Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Chris Haller

[Editor's Note: I have removed all instances referencing Jonathan Waters as "Dr." as he has not yet achieved that designation.]

Originally found on http://www.thebuckeyebattlecry.com/2014/08/another-tbdbitl-alumnus-speaks/

An open letter, concerning the Ohio State Marching Band and Jonathan Waters:

In an age where an ever critical eye has encouraged us to find and exploit even the smallest of faults in each other, long standing institutions are crumbling under shockwaves of judgment. As we strive to uncover weaknesses and errors in each other, our hypersensitivity has made us all but incapable of forgiveness and acceptance while camouflaging the truly unacceptable. We have nurtured such a paranoia of potentially offending someone that we ignore the individuals we supposedly seek to protect, placing our opinions before theirs in a fit of pure ego. Too often is the right to speak freely misperceived as a right to not be offended.

This is the case of the Ohio State University’s gross mishandling of Mr. Jon Waters and the Ohio State University Marching Band. A prime news story in Ohio for the last week, the university’s publishing of a 23 page admonishment of the band’s conduct led to the firing of the most forward-thinking director in the band’s 140 year history.

First, it should be made absolutely clear that sexual harassment and hazing are categorically unacceptable in any organization. This type of reprehensible behavior physically and psychologically damages individuals and should be treated with the utmost contempt. There is, however, a clear difference between the intentional harms suffered by sexual harassment and hazing, and pure-intentioned ribbing, devoid of malice. Our willingness to believe the worst in each other has rendered us incapable of understanding this difference.

As a five year member of the active band family at Ohio State and a ten year alumnus of the OSUMB, I observed the evolution of the band culture and the budding career of Mr. Waters, first hand. In the past week, numerous personal accounts have surfaced, disproving the university’s 23 page indictment of the band, its directors, and its alumni. Character witnesses have voluntarily come out of the woodwork to praise Mr. Waters and his accomplishments with the band. I wholeheartedly echo their praise of Mr. Waters and equally support their acknowledgements that occasional misconduct occurred as it would in any other organization comprised of young people experiencing their first freedoms and beginning to learn the skill of adulthood.

So eager have we become to expose fault that we disassociate ourselves with those under scrutiny. An organization of people marching, scantily clad, through a stadium somehow seems more depraved than group of college kids running around a pool in bathing suits or, heaven forbid, skinny dipping. We overlook the fact that multiple institutions share and promote a similar tradition, be it a naked mile or an underwear run. When members of an organization consume alcohol to excess in the privacy of their own homes and completely of their own accord, it reflects poorly on the organization while tailgates, block parties, and sporting events are not only sponsored by beer companies on university grounds but are considered the norm.

That an individual voluntarily participating in a group, without being singled out and without being stereotyped, may take offense from a conversation is a vile enough threat that it should shake an organization to its core. Surely sticks and stones now cause less hurt than words, and suffering mild, unintended offense is an injury so egregious as to merit taking a man’s job. This is as clear an argument as can be found to illustrate the right to not be offended trumping the freedom to speak as one pleases.

How strangely must the lens of time distort our own pasts that we now expect perfection where our mistakes once educated us. Instead of considering ourselves fortunate enough to learn, consequence-free, from our errors, we now cry foul and assume mistakes to mask far darker intentions. A popular phrase among business professionals is assume the worst, hope for the best. Our eagerness to ignore the latter part of this phrase belies our rampant fear that we no longer possess the ability to differentiate between innocence and malice. We so strongly shore up our defenses against fear that we fail to leave room for hope, for forgiveness, for mistakes.

In the race to defend against this fear of depravity among our college students, simple truths have been cast aside. Testimonial after testimonial after testimonial that the OSUMB fosters relationships so close as to be called family have been ignored. The voice of a “victim” identified in the 23 page report has fallen on deaf ears as she refuted the claim that her time in the OSUMB was offensive, depraved, harassment because, surely we, the greater populace, know more of how she felt than she did. So easy has it been to write off Mr. Waters for perceived cultural issues that no one has registered the fact that, since his days as a student, Jon has relentlessly worked to negate objectionable behavior while simultaneously raising the group to new heights and national prominence.

Every group has its outliers and rule breakers. The OSUMB has not been immune to this. I have both born witness to and experienced firsthand, the processes in place to correct any infractions to the strict set of band rules. I am thankful to Mr. Waters for the opportunity to learn from my mistakes and I know that my character has been strengthened by those opportunities. My fellow students at the time were not so privileged and made far greater mistakes in order to learn the lessons the OSUMB afforded me. Despite their transgressions and despite a national spotlight on these transgressions, not a person identified the Ohio State University as a home of depravity. Many of these peers were allowed to learn from their mistakes without greater consequences and considered simply to have made the errors of youth.

Once, we were capable of differentiating between youthful transgressions, innocently made and learned from, and malicious actions, intentionally inflicting physical and psychological harm. Our fear has blurred this line so much so that all but perfection is considered a threat. An extreme minority of misbehavior is being allowed to taint the overwhelming positivity of an organization that has produced a well-rounded family of upstanding citizens and world contributors. For a university that claims the world to be a lesser place “but for Ohio State,” let us see the OSUMB as an organization making incredible headway in both pioneering performances and in upgrading its own culture under Mr. Waters “but for Ohio State.”

The Ohio State University Marching band no more engenders a culture of depravity than does the university of which it is an extension. To learn is to make mistakes and the trespasses of the OSUMB as an organization should be seen in the context of a global university system comprised of young individuals learning adulthood by making, and learning from, mistakes. The more we continue to punish the mistakes of learning, the further we remove ourselves from each other and from the human experience.

Mr. Waters has moved mountains with the OSUMB. Allow him the privilege we have all benefitted from, the chance to learn, and afford him the opportunity to return an exceptional organization to its once sterling status.

I Stand with Jon.

Go Bucks.

Chris Haller
E Row (2003-2004)
Athletic Band (2000-2004)
Ohio State Alumnus (Life)

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