UC Davis suspends marching band after Sacramento Bee investigation of raucous culture, hazing

The UC Davis Cal Aggie Marching Band was placed on interim suspension Wednesday pending an investigation into misconduct, university officials said.

The announcement comes less than a week after The Sacramento Bee published an investigation into allegations of hazing, binge drinking and sexual misconduct within the band.

“The Division of Student Affairs has placed the Cal Aggie Marching Band (CAMB) on interim suspension pending the completion of the independent review of recent allegations of misconduct,” said interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Emily Galindo in a statement.

The UC Davis Cal Aggie Marching Band Alumni Association was previously suspended in winter quarter 2018 due to allegations of misconduct against a member. The suspension was expanded to include the student marching band Wednesday.

The band’s suspension comes amid a nationwide #MeToo movement that has sparked a reevaluation among college administrators over how they handle sexual abuse accusations, hazing and binge drinking. On many campuses, behavior that was once dismissed as “kids being kids” is leading to punishment and sanctions for students, fraternities and other groups.

Hank Nuwer, a hazing expert from Franklin College in Indiana, said it was important for the university to act on the allegations.

“It’s very difficult to convince students to report or change behavior,” he said. “So there really is no two ways about it. It either continues or the university probably will have to end activities, trying to curtail it. It’s going to lead to some big blow back, but the university does have the power to stop all activities at least for a certain amount of time to have genuine reforms and not just lip service to reforms.”

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In a campus email sent to band members, students were told the practice room will be inaccessible to students starting Friday at 5 p.m. Officers’ key cards to the room were deactivated, the email said.

Band events and performances are canceled until further notice, including their performance at UC Davis commencement ceremonies in June. Students were also asked to turn in their instrument if it is university property.

“While difficult, the University finds this is necessary while serious charges are investigated,” said Jeff Heiser, associate director of UC Davis Campus Recreation and Unions in an email to band students. “After completion of the external and internal reviews, the University will determine the appropriate outcome based on the findings.”

Ema Seijas, a former section leader in the band who still pays dues, said Wednesday that when she and others came forward to describe their experiences, their hope was the band would be suspended so it could change its troublesome ways. She said she was thrilled to learn that the university took action.

“We never really thought it would happen,” she said. “We just wanted people to realize how bad the band was behind the scenes.”

Seijas said her hope is the band can reform to focus on the music and camaraderie. “That’s our goal,” she said. “Just have the music and the fun and none of the other stuff.”


Why did we report this story?

Allegations of misconduct within California Aggie Marching Band first surfaced in April in the UC Davis campus newspaper, The California Aggie. In the days that followed, a number of former band members reached out to The Sacramento Bee’s tipline urging us to dig deeper. Initial interviews and research pointed to serious problems that had lingered at the band for decades. When the university decided to hire an outside lawyer to investigate the band’s behavior, it became clear we needed to investigate.

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How did we report the story?

We began calling past and former students, many of whom asked not to be identified out of fear of bullying and retaliation. In total, we attempted to contact close to 50 students in an effort to tell the most complete, accurate and fair story about life inside Band-Uh! A student provided us with copies of the raunchy hymnal, and shared a cell phone video of band members performing on campus in their underwear. We also visited eight homes in west Davis that students had told us where known as “band houses,” places were band members lived and hosted wild parties. We filed three requests under the California Public Records Act seeking police records and university investigative files. Those requests were denied, with officials citing various privacy exemptions under state law. We are still pursuing that information, and this story.

Who did we speak to?

Band members, band alumni, university officials, police, hazing experts, and the family of Renne Morrow, the student who died on the way to a band party after being struck by a car.

The Bee’s investigation last week featured interviews with past and current band members who described a culture of hazing, binge drinking and people taking off their clothes. Three people said they had sexual experiences so traumatizing they sought professional therapy, and one woman said she had to be hospitalized for a psychotic breakdown.

The Bee obtained a copy of the band’s “Hymnal,” which contains 68 pages of songs about sex, bestiality, incest, rape, masturbation, oral copulation, and is decorated with hand-drawn pornographic illustrations. The Bee also obtained video taken last year at a band practice on campus, featuring several students performing in their underwear.

Students described an alcohol-saturated, “hyper-sexualized” culture in which people are encouraged to “make out” with as many as possible. The students shared stories of “Shirts-Off O’clock,” in which partygoers take off their shirts at a set time. One woman said alleged she was groped during a naked hot tub session one of the band’s sections hosts at an annual retreat called “Cabin” held in the Tahoe area.

Others alleged they faced hazing. One woman said she was given a dirty T-shirt for winning the “Wise-Ass Freshman Award,” then vomited and passed out after she was pressured to drink copiously from a bottle of bourbon. A man said he was forced to wear a hood and was slapped before being pressured to drink large amounts of alcohol.

The allegations of inappropriate conduct, some of which were first published in The California Aggie, the UC Davis student newspaper, prompted university officials to hire the Sacramento law firm Van Dermyden Maddux to conduct an independent review.

While the university has described the California Aggie Marching Band as “one of the proudest, most spirited and best loved organizations on the UC Davis campus,” similar allegations of troublesome behavior have dogged the band for longer than some of its current band members have been alive.

The band was placed on 10 months probation in 1992 after reports of underage drinking, hazing and sexual harassment. And in 2008, the band’s director filed a formal sexual harassment complaint, accusing the students he was hired to oversee of raunchy behavior.

Scott Frost, sousaphone player on the band’s officer council, said he was saddened by the suspension, but he understands why the university made the decision.

He said the band has been working to move away from the transgressions of the past. In fact, he said, the band was supposed to meet Wednesday to discuss how to move forward, but the band can’t do that under the suspension. With graduation looming, he said he was disappointed the band can’t perform.

“We’re all here to provide that spirit,” he said. “And it’s just sad.“

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