Sunday, July 27, 2014

Alex Clark - Letter to President Drake

Dear President Drake,

“We respect women and we respect all the different people who work with us, we respect that diversity.”
This is a line from your statement on the firing of Ohio State University Marching Band director Jon Waters. I find it to be particularly ironic given the events of the past few days thanks to a report filed by OSU’s Office of Compliance and Integrity.

In their report, the investigators speak of a “sexualized” culture within the band, and how that often led to the harassment of female members, through alcohol consumption, inappropriate nicknames, and tricks performed by young members given to them by their peers, amongst other things. What is truly shocking about the report is not the list of antics by a group of hormone filled college students, but the complete lack of respect for the privacy and dignity of the band members. Included in the list of “offensive” rookie nicknames are things like Donk, Tulsa, Tiggles, and Jewoobs. Ohio State clearly had no interest in learning anything about these strong, intelligent women and instead decided that their delicate feminine sensibilities needed to be defended by adding their names to a list of things they feel the Buckeye community should feel disgusted and ashamed about. I would also like to point out that it is spelled Joobs, not “Jewoobs” as they spelled it in the report. They felt “Jewoobs” was so offensive that they added the descriptor “given to a Jewish student with large breasts” so you could be fully aware that she was being sexualized and harassed because of her faith and her anatomy.

I’m the “Jewoobs” that the entire Internet seems to be talking about. It wasn’t until yesterday that I ever felt sexualized and degraded because of the name Joobs. You turned a lighthearted joke and rookie name given to me by my row mates with my full consent into something shameful, and you decided that my entire identity could be boiled down to being a Jewish woman with a large chest. Please allow me to provide my prospective of the report, my nickname and my time in the band.

I am a proud, strong, Jewish woman. My relationship with my faith is not the business of anyone else and that includes The Ohio State University. If you respect diversity, there is absolutely no necessity to turn this issue into one of religion nor is it necessary to define me in a report as Jewish. 

I also have a large chest, but thanks to the investigation, the entire Internet knows that. You took a physical feature that many women feel self-conscious toward, myself included, and made sure that it was what I will always be identified by in correlation with my time in TBDBITL and broadcasted it to the entire world.

The name Joobs was given to me by the older members of my row during my rookie year. They waited several weeks and after getting to know me they gave me a funny nickname that is, quite frankly, really fun to say out loud. They understood that I was able to enjoy the name and that it suited my sense of humor. All of this was done with my full consent. 
I was also a proud member of C-Row from 2009-2011. In my three years with the band, far from encountering a sexualized and hostile environment, I made some of the best friends I’ll ever have and found a loving and supportive family in my row mates. The idea that these wonderful people harassed and hazed me by giving me a nickname or created an environment where I felt helpless could not be further from the truth. Here are some examples of how these people treated me during my years in the band:
After making the band, the first thing all members of C-Row told us was, “You don’t have to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.”
Before the infamous Midnight Ramp that same year, my female squad leader informed me that I could be fully clothed if it would make me feel more comfortable about participating, though there was absolutely no pressure to if I did not want to. I did my first Midnight Ramp wearing a tank top and gym shorts that provided full coverage, which is what I wore to everyday band practice, and allowed me to dress modestly. I was not treated like I was doing something wrong. I was embraced as a member of C-Row during a tradition that was meant to welcome us into the band after finally learning all of its traditions. It is also worth noting I was sober and because they knew I didn’t drink, my row mates didn’t so much as offer me an alcoholic beverage. At no stage of this did I ever feel I was being hazed, rather I was a willing part of a tradition that truly helped mark my membership in the band.
At the beginning of my rookie year I chose not to consume alcohol and my row was supportive of that decision. There were several other members of C-Row that did not drink but still socialized and attended band functions and parties without any pressure from our peers. The choice to consume alcohol was absolutely ours to make. This is typical throughout the band.
My “unofficial” rookie trick was to dance in the stands at the football games whenever they played “Shipping Off to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys over the stadium sound system. This came into being after I shared with C-Row that I was an Irish dancer while meeting them for the first time upon making the band. It wasn’t something used to degrade me but was instead something they asked me to do because they thought it was unique and exciting.

During my rookie year, the vast majority of band members outside of C-Row were unaware of the meaning behind my rookie name. People just knew it as “that rookie name that is really fun to yell out loud” and I met a lot of wonderful people in other rows who were very excited to put a face to the name. The only way they found out what it meant was if I made the decision to tell them. However, The Ohio State University has decided, without ever informing me, to make this public to the entire world, even though they couldn’t even spell it correctly.

Like any group that spends large amounts of time together, rows in band will get tired and impatient later in the season. When I did have issues with C-Row and some treatment that I didn’t agree with, a friend from another row approached the directors on my behalf. Jon Waters and Dr. Woods facilitated an open and mature discussion between row members that allowed us to grow and move forward. It truly was transformative and gave us an opportunity to better understand one another. My squad leaders also told me that Jon Waters informed them there would be zero tolerance for any further incidences and it would be punishable by expulsion from the band. By providing a safe place for us to air our feelings and a stable environment for us to discuss our issues instead of devolving further into chaos, the directors fostered an environment that assured that we had a happy and healthy band experience.

