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Hazing Remains an Issue for College Marching Bands

In a recent survey, nearly one-third of band members observed hazing incidents, but few reported them.
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(Photo: William Murphy/Flickr)

(Photo: William Murphy/Flickr)

When Robert Champion, a member of the Florida A&M Marching Band, died in a 2011 hazing incident, there was hope that the widespread publicity would help quash the culture of mistreatment. But according to a recently published study, abuse—albeit usually verbal rather than physical—remains widespread among these high-profile college musical institutions.

In a large-scale survey, “nearly 30 percent of respondents indicated they observed some form of hazing in their marching band,” report Jason Silveira of Oregon State University and Michael Hudson of the University of Kentucky.

“The most common acts of hazing involved public verbal humiliation or degradation, which generally went unreported,” they write in the Journal of Research in Music Education.

Nearly 30 percent said they had observed some form of hazing among members of their band.

The researchers surveyed 1,215 members of college marching bands from 30 schools. The respondents were given a list of hazing behaviors and asked whether they had ever experienced or perpetrated them.

Just over 19 percent responded that they had been "yelled, cursed, or sworn at,” and/or forced to “sing/chant by self or with select others in public in a situation that is not related to an event, rehearsal, or performance.”

Those were also the behaviors members were most likely to admit forcing others to perform.

Participants were then given a detailed definition of hazing: “any activity expected of someone joining a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.”

Based on that description, nearly 30 percent said they had observed some form of hazing among members of their band. More troubling still, 60 percent of those who saw such activity going on believed their teachers were aware of the situation.

Not surprisingly, only eight percent said they had ever reported a hazing incident to a teacher or administrator. Their reasons included: “I was afraid I would lose the respect of my friends,” and ”I felt it would have a negative effect on my participation in marching band.”

Only 4.4 percent of the student musicians “felt they had been hazed,” a figure that “suggests a possible disconnect between how hazing is defined legally or institutionally, and what students perceive as hazing,” the authors write.

To help remedy this, Silveira and Hudson suggest all band members should be provided with “a list of behaviors/examples that have been defined as hazing” to clarify what constitutes inappropriate behavior. They also recommend each university create “an anonymous reporting website” that would allow students to alert authorities to such incidents.

After all, public humiliation shouldn't be a prerequisite for participating in half-time performances.

Findings is a daily column by Pacific Standard staff writer Tom Jacobs, who scours the psychological-research journals to discover new insights into human behavior, ranging from the origins of our political beliefs to the cultivation of creativity.