Skip

"An environment conducive to sexual harassment within the Marching Band"
August 1, 2014 8:00 AM   Subscribe

On July 22, The Ohio State University fired Marching Band director Jon Waters because he was allegedly aware of (or should have known) about an "environment conducive to sexual harassment within the Marching Band". The University's 23-page report details a wide range of incidents, including sexualized nicknames and staff supervision of an annual "Midnight Ramp" performed in underwear, and includes as exhibits a "rookie test" and a copy of the band's unofficial songbook. Perhaps most distressingly, during Waters' brief tenure as director, two band members were sexually assaulted. The Title IX complaint that prompted Waters' firing was filed by the parent of one of the assaulted band members. (After reporting the assault, the victim declined to rejoin the band for her senior year out of fear that she would be ostracized by some of the other band members.) Waters was also initially unsympathetic to a victim of a different sexual assault which occurred during the Athletic Band's trip to the Big Ten basketball tournament in March 2013. Some legal analysts suggest that Title IX law gave the University no choice but to fire Waters, given his knowledge of the culture issues within the Band. But Waters claims he was doing his best to fix the Band's culture, and submitted his own lengthy document listing the steps he's taken.

Perhaps predictably, alumni have rallied behind Dr. Waters.

Notably, one woman mentioned in the report, who was given the nickname "Joobs" because she was a "Jewish woman with a large chest," wrote that she never felt sexualized or degraded by her nickname until after reading the report. She supports Dr. Waters.

Other band alum (including women and LGBT members) echo her statements.

These sentiments are not new, but others are not impressed.

(Historically, it has taken a lot to influence alumni opinion in the Big Ten.)

Dealing with the controversy over Waters' firing has been one of the first official acts of OSU's new President, Michael Drake. This is not the first time Dr. Drake has encountered this kind of controversy.

In his two years as the director of TBDBITL, Waters was praised for his revolutionary halftime shows made possible through technology. (TBDBITL's recent halftime shows previously and previously on the blue.)
posted by QuantumMeruit (52 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Perhaps predictably, alumni have rallied behind Dr. Waters.

What is it with alumni and these incidents? Paterno had no lack of support as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:21 AM on August 1 [4 favorites]


Oh God this thing is making me want to unfriend everyone on Facebook. "How is this any surprise? Much worse goes on and nobody cares! They're college students, this is just a Saturday night to them."

Just because something is worse or has always been a certain way does NOT MAKE It OKAY!

Seriously, this damn thing is actually making me have to choose between friends.
posted by charred husk at 8:24 AM on August 1 [14 favorites]


What is it with alumni and these incidents?

My guess is an aversion to believing that something so ugly could possibly happen at an institution you care so much about.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:24 AM on August 1 [3 favorites]


This is a terrific post, thanks for making it. I played in my high school band in Columbus and went to grad school at OSU and so I know a dozen or so people who were/are in and around the OSU band, and they all seem to be very upset with the university and siding with Waters, if Facebook is any indication. I haven't taken the time to gather the information to form my own opinion about it, but thanks to these links I will now.
posted by Kwine at 8:26 AM on August 1


Ok, so re his "brief tenure" from the report:

Jonathan Waters has been Director of the Marching and Athletic Bands since October 10, 2012. Before that he served as Interim Director from June 2012 to October 9, 2012, Assistant Director from January 2002 to June 2012, and Graduate Assistant from 2000 to 2002. Waters was a sousaphone player and member of K-L row in the Band from 1995 to 1999.

So he didn't come in from outside, and presumably knew about (and as a former band member, witnessed) the things he says he has been trying to eliminate.

His current defense seems to be that he really didn't have the power to make/push for changes until 2012 when he became Interim Director, and that he hasn't had enough time since then to "change the culture." I have no idea if this is true because I don't know how much power an Assistant Director has. But he held that role for a 10-year span. During that time, did he do anything/protest in any way about the issues in the report? Did he bring or attempt to bring them to anyone's attention? During that time, did other incidents/assaults happen, and if so, what did he do about them? Those seem like the relevant questions to ask as well.

