Columbia Daily Spectator Jan. 21 2003
by Isolde Raftery Band Hits Contrary Chord at Orgo Bash By finals week last semester, it seemed the Columbia University Marching Band had more enemies than supporters. Some faculty were upset by a mocking poster of Edward Said, and the Barnard College gates shut out the band before it could waddle in for its clang and bang early morning show. But what really flared tempers was the Orgo Night script, which likened its Barnard fan base to "battered women" who "keep coming back for more." For the past 30 years, CUMB has invaded Butler Library during finals week to deliver its rousing Orgo Night speech. This year, as Averill Leslie, CC '05-- the band's poet laureate--ran through Barnard jokes atop a Butler library desk, he faced a new obstacle: a protester. Brook Griffin, CC '05, interrupted Leslie, reading from a flyer that read, "No to Sexists, No to Racists, No to Homophobes." The crowd booed Griffin until he retreated, but friend Gideon Shapiro, CC '04-- who was there to enjoy "the party in the library"--decided to start a quieter campaign. Shapiro wrote a letter to the band's manager, Dan Binder, CC '05, and sent a mass e-mail with an opinion submission intended for Spectator attached. (Editor's note: That submission appears on today's op-ed page.) "I began to feel offended and alienated by the slew of sexist jokes," Shapiro said. "Afterward, I thought that I wanted to respond." Tamsen Greene, BC '04, argued that the Barnard jokes comprised thinly veiled sexism. "This widespread attack on the rights and issues of women through a pretend attack on Barnard is ridiculous," she wrote in an e-mail. "What if it were all girls that they were writing about, Columbia girls included? Then it would be so much less acceptable." Communication within the band "got out of hand" even more than it did after the controversial 2002 football game at Fordham, Binder said. In that incident, then-speech writer Andy Hao, CC '05, quipped that "Fordham tuition is going down like an altar boy," which Binder called a turning point for the band. After this year's Orgo Night, Binder announced a meeting in his East Campus suite. "For issues like sexism, tempers fly," he said. "It's better to deal with them face-to-face." "There were [band members] saying, 'you can't make fun of this; you have to take it seriously as well.'" Leslie said. Though he disagrees that making a joke about Barnard is akin to making a sexist joke, he said that he "went through the script again, and I said, 'you're right. I regret those two spots.'" "The band is awful, in general," Leslie said. "Fortunately, I think that most of the things we do are awful in an enjoyable way. These sort of awful things are just part of what it is. We try to limit them." "It's different when the criticism comes from within the student body," Binder explained. "It's not fun to offend someone you have to sit in class with." Binder referred specifically to Jeeho Lee, the president of the Student Government Association, who was not at Orgo Night ("I was at midnight breakfast with most of Barnard," she said), but heard about it and promptly placed an angry phone call to Binder. "We're trying to get back into Barnard's good graces," Binder said. "It would be a shame not to end with a strictly musical show at Barnard." A prickly relationship with the SGA's president over the script content, he noted, might put the band at a disadvantage. During the football season, Jerry Sherwin, CC '55 and former president of Columbia's Alumni Association, reads over the scripts before each game. Dean of Academic Affairs for Columbia College Katherine Yatrakis is the band's unofficial adviser, as CUMB was formally changed to a Teachers College group several years ago after a spat with the College over storage. But when it comes to Orgo Night, the final approval regarding scripts rests with Leslie. The University does not have speech codes, though on occasion Yatrakis issues a gentle reminder to the band to behave. "We're more extreme because we can be," Leslie said. "This football season, we were edgier because of our good working relationship with Jerry." Leslie said he believes Orgo Night "would die" if a censor were imposed. Although he opposed the Orgo Night scripts, Shapiro agreed that censorship is unnecessary. "I think the community can self-regulate," he said. "This goes beyond the band. This is an opportunity to break open discussion on campus." Binder said that he hoped the band would be more creative when looking for future joke fodder. "We'll be forced to have a better script next year," he said. "We learn from our experiences. [It's] time we wake up and realize that these are issues within the band also."