very sad that Shannon Faulkner . . . had to live under the pressure and tensions that she had to experience in order to enter The Citadel. One can only hope other young women will not have to go through what she went through."
Lichtman said the cheering that broke out when Faulkner's decision was announced "reaffirms the extraordinary pressure she was under." However, she added that she didn't think Faulkner's decision would deter other women. "I think it will bolster the view, that any human being, male or female, ought not to be treated in the horrific way she was treated."
Lichtman's group filed a friend-of-the court brief on behalf of Faulkner's effort to enter the institution.
Allred said Citadel officials would be making a mistake if they assumed the college would remain all male. "I'm sure there will be others that will come after her now," she said. "So The Citadel should not think that they have won the war, because there will be other women and I'm sure they will apply very soon."
Faulkner's fight to enter The Citadel began in 1993. A high school honor student, she applied to the school and was accepted. But the school revoked its acceptance when it learned she was a woman. In January, 1994, a federal court ordered the school to admit her to day classes alongside male cadets while the case was being decided. In July of last year, the court ordered that she be allowed to participate fully in the school's military training.
The state of South Carolina wants to create a separate women's leadership program at another college, but plans for that program have not been approved by the courts. The larger question of whether separate but equal educational facilities for women are constitutional has not been resolved by the courts.
Yorkin called the plans for a separate but equal institution an unacceptable solution. "We have a long history of that. It is never equal. It doesn't work."
However, The Citadel's attorneys have argued that the issue will not be decided until a November trial, which will determine whether the newly created state-funded "leadership institute" for women is a suitable alternative to admitting them to the all-male school.
Researchers D'Jamila Salem in Washington and Edith Stanley in Atlanta contributed to this story.