The report details several incidents where band members say Walters witnessed inappropriate incidents but did nothing or did little. He repeatedly maintains that he never saw the worst incidents happen, or that he was unaware of them. Considering how enmeshed his life has been with the band since 1999, that seems a little unlikely.
posted by emjaybee at 8:26 AM on August 1 [4 favorites]


I lived in Columbus for 6 years and I was active in the community band/orchestra music scene, and so I have several friends who are TBDITL alumni. I see a huge disconnect between what is presented in the report (including most importantly the two sexual assaults) and the overwhelming alumni attitudes I'm seeing from my Columbus-area friends. Seeing the amount of victim-blaming in some of those discussions was really disheartening to me (and that includes music educators who also happen to be alumni).

But at the same time, I think Dr. Waters' argument that he was doing a lot to change the band's culture (eliminating alcohol) deserve closer attention. It's not a cut-and-dried issue either way, and perhaps that feeds into the controversy.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 8:35 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


What is it with alumni and these incidents?

We see everything through the lens of our own experience. People think things like, "Oh, I remember how I was 'hazed' during my time in the band, and it wasn't that bad and it didn't kill me, so this 'hazing' can't be that bad and won't kill anyone."

Same thing happens in the military: "Well, I made it through Basic, so they need to buck up!"
posted by Etrigan at 8:38 AM on August 1 [9 favorites]


My guess is an aversion to believing that something so ugly could possibly happen at an institution you care so much about.

And why people care so much about where they went to school is beyond me.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:42 AM on August 1 [14 favorites]


You obviously didn't go to the University of Minnesota.

Rah rah rah for Ski-U-Ma! RAH FOR THE U OF M.
posted by maxsparber at 8:45 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


And why people care so much about where they went to school is beyond me.

For the vast majority of college graduates, it was their first adult experience. First time they were living alone, first time they were managing their own budget (such as it is), first time they were responsible for getting to class on their own, first time out of the elementary-middle-high-school cocoon where 80 percent of your friends were the same from year to year... It's also where a lot of people make friendships that last for the rest of their lives. It's a pretty formative experience.
posted by Etrigan at 8:53 AM on August 1 [3 favorites]


Silly band director. As any admin could have told you, the only proper response is: CALL LEGAL
posted by jim in austin at 8:54 AM on August 1


And why people care so much about where they went to school is beyond me.

For a lot of people it forms much of their identity. It's where they formed friendships, romantic relationships, had some formative experiences. And also for many people it's something they grew up with--there's a whole culture around sports fandom in particular, so it's something that's shared with family and friends, sort of reinforcing the positive feelings one has.

And it's distinguishable from, say, high school, because where you get your college education is much more likely to be a product of choice than where you get your high school education--contributing to more of a sense of ownership about the experience, I suppose you could say.

On top of that, there's a desire to feel proud of the institution that educated you--in its dumbest form it's about athletic accomplishment, but I know I am stirred or excited a little when one of the universities I graduated from is mentioned as having made some sort of significant academic or research contribution.

It's also cool that people don't feel any of these attachments to schools they attend, but it's a very common thing.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:58 AM on August 1


And why people care so much about where they went to school is beyond me.

Well, for me, it was a pretty intense and foundational experience. I read my alumni magazine and at least occasionally check the various fb groups related to the college, and am still friends with some of the people I went to college with. I get that that's not the case for everyone.

When I was a student, I used to feel angry at how much power alums seemed to wield over us. Who the fuck are you, I wondered. You don't go here anymore. This isn't your school anymore.

I was right. It's not my school anymore; alums seem to have too much ongoing power.
posted by rtha at 9:00 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


Notice that it's the university band alumni standing behind him, not just the university alumni. And the ties among former band members are very strong.
posted by smackfu at 9:01 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


I read the whole report and I'm sympathetic that he had limited time to address very entrenched cultural issues in the band. However, what stood out was that TWICE university legal counsel ordered him to take specific actions in response to specific events, and twice he ignored and disobeyed them.

