The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps and the entire drum corps community try to heal and evolve with new philosophies and policies after disturbing sexual allegations came to light.
On April 5, 2018, the drum corps world forever changed when the Philadelphia Inquirer (Philly.com) published an in-depth investigative report titled “The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps: A History of Alleged Sexual Abuse.” Nine women detailed allegations of sexual assault—including rape, statutory rape, and harassment—spanning 40 years at the hands of then-executive director George Hopkins.
In the following days, the drum corps community reeled as reports of more women came forward. The entire board of directors for The Cadets parent organization, Youth Education in the Arts (YEA!), resigned and was replaced. The new board fired Hopkins and implemented many other changes.
Drum Corps International (DCI) put The Cadets on probation and has since released a new code of conduct and participant safety policies. At the same time, other drum corps examined their own philosophies and histories.
Prior to the Philly.com report, complainants had contacted the YEA! board through an attorney and anonymous letters. YEA! conducted an internal investigation but couldn’t come to an agreement with the group of women, prompting the press involvement.
Doug Rutherford, now YEA!’s chairman of the board and a former Cadets drum major and staff member, had heard initial rumors but didn’t know what to think without more information. Rutherford says that Hopkins contacted him saying he had started to formulate a multi-year succession plan in case he had to leave the corps someday—and then the report hit.
“It really hit me when I read the article, and I knew [the accusations were true],” says Rutherford, a software marketing executive. “Each of the women that told their stories in that article? I knew them all. It was horrifying. These are women that I marched with or have gotten to know over the years.”
Cadets alum and former Crossmen Drum and Bugle Corps director Scott Litzenberg lives just outside of Philadelphia and reads Philly.com on the daily. He also knew almost all the women in the article from marching or from his work as a DCI event coordinator for the last 20 years.
“I was stunned, I was very shocked, but in some ways, I wasn’t surprised,” Litzenberg says. “There are a lot of things through many years that you just hear, see, and get frustrated with. He didn’t always treat me very nicely as an alumnus and professional. There are some things that I was always concerned about but never at the level of anything that I read in that article.”
As Litzenberg and Rutherford carpooled to an informal gathering of Cadets alumni, including some of the victims, they both committed to help save the organization.
“We didn’t know at the time that a few days later, he’d be chairman of the new board, and a month later, I’d be the corps director,” says Litzenberg, who had been teaching at Unionville High School from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, prior to directing The Cadets. “We both committed to, if we can do this, we’re going to take care of this drum corps.”
Corps and Codes
Shortly after the George Hopkins news, the Crossmen Drum and Bugle Corps came under public scrutiny regarding the hiring of assistant director Joel Moody, a former high school band director who lost his teaching license for sending inappropriate sexual text messages to a student. Several women in the Crossmen organization also came forward to say that Moody acted inappropriately with them while with the Crossmen.
In light of his hiring and promotion of Moody, Fred Morrison resigned from his post as DCI’s chairman of the board of directors but retained his position as Crossmen executive director. Moody reportedly will not tour with the Crossmen this summer.
DCI’s board elected Kathy Black, a New Mexico lawyer and marching arts advocate, as its first-ever female chairperson.
Historically, each member corps operated independently with only broad DCI oversight. DCI began a strategic planning process in 2016, and in light of current national events, the committee had started working to incorporate the subject of sexual misconduct.
“Of course what we began to do was accelerated immensely to make sure this code of conduct and guidelines was developed,” says Dan Acheson, executive director/CEO of DCI, referring to the time period after the Hopkins news. “The board of directors realized that we at least needed established guidelines that we’d expect any participating organization to have in place, and if for whatever reason they did not, they’re required to now.”
The new DCI “Community Code of Conduct, Ethics Guidelines and Expectations for Participating Organizations” was released on May 16. The 14-page document (available at dci.org under “Participant Safety”) gives a detailed description of DCI’s values and guidelines for respect, anti-discrimination, sexual misconduct, prohibition of sexual activity with minors, prohibition of staff/participant sexual relations, mandatory reporting, social media, and retaliation. It ends with more information on DCI’s reporting expectations for the corps and an appendix of resources for sexual misconduct survivors.
“Each group obviously is different, but what we’re doing is providing the coaching that we can; we provide them with a variety of sample documents to take a look at,” Acheson says. “Then we make sure that they understand they’re just samples, given their state laws and other areas where they need to comply.”
The guidelines encompass all organizations participating in any aspect of DCI, including international groups and SoundSport teams. However very small or infrequent groups may find that many of the sections aren’t relevant to what they do. For example, a SoundSport group might not do overnight travel or have any minor-aged performers, rendering those sections irrelevant.
