10 Ways Drum Corps Can Create a Safer Environment

future of drum corps

One year ago, Tricia Nadolny from the Philadelphia Inquirer released “Breaking A Long Silence,” revealing cases of sexual assault and harassment committed by George Hopkins, the former director of the Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps.

As April arrives and members finalize their new summer homes, here are 10 ways that drum corps can create a healthier, safer environment for the marching arts community:

Teach the policies and procedures: In the past year, Drum Corps International (DCI), the nonprofit organization overseeing most drum corps, responded by creating a new code of conduct and ethics, and updating their policies and procedures. All members, staff and volunteers should know their rights to health and safety and how to report misconduct.

Enforce the policies and procedures: Following the updated policies and procedures, DCI held a mandatory webinar on these updates, which I watched as a staff member. During the screening, members and staff were either laughing or sleeping. This summer, let’s make sure to continue the conversation and to track the enforcement of these policies and procedures effectively.

Know the signs: Make sure to know the signs of misconduct or abuse. As a previous performer and current staff member, I’ve learned the warning signs of broken boundaries between staff and members, which can include: staff and members spending excess alone time together or preferential treatment (offering solos, gifts, covering tour fees).

Don’t teach that talent is tantamount to character: Make sure your members and staff reflect good character and teaching ability in addition to their talent. Instead of hiring friends who’ve climbed the ladder through popularity, hire staff for their ability to educate. Offer better role models for the students that will be future instructors.

Be aware of power dynamics: Regardless of age, staff should be aware of and reminded of their inherent power dynamics. Staff need to be thoroughly trained on power hierarchies, consent, and coercion. Even if a marching member is of the legal age of consent, they are still a student, who look to staff for approval and success.

Don’t encourage silence: One victim disclosed of dropping a sexual-harassment case against Hopkins in fear of hurting the organization; a feeling community members often empathize with. Instead of dropping complaints, let’s drop silent corruption.

Monitor the alumni: Some alumni come back to corps with a sense of entitlement. Ownership or being a donor to the corps has been used to justify the harassment of corps members. Look out for inappropriate posts or messages from alumni, and remind them of that they don’t have authority over members. Legacy does not grant a right to someone’s body.

Not all tradition is law: Tradition is one of the most beautiful parts of drum corps, but it can also be the most painful. Tradition is different from hazing, which is often secret, sexist, and abusive. Remind member’s that it isn’t tradition if it hurts.

Sexual health IS physical health: Since the Hopkins news, drum corps have done a tremendous job increasing their attention to member health through new and improved medical staff. New media, like Flomarching, a live-stream media and event coverage for marching arts outlet, have featured resources like Marching Health who educate on conditioning and injuries. We need to emphasize and equate sexual health to physical health and give it the same media attention as these other topics.

Have fun: Make sure everyone is having fun, but not conditional fun. As a performer, I felt a constant, unspoken understanding amongst members that I should forget about the bad experiences; the only thing that should matter is that you got through it. The culture taught me to believe that harassment is intrinsic to the experience; why worry about the bad when I should be grateful I made it to World Championships? This summer, let’s ditch this language, and encourage safe and healthy fun, free from harassment, abuse, exploitation, and assault.

“Breaking A Long Silence,” is just the beginning. The news about Hopkins signified a movement for the marching arts — one that was long overdue. The future of drum corps is dependent on those within and accountability for the absolute health and safety belongs to all persons involved in DCI.

Cover image via Drum Corps International