The Ohio State University Marching Band – “The Best Damned Band in the Land”, as it is known – is caught in the midst of a scandal that has probably gone unnoticed in most other places. After the release last month of a report into the “sexualized” character of the OSUMB that was determined to be violative of the school’s Sexual Harassment Policy 1.5 and Title IX, Director Jonathan Waters was fired. In something that is rarely seen, one of the investigation’s interviewees and alleged victims spoke out against the investigation, the report, the black mark given the Marching Band, and the firing of Waters.
The Investigation Report into the Complaint against Jonathan Waters, Director of the OSU Marching Band was sparked by a complaint from the parent of a band member to Ohio State’s Office of University Compliance and Integrity. The parent was “concerned that the Band’s culture was sexualized and that its members were made to swear secrecy oaths about objectionable traditions and customs.” The parent requested – and got – an investigation.
Within the pages of the report, it is learned that the OSU band geeks (used here with affection) – like most other college kids – talk and joke about sex. They annually march into the famed Horseshoe at midnight in their underwear as a right of passage; give each other bawdy, single- or double-entendre nicknames; harass each other; roughhouse and change clothes on event buses; and compose incredibly creative but obscene versions of alma maters and fight songs. Think back to the Pi Delta Pi sisters serenading the Lambda, Lambda, Lambda nerds with “♫ Alpha Betas are okay, if you like sweat socks. ♫ We prefer your high IQs to their . . . ” and you get the idea.
The band has such a gas with this stuff that even the OSUMB alumni are in on the act. And, of course, Director Waters and his right hand men, Associate Director Christopher Hoch and Assistant Director Michael Smith, sort of ride shotgun over these shenanigans. Some of these things they see and some they don’t, but the report makes clear that they know what the OSUMB is about when it’s not playing. Unfortunately, it is about violations of a very serious school rule and federal law.
None of the foregoing tongue-in-cheekedness is meant to diminish the investigation. It was very capably done in-house and pursuant to the guidelines set forth by OSU’s Office for Civil Rights. The documentation contained in its appendices is very good and its random-sampling interview strategy _ assuming that it was – a common audit practice. Yet, according to one former OSUMB member, Jocelyn Smallwood a.k.a. “Donk”, the investigation is fatally flawed. On her Facebook page, she wrote:
“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.”
Smallwood’s missive is terrific – well thought out, well written, obviously passionate – but wrong.
Despite her indictment of the investigation for allegedly interviewing too few people, talking to another one hundred or another one thousand people would not have changed the results, because the facts are not really in dispute. And when Waters – himself an alumnus of the organization – admitted in varying degrees to not only observing and participating in the offending behavior as a student, but also as the OSUMB’s leader, his goose was cooked. There is no such thing as being a little pregnant.
What Smallwood’s complaint really speaks to is the harshness of policies and codes that are rooted in zero tolerance. Even if OSU investigators had interviewed all of the band’s 225 current members and all of its alums and together they unanimously said that they did not feel sexually harassed or subject to a harsh environment while in the Band, as long as one potential offended person is out there, the complained-of rules violations would have been and will be found to exist.
Despite being a political favorite, zero tolerance policies have a way of working harsh results, particularly on voluntary associations of seemingly like-minded people. Being a very bright young graduate, Donk may want to challenge the wisdom of having rules that do this.