Many other DCI member corps released public statements expressing their sadness, support of the victims, and/or their own organization’s commitment to participant safety. Some, like the Pacific Crest Drum and Bugle Corps from Diamond Bar, California, highlighted their existing policies and whistleblower reporting mechanisms. (See pacific-crest.org under “About: Policies and Procedures.”)
“As the number of staff started to grow in the late 2000s, we recognized the need for a formal document to codify our expectations of our instructors,” says Stuart Pompel, executive director of Pacific Crest. “Our job and the job of all participating organizations is to continue to work closely with DCI—as we always have—to help steer the activity toward a more open, inclusive, and safe environment for performers, staff, and volunteers.”
YEA! quickly worked to compose and release new policies (available at yea.org under “Resources”) that are stricter and go into much more detail than what DCI requires, laying out specifics for misconduct reporting mechanisms, harassment definitions, bus seating, sleeping arrangements, restroom and shower procedures, fraternization, and background checks for staff and volunteers.
“It’s bizarre to think an organization at this level didn’t have most of those policies,” Litzenberg says. “That’s what any good 501(c)(3) not-for-profit youth organizations should be doing. To not have those in place in the past was not right. Now I feel really good that we’re on track to do this the right way, above board, and very forward with how we’re thinking about it.”
Everyone stressed the ongoing importance of continuing to examine and improve the policies as living documents, welcoming suggestions from the participants and community at large.
“Going forward, I think YEA! and DCI will continue to go well beyond what’s required,” Acheson says. “We all need to be vigilant, and we all need to continue to do the right thing—not just put a policy in place and then keep doing what you’re doing. No, the culture’s gotta change.”
Acheson says The Cadets organization has so far met all conditions of probation, which will be evaluated and likely lifted in September.
The Cadets Regroup
So far, YEA!’s new board of directors has taken operational actions to ensure that The Cadets and Cadets2 would tour this summer and to preserve USBands, a regional high school competition circuit run by YEA!.
“[Our priorities were] first and foremost to make sure that it’s a safe environment for all participants in YEA! and The Cadets, period. Non-negotiable,” Rutherford says. “Number two is to meet the obligations of the organization to the folks that are buying into the program, … stabilize everything to make sure we can continue on.”
In the wake of the scandal, no performers left the corps; no staff other than Hopkins left either. Sean King, who had been named interim executive director, was temporarily suspended when news surfaced that he may have failed to report sexual misconduct; however, King has been cleared during an investigation and invited to rejoin the staff. USBands is on track for the same number of participating groups and events as the previous year.
“We didn’t lose one member; not one kid quit this drum corps,” Litzenberg says. “They all want to be Cadets. It just proves to you that this is really about the organization more than a person. The Cadets are what people are here for and not just George Hopkins or anybody else. I’m really proud of these kids and the staff for just hanging in there.”
Hopkins was well-known throughout the entire drum corps community for his big but often polarizing personality and leadership style. He led The Cadets to 10 DCI World Championships, created YEA! and USBands, championed the allowance and use of electronics on the field, and was inducted into the DCI Hall of Fame. (While The Cadets organization has already revoked Hopkins from its corps-specific Hall of Fame, DCI is currently discussing the possibility of his removal from the larger Hall of Fame as well.)
At YEA!, his involvement created a massive bottleneck; he held no fewer than five senior executive positions and had a hand in all aspects of the organization.
“We’re not trying to replace exactly how he did things; we’re trying to say what should this look like to operate a World Class organization?” Rutherford says. “And the culture change there is really empowering and enabling the staff. We’ve done things to change the culture, and I’d say we’re operating today better than YEA! has in a long time.”
Due to the operational impact of Hopkins’ departure and the new board and corps director hires, The Cadets decided to cancel the West Coast portion of its summer tour, instead opting for nearby East Coast shows in familiar venues. The board hired an independent law firm from outside the area and without drum corps knowledge to conduct a thorough investigation. It also set up a reporting hotline connected directly to the investigators. YEA! plans to publicly release their report when concluded (within privacy boundaries for those interviewed).
“From the beginning, we took a transparent approach,” Rutherford says. “We’ve had forums at the rehearsals, and the emails of all board members are posted on yea.org. I have received numerous emails from parents, and they’ve been very appreciative. People just want to know what you’re doing, how you’re approaching it, and we answer with complete honesty.”
Initially, The Cadets just focused on surviving, but now the corps is thriving. Led by new artistic director Dr. Drew Shanefield, The Cadets’ current show—“The Unity Project”—replaced Hopkins’ previously developed show.
“This corps is very hungry and is determined not to let this define them,” Litzenberg says. “And they know everybody’s going to be watching how they act and how they behave. And I’ve told them this could be one of those defining years of this organization, and I think people are really going to enjoy seeing this version of The Cadets on the field.”
