Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Punishment and reforms for Stanford band

This week Stanford University announced the results of its investigation into the university's marching band. At issue was a climate of sexual hostility marked by harassment of members, especially upon initiation. In addition there were violations of hazing and alcohol policies. This has all resulted in a ban on the band's travel to away events next year. They will perform at home events and other unnamed non-athletic events.

We had not heard of this situation; it certainly has not made headlines like the OSU band scandal. (Though apparently the band has a reputation and have a history of rude behavior at schools.) The descriptions--admittedly vague--of the incidents suggest common issues among bands (and probably other college groups): alcohol, initiation rituals based on public humiliation, and sexual harassment/assault. What is interesting is the way these problems are framed when the group in question is a college marching band. The Dean of Residential Education commented on the findings and punishment: "The university's objective is to ensure a safe and harassment-free environment while honoring the band's traditions and its unique, irreverent identity." So band hazing/harassment is because they are quirky? When sports teams do this it's about team camaraderie. When fraternities and sororities do it, it's about loyalty to the organization.

It's all a form of violence. The commonality is that students largely think these things are fine and they are "part of the culture."

The band has the option of  appealing their partial suspension.

A few weeks ago we heard about another problematic culture within a university group: the swim team at Western Kentucky. Their investigation was more explicitly Title IX focused as it looked into numerous accounts of hazing. The punishment at WKU was far more extensive: three fired coaches, a 5-year suspension, and at least one athlete who will face criminal charges.

Again, the exact events that occurred within the Stanford marching band and the WKU swim team are unknown and comparing is impossible. However...there was no discussion of adult leadership in the Stanford case. I find this curious. Where were the university employees in all this? There are, of course, numerous cases of hazing within intercollegiate athletics where coaches claim they had no idea what was going on. But that excuse that the non-student adults are really oblivious as to what their charges are up to is not as readily accepted anymore as evidenced in the WKU case and of course in the OSU band case where the director was fired.

Hazing and harassment cases call for a greater questioning of the practices of any group culture and also inquiring into how that culture has been created and perpetuated. Did this really happen at Stanford?