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So OSU's Band is in trouble. Let's talk about it.

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Band talk! Band talk! Hooray!

Gregory Shamus

Sorry to preempt a little of Wisconsin Week (spoiler: I'M NOT) and fit this in before Better Know a B1G Band (ETA: TBD) begins, but it was too juicy not to talk about. Ohio State has dismissed its Director of the Marching and Athletic Bands, Jonathan Waters, over a "sexualized culture" which the the band had allegedly cultivated and tolerated under his watch. Basic coverage of why Waters was fired can be found in the Land Grant Holy Land piece linked above. A full PDF of the Ohio State internal investigation's findings can be found here. Moreover, here's a message from OSU President Michael Drake:

"To be a Buckeye you have to represent our institution and our state at all times with humility, with integrity, and with a respect for one another."

LAWL. Let's dive in, focusing on the points I find most cromulent:

I. Names of a Sexual Nature

Each new Band member (traditionally called a "Rookie") is assigned a nickname by upperclassmen. Multiple witnesses noted that many such nicknames are sexually explicit or have an implicit sexual meaning. One witness said that in 2013, all three new members of one row had sexual nicknames: "Captain Dildo," "Barker," and "Pat Fenis."

I was so tempted to write half of this tongue-in-cheek, because some of these names are juvenile and stupid to the point of laughter. When the findings report that "On May 23, 2014, a parent of a Marching Band member reported information about the Band's culture to the 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," well no shit.

Read the names given. If you were called something like "Jewoobs" for four years because you were given it as a "Rookie," whether maliciously or not, likely your band experience--which at OSU you earn by auditioning and winning a spot--is tarnished because some leaders decided to reduce you to a commentary on your heritage/religion/ethnicity and your appearance. How about I call an African-American trombonist in NUMB "Negrower, not a shower". Is that OK? And why would "Jewoobs" or anything on Page 6 of the report be tolerated?

When asked to estimate how many current nicknames are sexual or offensive, Waters responded that "fifty percent" probably were "questionable." When asked whether he thought such sexual nicknames are appropriate, Waters answered, "No." When asked why he then tolerates such sexual nicknames, Waters replied, "Good point."

Yeah. Good point. At least, to his credit, Waters acted when members of the OSU band were referring to another student as "Dr. Faggot" in 2011 and intervened. Thankfully, it's not like someone who could potentially help you get a job or be learning your name as an outsider could ever know them, right?

Waters stated that the Marching Band's alumni network publishes an annual directory that includes nicknames for some members, and he provided its latest version. Many of the printed nicknames included in the new June 2014 TBDBITL directory are sexually explicit, including some names given to new members in 2013.


I am not the most sympathetic or even understanding person ever. I said and did my share of offensive things while a member of the Northwestern University Marching Band. But to be reduced to your appearance, heritage, or status within the band and made a sexual object, permanently, by name? I can't get on board with that.

II. Actions of a Sexual Nature

Based on their "Rookie names," members of the OSU Marching Band would be given, according to the report, an action, or "Trick," to accompany their name. According to the report, those "tricks" would be done in privacy, not to sanctioned band time. However,

[Assistant Director of Marching and Athletic Bands Michael] Hoch stated that tricks have been performed in front of staff but they were never inappropriate. Waters stated that he never witnessed nor heard of any of the tricks listed above, and does not believe that such tricks are "performed on Band time." According to Waters, most tricks were on the clean side and involved singing a theme song or a fight song. He shared that his nickname as a student was "Clark Kent" and his trick was to sing the Superman theme song. Waters could not recall any sexually explicit tricks from when he was in the Band.

I'm just going to say I'm extremely, extremely skeptical that only the clean tricks were ever performed in front of band directors. Read them on page 7 if you want. I'm also going to note that I'm extremely skeptical that Waters "could not recall any sexually explicit tricks from when he was in the Band." But whatever. Obviously he'd cover his ass, and maybe he's telling the truth. The things performed on page 7 (especially the first action, involving a brother and sister, which is mortifying) are pretty disgusting, and I would hate to be the one doing them.

At least nothing stupid was happening on buses, says the Wisconsin band! That's OUR thing!

Two witnesses indicated that following Rookie Introductions, new Band members were made to march to the back of the bus while other students attempted to remove articles of clothing. These witnesses also stated that they had seen or heard of students being groped during the march. One male student was described to have had his pants taken down and fondled at the back of the bus after such an episode.

Well that's just stupid. And, again, not worth condoning. "Tradition" crosses the line when it becomes something that can be plainly construed as sexual harassment.

On the issue of the "Trip Tic," a humorous article published for reading on the bus and intended to be kept secret, I sympathize with the OSU Band and respect Waters' action when a girl was "severely berated in an article" and sexually-explicit actions of band members were mentioned. He allegedly shut down the Trip Tic (current members of OSU's band can confirm or deny if they want), as students couldn't handle this.