I was in band for three years and I can’t remember a single time a member of the directing staff referred to me by my rookie name. They always addressed me as Alex or Alexandra because they are professionals.

My father is an Emeritus Faculty member at Ohio State. He taught and did research for 35 years. During his tenure at Ohio State, he also had a ten-year term as a senior administrator. If my father had any issues with my rookie name or my treatment by the band, there is absolutely no way he would have tolerated it and the responsible parties would have been reprimanded appropriately according to university policy. He took a great interest in my membership in the band and we frequently discussed it.
My mother is also a proud Jewish woman and as I’ve grown, we’ve bonded over our shared faith. If she felt that I was being sexualized or harassed with even the slightest hint of Anti-Semitism, she would not have tolerated it either and would have taken appropriate legal action.

My parents have embraced their role as band parents and supporters of TBDBITL, and C-Row in particular. Not only did they host multiple row dinners, they are affectionately known to the members of the band as Mama Joobs and Dr. Joobs. These names are not meant to “haze” my parents, but are used as terms of endearment and a sign of respect and acceptance amongst the band for my parents and my father’s role as a professor, in particular.

I have been out of the band for three years but my closest and best friends refer to me almost exclusively as Joobs. They are not saying it to offend or sexualize me. They are saying it because they love me and care about me and it’s a connection to an experience we all shared and a bond we’ll have for the rest of our lives.

Despite spending three years in the band, it was not until this report was published that I ever felt sexualized because of the name Joobs. Now it’s in every corner of the Internet and something that I’ve proudly used to identify my membership in the band has been perverted by legions of the invisible into something dirty and degrading. If I wasn’t experiencing sexual harassment before, I’m certainly vulnerable to it now. There are perfect strangers commenting on articles or tweeting about the “sexual” nature of my name and what they’d like to do to me. There are even people tweeting about the conflict in Gaza because they find this to be an acceptable joke to make based on the report’s description of me.

If the investigators felt that my rookie name was so offensive that it was the only one warranting an explanation, why was I never consulted about my opinion? If Ohio State has to investigate claims of sexual harassment, why was I never contacted for my side of the story? Where are the claims of sexual harassment aimed towards me coming from? If the people in charge of the investigation had reached out to me for my opinion, they would have learned that I did not feel I was being objectified or harassed by my peers. They would have learned that I found it to be funny and endearing. Like any woman, I have certain things about my body that I don’t like and one thing I’ve always been self-conscious about is my chest. I am also very private about my faith and don’t openly discuss Judaism with many people. The name Joobs allowed two things that often made me feel like an outsider to become non-issues. It allowed me to accept that aspect of my identity and become comfortable in my own skin because I realized that the people around me didn’t love me any less because of these things, but accepted that they were merely parts of the whole of my person. However, the publication of this report has turned these into feelings of shame and embarrassment. Because of the way my name is presented within this report, I feel as though I’m being told I should be offended by this name and that because I am not there is something wrong with me.

To say that I never had any differences of opinion with Jon Waters would be dishonest and I can’t say I always agreed with everything he said or did during my time in the band or in the time since I left. I can say with great certainty that I have witnessed his attempts to change the culture within the band for the better and I greatly admire him for that. He had zero tolerance for rookies names that he felt were purely degrading to students and during my last year he made it necessary for rows to document that they were providing their rookies with money to buy game day snacks for their rows so that the first year members could further enjoy their experience in the band instead of feeling as though they were being exploited by older members. I have also witnessed his passion for the band and its members in person and it is a truly remarkable thing.

To expect a group of 225 people that live in a pressure cooker for several months at a time to never misbehave is frankly an irresponsible line of thinking. In a group that size, the vast majority of students are respectful of one another but you will have a handful that enjoy sowing the seeds of unrest and acting out in embarrassing or painful ways towards their peers. Dynamics like that exist in any group that size at every major university, whether they’re a fraternity or sorority or a Division 1 football program. What has happened with the “sexualized” culture and the sexual assaults cannot solely be blamed on Jon Waters or the other members of the marching band staff. It can also be blamed on the institutional failure of the university to provide adequate resources to the band and its members before events of that nature even have a chance to transpire. With the increase in national visibility the band has received and the drastic increase in away games and performances, it is unreasonable to expect a staff the size of the band’s to appropriately manage all of the needs of its students. The Ohio State University Marching Band is approximately twice the size of the Ohio State football team, yet it has absolutely none of the medical, academic, or compliance support provided to Urban Meyer and his staff by the athletic program. It is unfair to call the marching band a part of an athletic program that does not provide adequate support for its members yet still expects perfection and zero tolerance. The majority of the events listed in the investigation are things that occurred away from marching band events or practices and often took place in private homes. If the university wants to enforce a zero tolerance policy on its band, then the least it should do is provide the same level of trained professionals to bring that about.

I respect the efforts Jon Waters made to further TBDBITL on a national and international stage, as well as his efforts to advance inclusion and tolerance within the band. The university’s decision to make him a scapegoat at this point in time for things that have been going on for decades, which he worked hard to change, is absolutely incomprehensible and unjust.
Alexandra “Joobs” Clark
C-Row, 2009-2011

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