That's not who you want in charge of your biggest Title IX liability in the current legal climate.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:16 AM on August 1 [23 favorites]


The attitude I sense is: "Anything controversial that threatens how I remember my college days is a threat to me." Or, perhaps, anything that threatens my rose-colored sunglasses is a threat.

As a large college band alumni, I'm not particularly surprised that things got too far. Every year, every class, things become a little bit edgier. A director whose ties to the band stretch over that many years needs to prove that they can remain objective. Otherwise, it's like a weird form of arrested development where they never mature beyond being a college junior.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:16 AM on August 1


Notably, one woman mentioned in the report, who was given the nickname "Joobs" because she was a "Jewish woman with a large chest," wrote that she never felt sexualized or degraded by her nickname until after reading the report.

....How on earth not?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:16 AM on August 1 [8 favorites]


For what it's worth, the alumni rallying around Waters are the ones who decided to stay. Ditto for "Joobs"- it's fine that she felt comfortable in the environment, but the current ratio in the band- 80% male, 20% female- indicates that a fair number of women did not (and, from second hand sources, I've heard of female members who joined, and then quit, after they received their rookie names).

And yes, it's an all brass band, but that's still slightly skewed- I did the math on the current brass/percussion section for the school I attended and played in the band in (also a large state university), and it was about 30% female. And, on a personal note, I'm sick and tired of the "This is what college band is like!" because, again, from my own experience, no, it doesn't have to be that way.
posted by damayanti at 9:24 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


....How on earth not?

Peer pressure, patriarchal standards of society, peer shaming, learned helplessness. If you want me to go on I can do so for at least 10 minutes but then I will have to stop for a pee.
posted by elizardbits at 9:26 AM on August 1 [21 favorites]


Notably, one woman mentioned in the report, who was given the nickname "Joobs" because she was a "Jewish woman with a large chest," wrote that she never felt sexualized or degraded by her nickname until after reading the report.

....How on earth not?


A fish who joined the marching band wouldn't understand why his nickname was "Water-Breather" either.
posted by Etrigan at 9:30 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


All the outrages in the band probably amounted to 1% of the outrages committed on Frat Row and Stoner Apartment Street. Nerds can't win, even when it comes to being sexist jerks.
posted by MattD at 9:31 AM on August 1


Apparently the rookie name "oh honey" was already assigned.
posted by klarck at 9:32 AM on August 1


This is a great post, QuantumMeruit, and I'm glad you made it. I'm a grad student at OSU now, and I did my undergrad here as well. I've been really interested in my community's reaction to the firing, as well as the attitude of the student body and alumni as a whole.

Maybe it's just that I don't always have a lot of faith in my peers, but I was pleasantly surprised to read the comments and the discussion online immediately after Waters' firing. There was some predictable "kids being kids" and complaining about "PC culture", but on the whole I saw a lot of people agreeing that the culture of the band had an issue, and that the corrective action the University took was appropriate.

Over the last week, the conversation has started to get muddier, as the articles written by current OSUMB members, and the members quoted in the investigative report, have gotten a lot of circulation on Facebook and such. Their message – "I did this consensually, I felt supported, I didn't feel a pressure to conform" – has a lot more weight when it's coming from women and nondrinkers. The debate I've seen hasn't been centered around justifying the behavior described in the report, but rather arguing that the investigation fundamentally mischaracterized the culture of the band, and that it truly wasn't an oppressive environment to the degree that it was made out to be.

Reading the report, and especially looking at the "rookie midterm" that was given to members, I saw a lot of what I think are the sickest parts of Greek culture, and I still see that in a lot of the findings. I'm still confident that parts of the band's culture needed reform, and it does seem like Waters may not have been assertive enough in his actions to reform the culture. But was he on the right track? Is firing him the right path to improving the health of the organization? I hope so.

TBDBITL is a hugely respected group on campus, even more so after this past year of publicity. During the last football season, the band started to get more airtime on ESPN discussions, etc., than the football team did, which is CRAZY. Band members wear their jackets to class, people drive around with "TBDBITL" license plate frames, the band gets love. There was no public narrative against Waters, and in fact he didn't have a lot of visibility before this incident, which made the firing quite a surprise for most people.

