"A Letter from Donk."
Dear Dr. Drake, Dr. Steinmetz and Dr. J,
I have spent a great amount of time the past few days weighing whether or not I should write to you. I ultimately chose to do so only because I felt my comments would add a unique and valuable perspective to the conversation regarding the recent dismissal of Jonathan Waters. Like several of my female colleagues in the band, my name was included in the 23-page report released last week. However, so far as I know, I was one of the few who were actually interviewed during the investigation.
While I take issue with much of the report that was compiled by the university, my greatest concern was echoed recently by several of my female colleagues in the band. Many of us were surprised to find ourselves included in a list of “sexually explicit” nicknames. Even more surprising to me was that at no time during my interview can I remember being asked about the details of my nickname, the circumstances under which it was given to me, or, perhaps most important, my feelings about my nickname. While the authors of the report may feel confident in their ability to draw their own conclusions about the feelings, opinions and intentions of others without asking them, I would argue that in this case, their clairvoyance has failed them miserably. Thus, I feel it is my right and duty to clear up several issues about the fourth name listed in the report: Donk.
Donk is not a malicious or offensive nickname. Donk is a person. Donk is a five-year member of the band, a former i-dotter, and a two-time squad leader of KL-Row, which also happens to be a predominately male row. Donk is a daughter, sister, friend, a woman and, most importantly, an independent, clear-minded person. Donk is not a moniker that was placed upon me without my consent, and it is most certainly not something of which I am ashamed.
What angers me the most is that, in spite of my feelings, I along with several others on the list have been mischaracterized as victims of “sexual harassment” without being asked directly for our input. Never in my life have I felt uncomfortable being known as Donk. It has appeared on shirts, social media, in papers for classes; in the label I stuck in my band hat and on a piece of duct tape in my raincoat not because it is a joke, but because it is my name. It is who I am.
Although when I say “never in my life,” what I really mean is never before last Thursday. I now find my nickname listed in myriad news reports as proof of the alleged horrible, sexually aggressive culture of the OSUMB. While I am just as disappointed in the media for not bothering to do their homework, I would hope that a report dealing with an issue as serious as terminating the employment of one of the university’s most visible, respected figures would have been undertaken with more care. In my five years in the band and since my graduation, I’ve discussed my nickname and where it came from with my friends, family, coworkers, bosses, alumni and random people passing me on the street. Odd then, that seemingly the only people who were uninterested in learning more about my nickname were those responsible for putting together a report about sexual harassment in the band.
But, at the center of this issue is an investigation that I feel was deeply flawed and executed with great carelessness and little concern for finding the truth. As someone with a deep understanding of the band, I would think that the hour I spent in the interview would have been used to gather the information I have about these issues and experiences. But as I recall, I was asked only a few general questions about the majority of the content in this report. Had you asked me, I could have told you that many of the examples in the report occurred long before Jonathan Waters was director. I could have told you that before we name rookies, we speak to each of them individually to ensure that nothing in their name touches upon any area they might find offensive. Had you bothered to ask, I could have told you that a large amount of the evidence on which the report relies is outdated or inaccurate. Or, perhaps, that is why they didn’t ask me?
I am well aware of the fact that the opinions of individuals often differ greatly. And I would guess that few people are making the argument that there is nothing in the culture of the band that needed to change. I am also certain that you have heard numerous examples of how the man you fired last week was the fiercest advocate for culture change in the band, joined in his efforts by Chris Hoch and Mike Smith and the majority of the band members. And had I been asked, I also could have offered numerous examples.
The truth is that this band makes strong women. It makes strong, smart, witty, confident and, therefore, beautiful women. As I have said before publicly, this band creates strong women because it treats us as equals. To make the band, individuals must be proficient in two areas: they must play well and march well. Gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, political view and socioeconomic status do not matter. In November, 2012, an African-American woman named Donk dotted-the-i against Michigan. It wasn’t because the men in my section decided to let me. It was because I worked hard and emerged on top. And on November 24th, when I realized my dream in front of more than 105,000 screaming fans, my fellow band members celebrated alongside me, not because I had broken a gender/racial barrier, but because we’re family and that’s what we do. Appropriately, last Thursday night, I once again found myself being supported by those same people. They are not nicknames on a list. They are not details in an investigation. They are not examples of harassment. They are my family. And the report does little justice to the truth that this band supports and nurtures women.
Please do not insult me as an individual by suggesting that I am so ignorant and so helpless that I somehow have managed to spend five years being consistently sexually harassed and not realize it. Do not treat my name as something that should be condemned when it is something I will continue to wear as a badge of pride.
There are negative things in our world—this is a fact of life. That does not mean that nothing can or should be done about them. However, it seems a shortsighted response to paint an entire organization with a broad brush when you only bothered to interview a handful of people about what has happened. The characterization of my name is simply one facet of this carelessness.
In closing, I still care deeply not only for the band, but for my university. That is why I write to you. The manner in which this report was put together is alarming. And if it is alarming to a twenty-three year old recent college graduate, I would hope that after hearing my story you as leaders, would, at the very least, look at this report and the manner in which it was produced with more scrutiny than you have up to the present time. Good management decisions must be based on accurate, well-researched, timely information. The report produced by the University’s compliance office, which served as the basis for the decision to fire Jonathan Waters, was none of those things.
I hope that in the future I can continue to serve my band, my university and community with pride and honor, and I will do so as a proud alumna both of this institution and of its band. Someday, if I am lucky enough to have children, I hope that I can share a love for Ohio State with them, just as my parents did with me. To echo the sentiment of another band alum I heard recently, I am certain with every fiber of my being, that if I have a daughter who wants to try out for this band, I will drive her across the country to try out. Moreover, when I do, I will make sure that she knows her value is not determined by what is said in a report, or in the news, or behind closed doors in a meeting. For that, I will tell her, look within yourself.