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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Not All Right Now

Here we go again.

The Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band is suspended - in perhaps the most slap-on-the-wrist sense of the term - amid what's been called a "culture of drugs, alcohol, and hazing." The suspension entails the irreverent band not traveling to any away games or having alcohol at any band activities.

First: Given the findings, the nature of the suspension - which, by no accident, I'm sure, won't at all alter the product on the field during Stanford home games - seems absurd. But let's take a look at the hazing portion of this, because it disrupts a few lazy assumptions about hazing. First, hazing is an action taken by the dumb and brutish. Hazing is undoubtedly dumb, but that its perpetrators necessarily are - at least in the "traditional" measures of intelligence sense - is defied that the perps are Stanford students. Secondly, for those who believe hazing is a necessary means to an end - the negative reinforcement to get lines straight, stick heights consistent, and uniforms to pass inspection - Stanford is nonconformist by design. No, this hazing is deeply rooted in that which drives most hazing: Taking advantage of a desire to belong.

In a recent study of over 1,200 Division I marching band members, nearly 30% reported witnessing some form of hazing in their marching band experience. These number are, thankfully, lower than those who report the same in a study done about student organizations and athletic teams (participant n: > 11,000) but just as alarming. The culture is insidious wherever you find it.

And yet, in the college marching band, hazing may be more likely to go un- or lightly-punished. We saw this in the case of Ohio State's indiscretions uncovered last summer, and we see it here with Stanford, who as I mentioned, won't miss a single home game for situations that would likely get a fraternity or other student organization suspended. The tie to athletics is key here. In a different context, I'd be please to see that marching bands are seen as integral enough to the gameday experience to be protected, but not when it means standing idly by as a party to hazing. I'm not saying I want to see more bands lose field time. I'm saying I want fewer bands to haze. If that's what it takes, then so be it.
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