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Don't take it personally, the good ol' boys at the Citadel say with a wink and a paternalist pat on the head to Shannon Faulkner.

The Citadel doesn't mean anything by wanting to exclude her. It's just that the academy has been all male for 152 years and it would be down right humiliating for these boy soldiers to learn that their gender is not an entitlement to preferential treatment.Heck, they would have to resolve their fear of competing on an equal footing with the opposite sex. Mostly, it means, that they will have to justify their prejudice and acts of discrimination.

And that's a tall order for anybody.

But for the Citadel, it is particularly difficult. Particularly when they haven't figured out that extending an opportunity to women does not constitute discrimination against men. But that's a concept people, who have been afforded opportunities based on birthright, have difficulty understanding.

And that is why of all the questions and comments about Faulkner's admission to the corps of cadets, second-year Citadel student Brian Kucaba from Spartanburg, S.C., was the most poignant.

He asked: "Why would you want to come onto a campus when nobody wants you?"

Maybe by the time Kucaba graduates, he'll understand the necessity of going to places where people don't want you. You go not for acceptance, but for opportunity. You go because there is a higher ideal at stake, greater than your own needs.

You go because it is the right thing to do, to stand up against injustice, to change a system and challenge the people within it to do the right thing.

Regardless of whether Faulkner is successful in her bid to graduate from the Citadel, her attempt teaches a lesson to us all about pursuing passionate beliefs, about standing firm, about insisting that no one can dictate what we can and cannot do based on gender.

Keep the faith, Faulkner, people and institutions change. The fact that Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist refused to issue a stay, enabling her admission until a district court judge decides whether a separate facility for women is acceptable, should give her heart.

You see, Rehnquist's past record on integration issues has been suspect. As an assistant attorney general in the Nixon administration, and in response to a White House request, he suggested an alternative to the forced integration of public schools.

Rather than enforce the law of the land, Rehnquist made a draft proposal in 1970 for a constitutional amendment advocating choice and neighborhood schools. In Southern states, choice and neighborhood schools was a way to maintain segregation.

If the amendment had gone forth it could have stopped integration. However, the idea was never formally proposed. At the time, courts were already striking down as unconstitutional several "freedom of choice" plans for Southern school districts because they were based on race.

Take heart, too, that George Wallace, as the governor of Alabama in the early 1960s, was a staunch segregationist. He ran his campaign on "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever." He stood with police in the doorway of the University of Alabama to block two black students from enrolling.

After several unsuccessful presidential bids, Wallace ran for governor again in 1982. This time he denounced segregation and received strong support from black voters.

Rarely do people or institutions change without a movement or an individual that sways them.

Several decades ago in the heat of the civil rights movement, activist A. Philip Randolph talked about the fear of change.

He said people "fear each other because they do not know each other; they do not know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated."

Other military academies have changed. The Citadel, with the help of the courts, will too. Equal protection under the law ensures that.

The Citadel need not fear change, particularly when change will provide justice. And if it is the fear of change that motivates the Citadel, how will it ever be able to properly prepare these young cadets for life?