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Iowa Reopens Probe into Abuse of Band Members at ISU

Paul Steinbach

Days after announcing that it had closed its investigation into allegations of verbal, physical and sexual abuse against its marching band during a Sept. 14 trip to Iowa State University, the University of Iowa has reopened the probe amid continued concern expressed on social media and elsewhere.

As reported by USA Today, Corey Knopp and Jack Buchanan, both members of the Iowa band, posted details about the incident on Facebook after hearing the schools announce in a joint statement that they were dropping their investigation. 

"I have been trying to stay quiet on this issue and let the University handle things," Buchanan wrote on Facebook. "Now unfortunately, it seems like they have abandoned us too. Let me be clear. THERE WAS PHYSICAL AND SEXUAL ASSAULT AT THE IOWA STATE GAME AGAINST THE BAND."

Knopp, who plays tenor sax in the band, said in a Facebook post that the incident went far beyond the game day shoves and insults band members typically weather when on the road.

The violence, he and other students allege, unfolded as band members made their way back to the bus, and what started as verbal assaults and racial slurs turned violent: One student was forcefully groped while another suffered broken ribs, according to several accounts.

"Put yourself in our shoes," Knopp wrote in his post. "Kids. Marching in formation back to our buses after a long day. Getting shoved and having beer cans shaken and sprayed at our feet. Getting slapped because of the words on our uniform (IOWA). Getting pushed so hard that someone’s (not going to name this person) ribs are broken. That is completely unacceptable."

Knopp further told local media via Facebook Messenger that he made his post public because he found the lack of action from Iowa athletic director Gary Barta and other administrators "very upsetting and frustrating."

“It got really bad,” Paige Pearson, a junior trumpet player, told The Gazette of Cedar Rapids in an interview. The physical abuse, which included band members being hit and bruised by flying objects, was the worst she had experienced in her three years in the Iowa band.

“It was the fans," Pearson said. "The Iowa State band has been nothing but kind. They’ve reached out to us and said sorry this happened. It was not even the students, but adult fans.”

Band member Nathan Topping said he was bruised by a beer bottle hurled at him, but that's not what left him most sore. "It was just more disappointment on the fact that we always support the athletic department here. We always put our trust in athletics to keep us safe and this time unfortunately they did fail us in upholding our trust," Topping said, as reported by CBS affiliate KCCI in Des Moines.

As reported by ABC affiliate KCRG in Cedar Rapids, Iowa band director Eric Bush emailed the "band family" Friday, stating in part, “I am grateful to have had the support of the University of Iowa and Hawkeye athletics as we became aware of the full extent to which these events occurred. It took a number of days to gather complete information from a group this large. Furthermore, I appreciate our students’ courageous spirit in coming forward with the truth about everything that happened.”

Jeneane Beck, assistant vice president for external relations, told the Iowa City Press-Citizen that university officials are "continuing our investigation to ensure all of our students have the ability to share their experiences with the appropriate authorities." The scope of this investigation is unclear. 

"The communication on social media made it clear we had not shared enough information with our students about the steps the university has taken to address the concerns raised by members of our marching band," Beck said in an email.

"Student safety is our number one priority and we are committed to ensuring a safe experience on game day for our students."

Barbara Burke, UI's deputy director of athletics, sent an email to marching band members Friday afternoon, listing contact information to 11 resources available to them on the Iowa campus. 

"We understand the last week has been difficult for each of you, and we would like to take a moment to offer our unconditional support, while ensuring you have access to the list of resources which was shared on Tuesday," according to the email.

The email also detailed what actions the university has taken so far, including:

  • Athletic Director [Gary] Barta reached out to [Iowa State Athletic] Director [Jamie] Pollard after receiving information about the incidents.
  • The band met with members of UI's Division of Student Life, Human Resources, the Athletics Department, and the School of Music.
  • [Iowa president Bruce] Harreld and Barta have been actively engaged in the process and have publicly pledged to ensure better protections for students.
  • Harreld visited with ISU president Wendy Wintersteen and UNI president Mark Nook, and each committed to discussing and adopting a uniform safety protocol prior to next season.
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