Stanford Band leadership admits to a culture of sexual misconduct

July 14, 2020, 11:42 a.m.

“[Stanford] Band does have a problem with assault and harassment,” Band manager Caroline Bamberger ’21 told The Daily. “It is a painful reality — but it does not make that less of a reality.” 

Two anonymous posts on the Instagram page Stanford Missed Connections, posted on June 24, have alleged that Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (LSJUMB) leadership systematically mishandled internal accusations of sexual misconduct and assault.

LSJUMB has had a complicated history. In 2012, the group was suspended for alcohol related infractions. In 2015, LSJUMB again faced a one-year travel ban and alcohol probation after a joint investigation by Stanford’s Organization Conduct Board and Title IX Office “found that the band infringed upon University policies on alcohol, controlled substances, sexual harassment and hazing.” This suspension was lifted in 2017, and later that year, LSJUMB named Russell Gavin its Band director in May, filling a position that had been vacant since June the year before.

University spokesperson E.J. Miranda declined to comment on LSJUMB’s policies and what student organizations can do to prevent sexual misconduct and assault, instead pointing The Daily to a July 10 statement by Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole describing structural changes being made in LSJUMB. Brubaker-Cole wrote that the changes, including LSJUMB becoming a department-sponsored organization under the athletics department as opposed to being housed under Student Affairs, will be made with University oversight to address student safety issues, including sexual misconduct and harassment.

Band Director Russell Gavin said that since this January, LSJUMB has undergone structural changes that have allowed the organization to better address sexual misconduct and assault. Undergraduate Band leadership, also known as the band staph, said that until these changes were undertaken earlier this year, decisions regarding sexual assault, misconduct, hazing and substance use always fell on undergraduate Band leadership, which Gavin described as a “terribly unsafe practice.” 

Allegations posted to Stanford Missed Connections

The posts on Stanford Missed Connections (SMC) about LSJUMB were just two of over 50 posts describing instances of sexual misconduct and assault on campus. The Instagram page allows users to send the page’s owner messages that are then anonymously posted to their feed. A post on June 24 alleged that there was a campaign of continued harassment and sexual assault by members of LSJUMB. The post has since been deleted by the owner of the SMC page, due to the page’s policy of removing any post upon a third-party request, regardless of who requests the removal. 

Both the owner of SMC (who was granted anonymity due to the nature of the Instagram page) and Band staph declined to provide a screenshot of this post, but acknowledged that it addressed a culture of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault in the organization that went overlooked.

The Daily was able to view the post before it was taken down; in it, the poster described their own alleged sexual harassment which saw no action taken, despite reporting it to Band leadership. They also argued that the Band had unsuccessfully tried to address its institutional problems relating to sexual misconduct and assault.

After the post’s removal, a subsequent post accused the Band of “silencing survivors,” to which LSJUMB responded in an Instagram comment that they “are in the process of making changes.”

The SMC page owner did not disclose the identity of the third-party who requested the removal, but Bamberger, who uses they/them pronouns, wrote in a statement to The Daily that they were responsible.

Bamberger said that they requested the removal of the post “in a moment of personal pain driven by [their] own stories of assault in [their] life and the ways in which the series of posts from the Missed Connections page and the surrounding dialogue about sexual assault and harassment mentally and emotionally affected [them].” 

They said that they “regret having [the post] taken down,” adding that they believed their action in removing the post was a mistake.

‘Historically problematic’

Bamberger said that these problems are symptomatic of the organization’s culture and history, and that they are part of a wider University problem of misconduct and assault. 

The Band has long been lauded by students for its eclectic sex-positivity, but drum major Yanal Qushair ’21 noted that that culture has begotten over-sexualized humor, which has at times made members feel uncomfortable and contributed to the overall culture of sexual misconduct. 

Gavin added that the Band had historically taught students to “fear hurting the organization,” discouraging them from coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct and assault. 

Gavin said that after the current staph began their term this past January, the organization began to see necessary cultural shifts, including his own increased involvement. He went from primarily overseeing the education, activities and actions of staph to more of a “hands-on role.”  

