What I am about to write will probably make a number of members of “Buckeye Nation” angry. I think President Drake had to fire Jon Waters and did the right thing. Period. No matter the flaws in the Glaros Report (and it can be argued that it has a number of flaws including evidence prior to Waters term as Director that should not have been included), the fundamental contention that Waters knew of and did not adequately address the sexualized culture of the Ohio State Marching Band and the sexually threatening atmosphere it created for at least some band members has not been refuted. Perhaps most damning are the facts that Waters presided over Midnight Ramp activities and was on buses where alcohol was being abused, where students engaged in sexually suggestive behavior and sexually explicit language, and where he was appealed to by a female university staff member who was a volunteer with the band to put a stop to these activities. Waters himself admitted that a substantial number of the rookie nicknames were sexualized and inappropriate. Given this evidence, and from what I understand of Title IX, I think the President and the Board of Trustees of Ohio State had to act as it did. That’s only a personal opinion and I suspect Jon Waters will have his day in court, as he already has had in the media.
Nevertheless, I am also convinced that unless this incident makes the university look at the brokenness of its culture, the critics who see Jon Waters as a scapegoat will have ample justification for their opinion. Some things to consider:
- Most fundamental is that the “sexualized” atmosphere of the band is a microcosm for the atmosphere that pertains throughout campus life. Dartmouth College President, Philip J Hanlon, received national attention for his challenge to Dartmouth students to clean up the drinking and sexual hook-up culture of Dartmouth. Dartmouth is under investigations for Title IX violations that have resulted in enrollment drops. I would love to see Ohio State follow up this incident with a similar challenge to students to change this climate on a university-wide basis and provide leadership throughout the university consistent with this value.
- That said, it seems that one of the key tasks of a University Compliance and Integrity office is not simply react to and investigate complaints (and it must be remembered that a real complaint initiated the investigation, report, and decision) but to proactively work to keep university personnel and leadership out of trouble. A Lantern story today indicates that this office was aware of the Marching Band atmosphere for some time. I think it must be asked why there was not more aggressive pro-active measures taken to protect the Marching Band organization, its leadership, and the university.
- What is also troubling is how inured we seem to be to the coarseness and vulgarity that was the norm of this organization. It is actually troubling to me that some of the people with reported nicknames were so inured to this sexualized culture that they only felt sexualized when the report was released. Again, I think this is reflective of a wider sexualized culture. The worst form of oppression is one where the oppressed aren’t even aware of their oppression. It is troubling that to defend the impressive on-the-field reputation of what I do think is The Best Damn Band In The Land (TBDBITL), so many refuse to support decisive leadership to change the culture and protect what is good.
- Lastly, I think it must be realized that this is a discriminatory culture in the invidious sense that it could exclude those with different sexual standards. The truth is, the sexualized rituals detailed in the Glaros Report have absolutely nothing to do with musical performance and marching band excellence. Now I won’t for a minute deny the reality of late adolescent sexuality or that you can ever have an utterly “squeeky clean” atmosphere. But it should not ever be that one has to accept or go along with the kind of coarse sexual atmosphere that this report reveals in order to be a part of this, or any university organization.
President Michael Drake was handed a tough problem during what should have been the “honeymoon” period of his presidency, he made a tough decision, and has taken the heat. My only encouragement would be that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. This is the time where university leadership at The Ohio State University could exercise public, positive, and vigorous leadership in challenging the alcohol and hookup culture that contributes to sexual violence on our campuses. The Marching Band is the tip of the iceberg of sexualized university culture. For too long, universities have simply avoided or evaded that iceberg with the consequence of numerous incidents of sexual violence, most against women. To continue to do so could be a titanic mistake.