My question is: what the fuck did Waters do? Maybe I'm too cynical, but I'm not sure that this university would take such a dramatic and progressive action, on a problem with no public profile, against an organization with massive goodwill and a vocal alumni base. Not that they SHOULDN'T, but that they WOULDN'T, at least when the issue isn't so clearly defined. Was Compliance so convinced that they had a huge Title IX liability issue on their hands? Is the incoming president, Drake, so set on sending a message that cultural issues will not be tolerated? Or did Woods seriously fuck up politically, and this is him getting burned? Maybe all of the above. I have no great insight into, nor any great faith in, the black abyss of high-level University politics.
posted by aaronbeekay at 9:38 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


Notably, one woman mentioned in the report, who was given the nickname "Joobs" because she was a "Jewish woman with a large chest," wrote that she never felt sexualized or degraded by her nickname until after reading the report.

....How on earth not?


Funnily enough, the sentence you quoted from the FPP actually links to an article written by her where she explains exactly that. Crazy, huh?

I was going to summarize it and explain her reasoning, but it really annoys me when people complain about something they haven't read, so I'm going to be petty and not.
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:43 AM on August 1 [9 favorites]


Was Compliance so convinced that they had a huge Title IX liability issue on their hands?

If you read the report, especially footnote 7 page 12, it looks like they had issues getting Waters to attend Title IX training even after an incident of sexual harassment (which he seriously screwed up handling). The university's already under investigation for Title IX violations for sexual assault issues; they want to make it look like they're doing something. Not that I don't have a problem with the band culture- I do, see my comment above- but I agree that the firing is probably more about Drake taking a stand and the university trying not to get sued than, you know, actually trying to change anything substantial on campus.
posted by damayanti at 9:45 AM on August 1


Nerds can't win, even when it comes to being sexist jerks.

I was part of a (non-Big 10) marching band with a lot of traditions (including alcohol abuse, sexism and other bad behavior), and, with the benefit of 20 years of hindsight, I now regret a lot of what my actions and words contributed to back then. But at the same time, I also realize that my experience in the band helped form me as an adult, and I can certainly point to my own college band days as helping me understand how to lead and organize others.

I think what's hard to communicate to people who haven't experienced it is going from "nerd" in high school to an environment where the band is "cool" and celebrated. And the upperclassmen, pushing alcohol (or more) can take on an almost prophetic stance -- they're leading the nerds to the promised land of coolness.

I think it's great some women were strong enough to not be bothered by what was going on around them, that some band members had enough self-confidence to say "no" when pressured. But what I think is lost in those alumni narratives is that while it's great that they had the fortitude (or that their experience taught them that fortitude), there's the tension between, "Hey aren't these adults' and "the University has a duty to create a safe environment".

On one of my friends' Facebook page, a woman wrote about how she had tried out for TBDBITL and during the tryouts was called a "cunt" by the squad leader for messing up. She decided the band wasn't for her after that. I was amazed at the lack-of-outrage from alumni to that comment -- or the assertion that band leadership wasn't responsible for setting the tone that such behavior was unacceptable. But at the same time, it seems that Dr. Waters was starting down the path of making a real change to the environment; were those steps regarded as not enough, or not fast enough? There's so much going on within that, it seems...
posted by QuantumMeruit at 9:45 AM on August 1 [3 favorites]


All the outrages in the band probably amounted to 1% of the outrages committed on Frat Row and Stoner Apartment Street. Nerds can't win, even when it comes to being sexist jerks.

As we've seen from convention threads, gaming culture, and lots of other places in real life and online, nerds have what seems to be a limitless capacity to be sexist jerks. They are no better, though probably no worse, than their frat and stoner peers. Band is just one side of it.
posted by gladly at 9:49 AM on August 1 [4 favorites]


Funnily enough, the sentence you quoted from the FPP actually links to an article written by her where she explains exactly that. Crazy, huh?

