SLU pep band director resigns in protest of ‘heavy strain’ on group

SLU pep band director resigns in protest of ‘heavy strain’ on group

ST. LOUIS – Officials at the University of St.

Former pep band director Austin Turner, who served in the role for eight years, notified band members of his resignation last week. In the email, he claimed the university had done extra work for the group but would not address the added stress on members.

“I have expressed concerns time and time again, but the burdens placed on the Band this fall were unacceptable,” Turner wrote.

Mental health concerns among students have surfaced at SLU in recent years, as they have at colleges across the country. The university has created a new administrator position dedicated to wellness, hired more counselors, expanded counseling services and created support groups and mental health workshops.

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The university said it met with members of the pep band this week, but denied Turner’s claims.

“Concerns were raised with the Athletic Department regarding pep band scheduling and communication that were addressed last semester,” said athletic department spokesman Brian Kunderman. “We acknowledge these concerns and appreciate they were raised.”

The university will continue to work with pep band leadership and students “to make sure we’re meeting all of their mental health needs,” Kunderman said.

The band’s blue and white striped rugby sweatshirts have long been a staple in the student section at Billiken basketball games. They call themselves the “World’s Greatest Pep Band” and pump up the crowd and home team by playing hard, using props and coordinating chants. Attendance at each game is voluntary, but they have a presence at dozens of games each year, some requiring travel across the country. Members receive a small stipend to play in the band, which is made up of alumni and students.

Previously, the band only played at basketball games, but requests for them to appear at other events began to increase recently at volleyball and football games, and even birthdays and retirement events, Turner wrote. Sometimes they received notice only a few days in advance, and it “started to put a heavy burden on us,” he wrote.

Turner, who first joined the group as a student in 2000, said in the email that he had meetings in October and November with athletic administrators where he shared concerns about scheduling and mental health.

The athletic department acknowledged those concerns, Kunderman said, stressing to band members that their participation is “strictly voluntary.” And the department communicated “more directly” with the band’s leadership about additional events where they would be asked to perform.

But the pace of performances didn’t slow down, Turner said in an email.

Turner’s last day was December 31. He did not respond to requests for comment.

SLU graduate and band member Gabe Valdez said he wasn’t sure if the demands of playing in the band were causing mental health issues among the members.

But he said Turner supported group members’ concerns about their schedule. “Austin has been our champion for this,” said Valdez, 25, of Rock Hill.

“It’s kind of hard to imagine the band performing at the same level without him.”

The university hired an interim director, SLU graduate and band drummer Sarah Silverberg. She held two virtual meetings with group members this week to discuss scheduling, communication, mental health and wellness, Kunderman said, and she will continue to meet with the group on the issue until the end of her interim term in March.

She did not respond to requests for comment.

The group’s next home event is a men’s basketball game on Saturday at 3:00 PM at Chaifetz Arena.

The university offers counseling for students. The SLU Counseling Center can be reached at 314-977-8255 (TALK) or by visiting the clinic on the second floor of Wuller Hall at 3711 West Pine Mall.

The Post-Dispatch’s Michele Munz and Carter Chapley contributed to this report.

Fred Thatch Jr. of the University of St. Video by Stu Durando

Stu Durando

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