In working more closely with staph, Gavin said he became increasingly aware of the Band’s callousness when it came to sexual misconduct. As he and staph worked together to address these issues, he said, “students know now that they can come to me with any concerns they may have and those concerns won’t come back to hurt them.”

Both Gavin and Bamberger acknowledged that multiple people have come forward to Band leadership this year and reported incidents of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault. When asked about incidents reported prior to this January, when the Band saw its change in leadership, Gavin said he did not know how many had occurred. 

When asked what would happen when people went to staph members or other bandmates to report sexual misconduct and assault before January, Gavin said, “I don’t know. I don’t know what would happen.” 

“I hope that they were upstanders, but I don’t know,” he added.

According to Gavin, the fact that the Band director was unaware of what the process of sexual assault reporting between members of the organization looked like in practice. can be attributed to both the Band’s student-run nature and a reliance on reactionary instead of preventative procedures.

Qushair said that “decisions about sexual assault, misconduct, hazing, and substance use always fell on the students.” To him, this burden felt “exhausting” and overwhelming, and it was part of the reason Band staph decided to “empower [their] director to make more decisions on behalf of students” in January.

Gavin said putting Band staph at the forefront of decisions concerning student safety and well-being was a “terribly unsafe practice.” Gavin also said that both he and the current staph are trying to change Band culture and address these issues within the Band’s cultural practices.

Gavin said staph members “have been taught historically that when you are in Band, your number one job is to not end it.” 

“[LSJUMB] is a historically problematic organization, and if you want to be a leader of it, it is your job to navigate all the problems in a way that doesn’t end it. And that is simultaneously misleading and shortsighted,” Gavin said.

Gavin said that an implied duty to protect the Band has created an unsafe environment and emboldened people with nefarious intent to act without fear of consequence.  

Silencing survivors

Band leadership has expressed that these SMC posts represent a useful step toward reforming their institution.

Bamberger said that the “Band does silence survivors,” and that this silencing was a pervasive part of Band culture perpetuated by cultural norms.

To Qushair, this culture of silencing is rooted in the Band’s tight-knit nature. Even though he thinks that “people always wanted to do what’s right,” Qushair pointed to the Band’s confounding social and emotional connections — as well as the sense of tradition — as having interfered with the decision-making and accountability-seeking processes.

Gavin said that “I feel that public posts [about sexual misconduct and assault] are an inevitable part of growth.” He went on to say that these posts force members of the Band and the Stanford community at large to acknowledge uncomfortable truths and “evolve as an organization.”

Despite what he called an expectation to feel defensive or upset, Qushair said that he thought these public allegations were a force for good in raising awareness and sparking necessary change.

Even though allegations against LSJUMB were removed on Instagram, Gavin said that he and this year’s staph were taking steps to change this culture of silencing the survivors of sexual misconduct and assault. 

“If we look at the record of this particular group of student leaders when it comes to conversations about student safety, then you will find it as overwhelmingly positive,” Gavin said.

Bamberger, Qushair and Gavin said they are hopeful that this change is already underway. 

“I want to be able to look back,” Qushair said. “I want to be able to say I was part of the staph that changed Band for the better.” 

July 14, 6:59 p.m.: This article has been corrected to reflect that Gavin became Band director in May 2017, filling a vacancy since June 2016. A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that the position had been vacant for five years. The Daily regrets this error.

July 15, 12:28 p.m.: This article has been updated to clarify that while Gavin knew what the process of reporting harassment and assault was officially, he was not aware of what it looked like in practice.

Contact Ari Gabriel at arijgab ‘at’ and Michael Alisky at malisky ‘at’

Ari Gabriel ’23 is a staff writer for the Equity Project and Campus Life desk and occasionally writes for arts and satire. She is majoring in Product Design, and she is unironically into all things possum, to an alarming extent. Contact her at agabriel ‘at’ Alisky '24 is a contributing writer for the News section studying international relations and computer science. He is from Aurora, Colorado, and enjoys backpacking and playing chess in his free time. Contact The Daily’s News section at news ‘at’

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