In the "Sexual actions" category, I feel mixed. Some of the sexualized rituals are downright disgusting. Publications like the "Trip Tic," however, I know other bands do. Hell, I've read, enjoyed, and produced my own for NUMB. People are the subjects of jokes, and if lines were crossed, band members often made it a point to call those people out. But those actions exist nonetheless. It's up to the band and its instructors to police, and here it appears Waters didn't get rid of the root of the culture, only one of its manifestations.

III. Disparaging Things to Other Teams

Witnesses discussed a Songbook containing misogynistic and alternate sexual lyrics to Ohio State and numerous other collegiate songs, which were sung on bus trips.

Unless that song is saying something flat out disgusting, like "Rape U Northwestern," I don't give a shit. For the record, a few of those songs and lyrics, provided by a friend:


There are literally thousands of versions of these out there. I do not give one single shit if OSU members find it funny to sing this on their bus rides. If I had a good one of the OSU fight song or Carmen Miranda or whatever the hell they sing, I would probably sing it, too. Actually, the ones provided are pretty good. Read all the way through. I'll be saving those for future use.

IV. Title IX Violations and Allegations of Sexual Assault

If this was ever condoned or allowed to happen by the band, heads should roll. This is the 21st century; it never should have been OK, it is not now. Rape, sexual assault, even the "just the tip" bullshit in here. No. Never.

V. Analysis of OSU's Analysis of Findings

Beginning on Page 17, the OSU report breaks down what it deems relevant to the investigation, namely:

Waters knew or reasonably should have known about sexual harassment that created a hostile

Yes, this is definitely true. But I dislike the blurring of the lines regarding changing on the bus. From my experience (any other bands, please correct me if this isn't the case with you), adequate arrangements were always made to ensure that females uncomfortable changing in front of males could change on their own bus or in a bathroom. I doubt this is much different at OSU. I'm also a male, so I expect to be told that I don't understand. Enlighten me.

Waters failed to take action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.

Waters' 2014 elimination of the "Midnight Ramp" march, where rookies march into OSU's stadium in their underwear, smacks of a last-ditch effort to save his job. Other anecdotal reports from the OSU findings depict Waters as someone who wanted to be students' friend before their director. Whether this is true or the biased findings of a few interviewees, I won't pretend to know.

The devolution of authority to section leaders and band staff in any marching band invites college students to use their newfound authority to push those younger students in a way that they were, all in the name of tradition. This, in my mind, is the role of the band director, discipline-wise: to step in when actions cross the line of good-natured into sexually-harassing or -assaulting. That did not appear to happen.

VI. On Waters, Band, and Culture

Lest this devolve into every online message-board debate about fraternities and sororities ever, let's admit something, fellow band-mates: our bands do act like a larger version of a frat. Some call it a cult. Some call it a way of life. Whatever it is, an intense feeling of belonging or pride in some organizational affiliation is nothing to be ashamed of. The "tests" linked in Exhibit A of the report are those demanding knowledge of the band's and school's traditions which are often passed down orally. Those "tests," however, when used to demean or belittle a man's penis size, a girl's breasts, or anyone's sexual orientation or mental capacity, are more unacceptable and do more harm than good.

If I may shamelessly speculate, 1700 words into this piece, I wonder if Dr. Waters was not too closely connected to the OSU Marching Band. Using names--allegedly not things offensive like "Jewoobs" in 1997--that demeaned other band members may have been second-nature to him. If the director of such a band is an alumnus of that band (and Northwestern's Dr. Mallory Thompson is one as well), perhaps they need to remain vigilant that they view the band as an outsider in the world of discipline and standards, though an insider in the world of pride and tradition. I understand these two lines blur, but I refuse to believe that they are not distinguishable when a person whose job and whose students' safety is on the line looks at the letter of the OSU, state, and federal law.

Bands will continue to abuse alcohol. They will continue to say and do lewd and offensive things. They will continue to demean other schools--and their own!--in profane and juvenile ways. It is when the abuse of alcohol leads to people's personal space and security being threatened that actions must be taken to ensure the safety of their members and those around them. It is when lewd and offensive statements and actions create a threatening, abusive, or hostile environment that actions must be taken to examine why those statements were made, how they were construed and received, and altered for the future. It is when "demeaning" becomes "threatening," or "harassing" that the profane and juvenile must be reined in.

This, I hope, is not an attack on the modern sense of "bullying" that people love to get up in arms about. I am not asking bands to be "sissies" or less proud by abandoning things like dirty fight songs or tests of knowledge on the university. I am asking bands to consider their culture, remain aware of the outside world's expectations, and have a good reason for continuing to act as they do. Should they fail to provide a good reason or continue in their line of action anyways, Dr. Waters will not be the last director to fall by the wayside.

VII. Responses.

Well, that's my 2000+ world rant. What do you think? Am I too sensitive to harmless hazing? Missing the point of sexual harassment and abuse? Annoying you all by taking up front page space with band talk? Admit it, you didn't want to talk about Wisconsin anyways. No one does.

If you have relevant cases or stories, please bring them up. And please remain respectful of one another and of our OTE rules. No hate speech, no inappropriate or NSFW images or material, and no flaming others for expressing their opinion. Thanks for making OTE a great place to be able to talk about these issues.