I wrote my question after reading it, but thanks for the snark.

Frankly, when I was in high school and spent my time gradually getting to know people and gradually growing to trust them, having them bestow the nickname of "KansasChest" on me (or whatever) would have felt like a betrayal, so my "how on earth not" was more questioning how she could have come to that conclusion based on the evidence she stated (which, as I've stated, I did read).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:53 AM on August 1


For those also playing from home, TBDBITL means, "The Best Damn Band in the Land."
posted by rhizome at 9:57 AM on August 1 [4 favorites]


Thank you rhizome, I was wondering
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:10 AM on August 1


What is it with alumni and these incidents?

Selection bias. People who had no problem with it at the time have no problem with it now. People who had a problem with it dropped out, quit or just faded away unattached from their unpleasant college experience and don't put themselves forward as alumni.
posted by srboisvert at 10:41 AM on August 1 [10 favorites]


Metafilter: Oh God this thing is making me want to unfriend everyone on Facebook.
posted by amtho at 10:46 AM on August 1 [4 favorites]


My nephew was in TBDBITL, and I went to a game just to see them march. They've done some way cool patterns of late. Frankly, considering the marching band's popularity, I'm surprised OSU fired Walters. I remember how long they tolerated the antics of Woody Hayes. It's a lot like fraternities; they get out of hand, but the alumni have fond memories.
posted by theora55 at 10:57 AM on August 1


Frankly, considering the marching band's popularity, I'm surprised OSU fired Walters.

His predecessor was the director for a quarter of a century. Whoever followed him was doomed anyway -- to use your Woody Hayes example, his successor, Earle Bruce, was fired after one season that he finished under .750 -- a mark that Hayes himself only hit in slightly over half of his seasons. You can fire a legend if he commits a legendary offense (e.g., someone dies in a hazing incident), but you can fire his successor for any damn thing.
posted by Etrigan at 11:18 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


Etrigan, I think what really distinguishes Waters, though, is that upon taking the helm of the band, he catapulted the band into national attention (and acclaim) for the halftime shows that went viral on Youtube. The combination of ambition of complexity and flair in execution meant that the Ohio State band was receiving more praise and attention under Waters than under Woods, who spent 28 seasons as the band's director (with a total of 38 seasons with the band).
posted by QuantumMeruit at 11:57 AM on August 1


Yeah, that's what I think is most interesting about this firing. Waters boosted the team's visibility and popularity significantly in the two years he was director, and the praise for the band was unqualified until this firing.

damayanti: ...it looks like they had issues getting Waters to attend Title IX training even after an incident of sexual harassment (which he seriously screwed up handling).

Ah, I must have missed that when I was reading the report. To me, that still seems like something that would be handled through back channels instead of with such a high-profile firing, but who knows how skittish Legal/Compliance got.

QuantumMeruit: a woman wrote about how she had tried out for TBDBITL and during the tryouts was called a "cunt" by the squad leader for messing up.

That's exactly the subtlety that's difficult to communicate to people when they're discussing these things in the context of the "I'm in band, I consented, I am happy" messages. It's possible to have an organization where all of the participants are happy and consenting and feel supported, but where the culture is still intimidating and unwelcoming to outsiders who don't share some of the in-group's values. The testimonials from current band members are blind to the members they never got because they dropped out after the first year, or the first week, or whatever.

Of course, that concept in itself isn't proof that the organization is unhealthy. And Alexandra Clark ("Joobs") describes some unequivocally positive things in her letter: being told she didn't have to participate in the midnight march or could wear whatever she wanted; choosing not to drink alcohol during team social events; and then, critically, actually exercising her freedom to do so in both cases, without feeling negative social repercussions. That's evidence against an unhealthy team culture. But the pull quotes that are being passed around from these testimonies – "I didn't feel sexualized" – shouldn't be taken as evidence of the health of the culture, and I think that's how they are being used right now.
posted by aaronbeekay at 1:18 PM on August 1 [6 favorites]


For those also playing from home, TBDBITL means, "The Best Damn Band in the Land."

