Jordan Zietz ’24 has been hurt many times throughout his life. He’s broken both of his ankles, both knees, both wrists, his back and burned out his left retina.
But for Zietz, the 44th Tree of the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (LSJUMB), it was an “emotionally devastating” blow when he was informed Sunday afternoon that he was suspended by the Band from his role for carrying a “Stanford Hates Fun” banner at the Oct. 22 football game.
The official Twitter account for the Stanford Tree, @DaStanfordTree, confirmed Zietz’s suspension Sunday. Though the initial tweet attributed the decision to Stanford, a later tweet from the account clarified that Band student leadership made the decision.
In a statement to The Daily, students on the Band Executive Committee wrote they decided to suspend Zietz “because of his use of the platform for personal benefit without going through or inquiring about appropriate processes, therefore violating the norms and expectations of the position. This decision was completely unrelated to the content of his message and to the ‘war on fun.’”
A Stanford athletic department spokesperson confirmed the band’s account of the responsibility for the suspension in a statement to ESPN: “The students comprising the executive committee of the LSJUMB have suspended the Tree mascot due to a violation of the band’s policies and processes,” the spokesperson wrote.
Zietz will be permitted to return to serving as the Tree in January 2023. In the meantime, the 43rd Tree, Grayson Armour ’22, will return as the mascot. Zietz told The Daily that he was “taken aback” by the suspension and that the decision “is going to be heartbreaking for a lot of people.”
The decision has further sparked conversations surrounding the recent shift in the Band’s culture and the University’s approach to “fun” on campus. The “War on Fun” that Zietz referenced in his banner, which he carried alongside the Arizona State mascot at the homecoming weekend football game, refers to the sentiment among some students that the University has moved to restrict student social life.
The Tree is the official mascot of the Band and is recognized unofficially as the University’s mascot. It was unofficially instated after protests in 1972 led the University to remove the previous Indian mascot and efforts to officially establish a new one failed. Since 1975, the Tree has appeared with the Stanford Band at football games.
Armour told The Daily that his decision to serve as interim Tree is to maintain the history of the Tree being explicitly selected by the previous Tree.
“When Jordan got suspended, the band leadership came to me and said, like, the Executive Committee has taken on the responsibility of finding a temporary Tree in the meantime, and I stopped them right there and I was like, ‘No, I’m coming back,’” said Armour.
This is not the first time the tree has been suspended: The 28th Tree was suspended in February 2006 for public drinking during a game and the 29th in March 2006 for dancing in an undesignated area. In December 2016, the entire Band was notably banned for several months for alcohol violations. However, according to Zietz, his suspension is the first for non-legal reasons.
The Band has also undergone changes in recent years. In the fall of 2020, the Band transitioned from a Voluntary Student Organization (VSO) to being under the Department of Athletics (DAPER). At the same time, its Constitution, which allowed student self-expression such as kneeling during the national anthem and taping “Abolish ICE” on the back of their jackets, was dissolved, according to Band social chair and recruiter Noah Bartelt ’23, who described there being a significant “culture shift” since he joined the Band in 2019.
Bartelt said the changes to the Band’s structure have concentrated decision-making power toward Band director Russell Gavin and a five-member executive committee of students.
Armour agreed that the Band dynamics are “extremely different” now and that it’s not clear that the Tree has to receive approval to express their opinion at events.
Zietz said he had asked Gavin for clarification on the limits of expression but was not given a clear answer.
“This was something that I thought I could express but they cited that, ‘Although self expression is great, self expression goes hand in hand with self-awareness,’” Zietz said. “I feel sort of taken advantage of. It’s a pretty ugly feeling and a little yucky.”
When asked by The Daily to clarify what “self-awareness” means, Gavin did not directly answer.
“While I did not contribute directly to this decision, it is clear that the band student leaders who were involved engaged in thoughtful and considerate processes in arriving at this outcome,” Gavin wrote in an email to The Daily.
Bartelt said that other Band members told him that they think the suspension is a “really, really hardcore punishment.” While initially some members were mildly concerned that Zietz’s Oct. 22 display had interrupted the planned field show, Bartelt said none of the staff had any desire for Zietz to be punished.
“I think it’s more than a little extreme. I think it’s pretty ridiculous, to be honest with you,” Bartelt said. “As a result of these structural changes to [the] Band, people now are much more nervous to express their opinions publicly. People are much more conflict-averse. I think people fear retaliation in their leadership positions and things like that.”
Some students unaffiliated with the Band also expressed their disappointment with the decision. On social media, some students have coalesced their concerns for Zietz’s suspension into the hashtag #FreeTheTree and in discussions to plan protests. Students on Fizz, an anonymous student-oriented social media platform, have circulated calls for students to dress as trees at Saturday’s football game in protest of the suspension. A petition calling for the Tree to be reinstated collected 379 signatures as of Monday night.
“I love the Tree. I love the Stanford Band. I think the Tree and the Band epitomizes everything about Stanford — you know, kind of wacky, relentless spirit of this group of students that’s here to study, to work hard, but also to have fun and to let loose,” Cameron Krouch ’25 said. “It’s great to see somebody finally using the platform that they have with the University to voice the discontent that all the students have.”
Some students also expressed their concern that the suspension of the de facto school mascot “sends the message that criticism of Stanford won’t be tolerated” and hints at future censorship on other issues.
“If students are going to be afraid that they can’t express [their opinions] on relatively non-consequential issues, how can we expect students to genuinely voice the problems that they have with the University without fearing repercussions?” Krouch said.
Zietz, who says he originally auditioned for the role of the Tree because he saw it as a “fantastic form of self-expression,” is now unclear what rights he has as the band mascot, and as a student.
“As somebody who’s a huge advocate of free speech, it’s honestly a little scary,” Zietz said. “Tree means so much. Tree means being able to be the University’s number-one fan and a component of that is calling for change when it’s necessary.”
Zietz said the suspension shifted his outlook on Stanford.
“When I first got into Stanford, I thought it was the most magical place on Earth,” Zietz said. “Now, especially following my suspension for self-expression, I guess my dreams weren’t as real as I expected them to be.”
A previous version of this story misspelled Zietz and Bartelt. The Daily regrets this error.