Different Drumbeat: Rice U. Band Demonstrates against Campus Sexual Assault

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September 18, 2016; KGBT-TV (Rio Grande Valley, TX)

In recent weeks, athletes across several leagues have turned sporting events into public platforms for protest. While media spotlight and national conversation has largely centered on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s choice to quietly abstain from standing during the National Anthem as a way to express his stance on police brutality and racial injustice, this weekend, a university’s marching band took to the field to make their own kind of statement.

In a Friday night football game between Rice University and Baylor University, Rice’s marching band used its halftime performance to deliver a bold message to the opposing team. Via human configuration, Rice University’s Marching Owl Band (MOB)—a band that according to Rice’s website never actually marchesformed a Roman numeral IX and quickly followed with a rendition of the classic, “Hit the Road, Jack.” Presumably, the formation, a reminder of Title IX ban on sexual discrimination, was a knock on Baylor and a way for Rice to ridicule the school and its recent sexual assault scandals. The song also served as a not-so-friendly farewell to the since-resigned Kenneth Starr, who served as university president amid the height of the scandals.

The MOB is well known for its halftime demonstrations, and while its statements on the gridiron have drummed up controversy before, some say the band’s decision to mock Baylor for the numerous reports of its football players being involved in alleged rape and sexual assault incidents and its administration’s failure to appropriately address such complaints went a little too far.

In response to those sharing their discomfort with the marching band’s public display, Rice University’s Office of Public Affairs issued an apology for any offense taken as a result of the halftime show. In summary, the statement explains that although MOB did intend to lampoon the inaction of Baylor’s leadership, its delivery may have gone overboard, especially when considering the sensitive and serious subject matter at the core of the demonstration.

Rice University’s swift action to address the concerns of those bothered by the band’s demonstration was ironically more diligent than the steps Baylor took—or didn’t take—to address the reports it received of sexual assault on its campus. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), sexual assault is more prevalent on college campuses than any other crime, with 11.2 percent of students experiencing rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation—and those are just the cases that are reported.

Given the prevalence of sexual assault in college settings and the corresponding idleness of many administrative “leaders,” it might be worth our energy to get fired up about the fact that this continues to plague our campuses at such an alarming rate, rather than the way in which a marching band chooses to participate in the national dialogue over the matter. There is other, much more serious music to face here.—Lindsay Walker