The Citadel released a statement after pictures depicting cadets wearing white pillowcases on their heads — similar to the hoods worn by members of the KKK — surfaced on social media Thursday.

“A social media posting, which I find offensive and disturbing, was brought to my attention this morning. It shows an upper class cadet in front of seven cadets with pillowcases over their heads,” said Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa, president of The Citadel. “In accordance with college policy, we immediately began suspension proceedings for those cadets known to be involved, and we are continuing to investigate this incident. Preliminary reports are cadets were singing Christmas carols as part of a ‘Ghosts of Christmas Past’ skit. These images are not consistent with our core values of honor, duty and respect.”

School officials will provide more information following the completion of the investigation.

Dr. Lamont Melvin, chairman of The Citadel Minority Alumni Association, said the group found the social media posting disgraceful and regardless of the spin that one may try to assign to this type of behavior, the characterization of what took place was “not a mistake” that can simply be swept under the rug.

“We are pleased that Lt. General Rosa and his staff have taken swift action to address the situation and look forward to the results of his investigation; however, much more needs to be done to address the culture that continues to house recurring prejudices against minority cadets,” he added. “At the very least, there needs to be a zero tolerance policy established immediately for racially-charged and racially-motivated rhetoric and activity.”

The Citadel Minority Alumni Association plans to await the results of the administration’s investigation, but called for increased funding for cultural competence and diversity training for the entire Corps of Cadets and staff on a regular basis.

“This is not the first, second, or third time that racially-charged events have been documented to have occurred at The Citadel. It is easy to try to isolate events of this sort to a single item or incident, which would, on its face, be a disservice to minority cadets who have and are currently attending The Citadel. This issue is much bigger,” said Melvin. “It’s a cultural issue, and it must be addressed and it must end now. When racist acts occur on campus, all students, black and white, should feel the same degree of outrage that we do. As minority alumni and wearers of the ring, we expect The Citadel to carry out the core values of creating principled leaders — not racist leaders. These reprehensible behaviors are not indicative of actions in which principled leaders engage. Again, the activities that led to this social media posting were not a mistake and should be dealt with severely because symbols matter.”

This controversy comes shortly after the release of a report by the Education Trust that examined graduation rates among colleges and found a growing gap between the graduation rates of minority and white students at The Citadel. As reported by the Post & Courier, graduation rates for minority students at The Citadel are more than 15 percentage points lower than white students. A look at graduation rates over a recent 10-year period shows this gap has increased by almost 9 percentage points.