At the Yale-Harvard football game on Nov. 22, the Yale Precision Marching Band may haven taken its “respectfully irreverent” motto too far — at least according to Director of Yale Bands Thomas Duffy.
After the band used a prop bearing profane writing during its Game halftime show, Duffy suspended the YPMB on Nov. 24. The band’s leadership said they were unaware of the graffiti in question — which Duffy termed “completely inappropriate and highly offensive” — but would have nixed the graffiti had they known. As of press time, the band is still suspended, and band members are not commenting on what exactly caused the controversy.
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“I was personally embarrassed and offended, and professionally compromised,” Duffy wrote in a Nov. 24 e-mail to band members. “I am suspending the Yale Precision Marching Band from all activities and performances, effective as of this very moment.”
The prop, a graffiti-covered replica of the Berlin Wall, was the centerpiece of a halftime show that cast Harvard as a communist empire and Yale as the savior of the free world. Although Duffy approved most elements in the program — including a large, phallic missile prop bearing the University name — he did not approve the profanity on the wall, which band leaders said was a last-minute addition.
In two e-mails sent to the News last week, Duffy said he had no further comment on the incident, which he called an “internal matter for the Yale Bands.”
What exactly Duffy found offensive remains to be seen, as neither Duffy, YPMB Drum Major Rosa Li ’09 nor 11 other band members contacted by the News made any comment on the graffiti. Six students interviewed who sat in the bleachers at the Game said they do not remember anything inappropriate being written on the wall.
Two days after Duffy’s e-mail, Li released a statement apologizing for the obscenities written on the prop.
“The contentious graffiti was the result of a poor judgment call on the part of one or two members who, exhausted and sleep-deprived from working through the night and into the morning to build the prop, allowed their emotions regarding the Yale-Harvard rivalry to get the better of them,” Li wrote, adding that Duffy’s e-mail was the first she knew of the profanity. “Had I or any other Yale Band student leader noticed the offending graffiti, we never would have allowed it on the field.”
In a separate e-mail to the YPMB, Li acknowledged that the wall contained “some genuinely inappropriate things on it (i.e. more inappropriate than ‘sucks’).” In interviews, Li would not comment on whether she knew which band members were responsible for the graffiti in question.
Only two of six Yale students interviewed said they found the halftime show offensive, and neither of those cited the wall’s profanity.
“The whole ‘Yale penis’ was a little out of the ordinary,” Danielle Torres ’09 said, referring to the missile used to tear down the wall. “It was a bit disrespectful. People weren’t cheering and laughing about that as loudly as they normally do during the halftime show.”
Alan Wesson ’11 added, “Honestly, I wasn’t really looking too closely. It looked like graffiti, and I was distracted by the cold weather.”
Of the six students interviewed, four said they believe the band’s punishment is out of place.
In a phone interview Sunday night, Li said the YPMB’s suspension is still in effect, and band leaders do not know when it will end.