The Cadets organization has also seen an increased outpouring of support from alumni, both financially and in volunteering their time or resources. DCI’s other corps members and fans have also expressed their moral and emotional support to The Cadets members.
“We’re seeing a lot of people coming back to help and volunteer [who] may not have been around this corps in years because they have felt that they weren’t welcome,” Litzenberg says. “I think most people in this activity are very compassionate and know that this wasn’t these kids’ fault. Supporting them and telling them that they have their backs is going to mean a lot to these kids.”
While moving forward is paramount, Rutherford also acknowledges the critical need to learn from the past. “The reality is that we’re in a new era; the old era is over,” he says. “We’re going to learn from our history. And as far as the women that were involved, we have to [acknowledge] that they’re telling the truth and figure out what we have to do going forward to make sure that this never happens again. That truly is our number one obligation: making sure that this doesn’t happen again. Ever.”
Seeking Help and Reporting Misconduct
Whether you’re in drum corps or not, here are some support and reporting resources if you suspect, witness, or have been affected by sexual assault, abuse, or harassment. You can choose to provide your information or report anonymously.
In Drum Corps
- To report an issue regarding The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps or Youth Education in the Arts, call independent law firm Franczek Radelet at (312) 786-6540.
- Drum Corps International (DCI) encourages reporting parties to first contact its own member organizations, but if they don’t want to for any reason, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call (833) 556-0385, or fill out the form at dci.com (under “About: Ethics and Compliance”).
- Since adoption of the new DCI Code of Conduct, every member corps should have reporting processes and safety regulations in place. Look at your corps’ website or talk to staff if you can’t find this information.
- If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, preserve as much material and biological evidence as possible. Call 911 or visit a hospital for guidance.
- In any case of sexual misconduct, you may make a report to local enforcement, whether or not you ultimately decide to press charges.
- For 24/7 free and confidential help, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE (4673) and online.rainn.org to be connected with a trained support specialist.
Best Practices for Youth Organizations
As drum corps create and improve youth protection and participant safety policies, any organization can benefit from doing the same. Melanie Lockwood Herman, executive director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center (NRMC), shares some best practices.
Conduct Background Checks
An important part of the hiring or volunteer vetting process, background checks can help organizations discover past criminal records. Yet they aren’t the “end-all be-all” of precautions.
“The majority are situations where the background check would have revealed no prior criminal history,” Herman says. “To some extent, doing a background check almost gives you a false sense of security.”
Plus, there’s no one big national database of crimes. Each background check company tries to gather as much data as possible, but no one provider guarantees they can search everywhere.
Most organizations adopt a policy of rechecking their personnel every two to three years.
Set Your Group Standards
One in three Americans has a prior criminal history, but in some cases, prior convictions may not be something relevant to disqualifying someone from working or volunteering. “It’s so important for the organization to think about its own circumstances and what specifically disqualifies someone,” Herman says. “Otherwise you’re in a situation of doing it on a case-by-case basis; you may not be consistent.”
For example, if someone’s not going to be driving, should a past violation for driving under the influence disqualify him or her? Should an open container violation from college prevent someone from volunteering 20 years later?
It depends on your organization’s standards. Some background check providers offer a service where the organization submits its standards, and the company only replies with a yes or no about someone’s eligibility.
Check Personal References
Asking prospective volunteers and employees to provide references often gives organizations a better and more relevant idea about their history. “Really phrase the reference questions in a way that relates to this specific role,” Herman says. For example, “‘Would you have any hesitation putting this individual in a position of authority or responsibility with children? Or would you have any concern about this candidate teaching a marching band or being responsible for children while traveling?’”
Align Rules with Goals
With today’s available technologies, many youth organizations have set standards regarding electronic communication between adults and children: Can they be friends on Facebook? May they text message each other or not?
Depending on the organization, they may ban communication on social media or texting during certain hours or set rules that parents must always be copied on messages.
Other groups may struggle with rules about adults and minors being alone in cars or rooms. But in some cases, such as one-on-one mentoring, music lessons, or limited transportation options, those rules might not be practical.
“We’re very hesitant to say that any rules should apply to every organization,” Herman says. “You must customize your policies, so that they don’t ‘do in’ the mission of the organization.”
Communicate with All Parties
When creating policies, not-for-profits need to make sure they communicate with everyone, including staff, volunteers, participants, and parents, and get acknowledgement that everyone agrees to follow them. “Always start by explaining the ‘why’ because if you don’t, people find ways to circumvent the policy or decide that they don’t agree with it, so they won’t follow it,” Herman says.
Photo courtesy of The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps