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The creation of the Columbia University Marching Band's new sexual assault policy follows a number of alleged assaults within the band.

Updated Oct. 1, 10:05 a.m.

While Columbia University Marching Band members are excited about the group's new sexual assault policy, the policy comes after a number of instances of alleged sexual assault within the band.

The band's current Bored developed the policy to provide support to survivors of sexual assault and to create a discourse within the band about these issues.

The Community Standards Agreement treats all allegations of assault as truth, and stipulates that Bored members must take steps against any member reported as an alleged assailant.

"We don't care if something is not confirmed, we aren't interested in having alleged perpetrators in our group," CUMB Head Manager Edith Lerner, BC '16, said in an official statement. "We recognize that there could be problems with the policy, but we wanted it implement it [sic] right away so that our new members this year knew right off the bat what our values are and how serious we are about our community."

After creating the policy, the Bored chose to submit it to the Office of Judicial Affairs for review. Lerner said that the band will consider any suggestions made by the office, but ultimately CUMB feels that the policy is within its rights as a student group.

The Office of Judicial Affairs did not respond to request for comment by press time.

'Zero tolerance'

According to the band, the policy has already been used to prohibit two alumni from coming to band events.

One of the alumni was expelled at the request of another band member, who asked to remain anonymous because she had reported her alleged assault anonymously to the Title IX Office. The student told Spectator that the alumnus allegedly rubbed her back, kissed her neck, and tried to pick her up at a band member's personal party in January 2014.

The anonymous member said that she told the head manager about the alleged unwanted physical contact, but that she did not believe the head manager took her allegations seriously.

After reporting the incident to the Title IX office, the student said she was informed that the University had no jurisdiction over the alleged assailant because he no longer attended Columbia. The anonymous student said that CUMB Spirit Manager Karl Wagner, CC '16, emailed the student on Sept. 13 to apologize for the delay in addressing the incident, and said that the alumnus would be given a warning and that, if another incident occurred, the Bored would enact its zero tolerance policy.

The anonymous band member responded that she did not consider the incident sexual harassment, but rather sexual assault, and the zero tolerance policy should be enacted immediately. The band followed through.

'I think we failed'

Other band members, including a few members on the Bored that created the policy, said that they had been assaulted at band events as well.

Lerner said in an interview that she was assaulted at a band party during her first year at Columbia. She said that she didn't formally disclose the alleged assault to any members of the Bored, though she did informally tell then-Band Equipment Manager Trip Eggert, BC '16.

Lerner added that the Bored at that time had no policy or procedure in place to address alleged cases of sexual assault.

"And in that respect, I think we failed," Lerner said. "But, we've never had a process in place for someone who discloses to demand something or to know what their rights are within the band—and that's something that was really missing."

Eggert—who said that she was also assaulted—said that she, too, was concerned about disclosing her alleged assault to the Bored at the time it occurred because her alleged assailant had a more senior position in the band than she did.

"I felt uncomfortable making a big deal," Eggert said. "And I didn't immediately conceive of the marching band as a resource I should have turned to in that situation—and I don't think you normally would. It felt very personal, and it felt like something that wasn't OK to talk about not just in the band, but in the larger world."

Eggert believes the closeness of the band community made reporting what happened difficult when the group was under different leadership.

"The head manager that took over—he did not believe that it was the Bored's responsibility to intervene in situations like this, which I think was a big mistake," Eggert said. "I'm very happy that the people that are in charge now are people who realize that that is something that creates a pervasive culture of forced silence. And that was the situation that I was working in."

After hearing about Lerner's suggested assault, Eggert suggested the band began holding consent workshops for CUMB members. In August 2013, the Bored first discussed creating consent training while Victoria Birmingham, BC '15, was head manager. But Birmingham then stepped down and Peter Andrews, CC '14 and a former Spectator copy editor, sports columnist, and editorial board member, assumed the role of head manager, a position he previously held from Nov. 2011 to Nov. 2012.

Jessica Karch, CC '15 and the band's current drum major, said in an email that discussions of consent education fell by the wayside during the leadership turnover, which occurred just as football season was beginning.

"Because of the confusion when Vicki left, Peter did not get a lot of information about this situation," said Karch, who was then the band's personnel manager. "This was our impetus for creating the policy this year to research and lay out exactly how the bored should respond."

Although the band's leadership turned over again at its normal time in Nov. 2013 with Lerner assuming the head manager position, the band's Bored did not discuss consent education again until this past summer, according to Wagner.

"The consent training was indefinitely postponed. Honestly, that again happened in a private conversation because none of this was happening with Bored as a unit," Wagner said. "I think there was some fear by some of Bored and of the band as a whole that to present consent education at first rehearsal might have a negative effect in the sense that as opposed to being proactive, it might look reactive and that we were acknowledging that there was some sort of institutional problem in there."

This summer, under Lerner's leadership, Bored members decided to draft a policy about how to deal with sexual assault within the band instead of only holding consent education sessions. The band also held a bystander intervention training session this fall.

"We've lived through these experiences and know what we wished we would have had, and we hope that everyone else has the resources that we may not have known about or thought were unavailable," Lerner said.

Lerner and Eggert said that sexual assault activism both on Columbia's campus and in the national spotlight also propelled the band's policy forward.

"The policy is more to address what we saw as the Bored failure at the time, which was a bureaucratic one," Wagner said. "We hadn't investigated exactly where our rights were as an E-board."

'Not a band-specific problem'

The band is known for having parties in its Bandsuite—an East Campus suite that houses band members each year. Band events vary in attendance policies—sometimes, events are open to only members of the band, while other times friends of band members are welcome.

"There are some parties, but they're not wild and crazy—band seems to have this stereotype of being just completely nuts—we have some weird traditions, but to me it just seems like a very accepting group of people," Allison Murdoch, BC '16, and a member of the band, said. "Drinking is a part of the social life in band, but it's definitely not the most essential part. I think the most essential part of band culture is going in with an open mind, and being willing to play along with the silly traditions you have."

Despite the parties and number of alleged assaults within the band, Eggert said that she did not believe the band explicitly had 'a rape culture.'

"It's not a band-specific problem," Eggert said. "It's a problem that exists on our campus, on all campuses, in all student groups that I've been a part of. I think that the only thing that sets band apart is the fact that we've actually stood up and said something about how it's not OK."

"I think the band recognizes that that's an issue because sexual assaults happen with people you know and trust, or think you trust, and the band wants to nip that in the bud and say we recognize that this is a tight-knit social group," Murdoch said. "But we also recognize that this can cause problems because people are going to be reluctant to report anyone who steps out of line."

Overall, Murdoch said she still felt the policy was a preventive measure.

"So I think band's trying to respond to this issue of people being assaulted by people in their social groups and preventing it from being an issue in the first place," Murdoch said.

Samantha Cooney contributed reporting.


elizabeth.sedran@columbiaspectator.com  |  @ezactron

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Lerner's school. Additionally, an earlier version of this story said that Eggert suggested the band implement consent education after her own alleged assault when she, in fact, suggested it after she learned of Lerner's alleged assault. Spectator regrets the errors.

sexual assault Columbia University Marching Band cumb Office of Judicial Affairs
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