Monday, July 28, 2014

General Letter from Some of the Women Alumnae of the OSUMB

As female alumnae of the Ohio State Marching Band, we would like to speak out against recent allegations against Jon Waters, the Director, and the organization of the marching band as a whole. We find the report on which his dismissal was based to be a sensationalized and one-sided view of an organization, and would like to contribute our views, as women and former bandmembers, to the conversation.

The official report consistently referred to a “sexualized” culture within the band, saying that the culture “facilitated acts of sexual harassment, creating a hostile environment for students.” The report also implied, if not outright asserted, that female students were routinely made to do things they felt uncomfortable doing, and that they were treated poorly by other ensemble members and by the staff. If the report had spoken with other female members of the band, or former members, the picture painted of interactions with band members and staff would have been strikingly different. The vast majority of female alumni did not have the experience described in the report; for us, the male members of the marching treated us as the equals we were. As strong, intelligent, athletic women, we did not need nor want to be treated in any other way; we did not need to be coddled or protected. And just like the male members, we were all told that we did not have to participate in any activities that made us feel uncomfortable.

A common thread running through many of the female alumnae’s recent comments regarding the band is that we are stronger, independent and more successful women because of our time in the band. We learned the value of hard work to make the band and maintain our spots, of teamwork in working with others, and learned to respect ourselves and others in conflicts to work things out when necessary. 

The university’s report focused on the use of nicknames for first-year members of the band, highlighting twenty-one nicknames they deemed as “sexual.” What the report fails to consider and acknowledge, however, is that these nicknames are given to both males and females, are generally given with the consent of the nicknamee, and that the nicknames are not used in a derogatory fashion.

The report highlights two nicknames in particular: Tiggles and Joobs, erroneously cited in the report as “Jewoobs (given to a Jewish student with large breasts)”. It is surprising, given the report’s in-depth discussion of these nicknames and whether or not they were offensive, that nobody conducting the investigation contacted either of these women to inquire whether they took offense to the nicknames given to them, or whether any of the events reported by the complainants ever actually occurred.

Both women (Jeanette “Tiggles” Town and Alexandra “Joobs” Clark) have since penned eloquent responses to the report. Both ladies had the same reaction: their nicknames were given to them with their consent and approval, they were never offended by the names, the names were never used in a derogatory manner, and they were never (as was suggested in the report) used by Jon Waters or the band staff. Most importantly, it was not until the publication of their nicknames in the university report that they felt objectified, sexualized, depersonalized, and violated – by the university itself, and by the general public. Why the author of the report felt the need to comment both on Alexandra’s religion and breast size, and why that information needed to be included in the public report, is beyond comprehension. 

The Ohio State marching band is one of the very few organizations anywhere where men and women are held to the same exacting standards, both in terms of musical and physical performance. The use of Title IX to argue that Waters did not take actions to eliminate what the report deems “harassment” is a misapplication of Title IX, the goal of which appears to have been an attempt at a legal justification for the immediate dismissal of Waters.

The report states, “… only one witness stated that there had been transition in the culture of any kind.” The authors of the report interviewed a small number of people, all of whom apparently had some connection to the original complainant or were referred by other witnesses. That is not a representative sample, and is certainly not representative of the opinions of numerous band members, both male and female, who state that Jon Waters was making efforts to change the culture of the band from the time he was appointed as Assistant Director under Jon Woods. These opinions have been expressed to the media, on social networks, and in letters written to President Drake and others involved, and would have been available to the authors of the university report had anyone asked.

The report later states: “Intending to eliminate sexual harassment over a period of years does not constitute sufficiently prompt or effective action.” As any leader can tell you, it is impossible to change a culture immediately, and it is also impossible to change a culture by simply changing the leader. In order to change a culture, you have to have the respect of the culture, and to work within the culture to educate and reform practices. Jon Waters had the respect of the band members, and he was in a unique position to be able to effect change; however, he was not given the time or the institutional support from the university necessary to enact the changes in the band culture that would have preserved the character of the ensemble and brought it into line with 21st century sensibilities.

The manner in which he was fired, the release of the university report and the supporting material, and the media sensationalism that has followed, has destroyed not only Jon Waters’ reputation, but that of the band itself, its current and former members, and of the university. The decision to fire Jon Waters was short-sighted; it was not warranted, it was not what was best for the organization, and it was not what was best for the university.

We are female alumnae of The Ohio State Marching Band, and we Stand With Jon.  

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