Stadium lights glint off of the shining blade as the drum majors' fists grasp the hilt, raising the sword and plunging it into the center of the Coliseum's football field.
Continuing this decades-long tradition, the drum major starts each football game by stabbing the field and leads the USC Trojan Marching Band, also known as the Spirit of Troy, through pregame routines, keeping up student spirit throughout each game.
For the 2019-20 academic year, the sword is passing into new hands. The band members selected India Anderson to be its first female drum major Tuesday.
"I think it's just great to have the leader of the band be a woman…," Anderson said in an interview with Annenberg Media. "I'm really excited for that first game and the first stab into the field."
Anderson joined the Spirit of Troy her freshman year in 2017 and immediately found a family. She had been in marching band since high school. When she came to USC to study tuba performance, she also joined the Spirit of Troy's tuba section. Those around Anderson — from fellow section members who would become housemates to the various directors and student leaders she works with — inspired her to continue to excel and grow, culminating in her audition for drum major.
Anderson said the uniform will not change much besides the breastplate.
"I'm happy [that] gender was not an issue in the selection of the candidate," said Arthur Bartner, director of the Spirit of Troy, in a statement to Annenberg Media. "I give the band a lot of credit. It was the students' decision and their selection based on a majority vote."
The marching band members vote for who they think will best lead them. After seeing Anderson's audition routine, which included stationary commands, fanfare and the tribute, they decided she was the most qualified candidate, according to current drum major Chris Rick.
Rick, who is also a tuba player, said he wants to remind people that the band chose Anderson because of her skill rather than her gender.
"It's really cool, what she's done, but I think it discredits her a little bit, to focus on the fact that she's a female drum major," Rick said. "There isn't a skew, we weren't looking to change it up, to elect a female drum major. We pick who is the best."
In its over 100 year history, USC Trojan Marching Band has had a slow shift toward gender representation. USC's marching band comprised only male members until 1971 when six women from the university's Wind Orchestra were invited to join the instrument block of the band. This was a major change under Bartner, who is nearing his 50th and final year as the director of Spirit of Troy. Bartner will receive his USC honorary degree this May.
The gender parity was further advanced by the passage of Title IX in 1972, which protects from discrimination based on sex in federally financed educational programs, but a shift toward gender representation in leadership roles lagged. Lacy Hollings was the first woman to audition for drum major, in 2003. She did not get elected, and she said many outside the band were still not ready for a female leader.
"It was a little bit disappointing because there was a little bit of push back because people were adamant that a drum major must be a male, as the mascot of the band," Hollings said.
Stephanie Graves, who once auditioned for the drum major in 2009, said she thinks Anderson's achievement is "another example of how you can take tradition and fit for the future and modernize it."
Over 15 years later, reactions to Anderson's election have been mixed, but much more positive than in past years.
"I was really excited about how overwhelmingly positive it was. So many people were like 'Congratulations!' 'It's about time! Fight on!' There were some people saying a woman can't stab the field, this is a man's position," Anderson said. "But I was really touched at the number of people who were defending me getting the position, saying 'It doesn't matter. We don't need fans like you anyway.'"
"I think it's a great opportunity for everybody. Especially for females, it shows that you can do this if you want to do this. There's a role model now, so I think it's great overall," USC student Shilpa Vijay said.
"It's kind of shocking to hear that she's the first female, but it's amazing that it's happening," USC student Xiomara Neri said.
Anderson said she looks forward to subverting the belief that a drum major needs to be male and proving her excellence, the reason she was elected for drum major.
"I know there's just going to be so many people watching and wondering 'Can a woman do it?' and I really excited just to say 'Yes!'" Anderson said.
Charlotte Galbreath, Cassidy Palka, Ling Luo and Ruby Yuan contributed to this report.
Correction at 7:52 p.m. April 24: Anderson was not the drum major of her high school marching band, a mistake we stated in our previous version of this story.