AKA University of Michigan.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:30 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


Thank you for digging out that tenure info, emjaybee.

I was about to defend him based on how long it takes to change a culture like this from inside: at least one full cycle, I'd think. Had he come in from outside, I'd feel for him But if he's been there for years, that's a different matter.
posted by tyllwin at 1:55 PM on August 1


My question is: what the fuck did Waters do? Maybe I'm too cynical, but I'm not sure that this university would take such a dramatic and progressive action

There's plenty for us reactionary religious conservatives to be outraged about here too! A lot of the names are pretty raunchy.
posted by Jahaza at 2:56 PM on August 1


The alumni need to recall that people "put up with" segregation, and weren't they a generation that put an end to those practices? They had a vision of what the future could be, so do they want ALL of that back on a gender level?

At a certain point, Waters needed to publicly establish himself as a leader that values gender equity, and walk the talk. He comes off as being reactive, not pro-active, while students were perpetuating the culture, such as dropping the C word on a recruit. In almost all circumstances, there is a 4 year rotation of band members. Waters needed to inspire change in the membership, and support it through the cycle.

People are loath to complain about personal identity matters, because of the victim blaming, add on pressure with the branding. I've read enough. They are The Band (and staff)That Needs To Get Its Act Together so its members aren't running a gauntlet that has nothing to do with band performance.
posted by childofTethys at 3:30 PM on August 1


Here in Columbus just two months ago my middle son graduated from high school in a class totaling fifteen fellow students.

More unique: Waters was the commencement speaker. His first time and I presume last.
posted by hal9k at 3:47 PM on August 1


Final Score:
Big 10
Title IX (9)
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:28 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Some people might value their school so much they might give it a nickname like "mother of my soul".
posted by telstar at 9:31 PM on August 1


Actually it's more like
Big 10: 14
Title IX: 9
posted by Small Dollar at 10:03 PM on August 1


A friend of mine once told me, as we were both about to graduate, "I don't care about my school's reputation now, I care about its reputation ten years from now when its name is still at the top of my resume."
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:10 AM on August 2


What we need is a John Waters movie about this.
posted by Ennis Tennyone at 2:15 AM on August 2


Pffft. They aren't even the best band in Ohio.
posted by Shotgun Shakespeare at 8:03 AM on August 2


Alexandra Clark has stated she wasn't bothered by her nickname. Suggesting that she should be offended by something that's personal to her and that she likes is denying her her own experiences.

While not as offensive as the opposite (I.e. if she had been offended and telling her to lighten up), making an issue out of a nickname (that isn't even obviously about body parts/religion unless you knew the back story) doesn't really serve a purpose besides distracting from the instances where people did feel harassed, unsafe, etc.
posted by ghost phoneme at 11:41 AM on August 2


Alexandra Clark has stated she wasn't bothered by her nickname. Suggesting that she should be offended by something that's personal to her and that she likes is denying her her own experiences.

People aren't saying she should be offended. They're saying that they find the name offensive. People can be offended at the treatment of someone else, even if that someone isn't offended.
posted by Etrigan at 1:43 PM on August 2


She has a nickname that some people may not like to have themselves (as is their right!), but she likes and is comfortable with. I guess I'm not sure what there is to be offended by?

There are problems with the band culture. And her positive experience in no way takes away from others' negative experience.

But denying her positive experience (as in attributing her lack of offense at her nickname to the patriarchy and learned helplessness), will, I think, only lead to defensiveness that can help perpetuate these problems.
posted by ghost phoneme at 4:15 PM on August 2


I guess I'm not sure what there is to be offended by?

I'm not a Title IX expert, but my understanding is that if you have an environment where people are getting nicknames like "Joobs," plenty of people are going to find that to be a hostile environment. So certainly you end up with people like her who stay and love it and find it supporting, but Title IX problems come from the people who don't find it welcoming and find having nicknames like that unwelcome even if the name isn't directed at them.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:52 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]




« Older Kenji in Asia   |   NASA claims to have tested a... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post