The Ohio State University Marching Band has racked up millions of views on YouTube, national acclaim, and even a spot in an iPad advertisement, for its elaborate formations. This one, celebrating Hollywood blockbusters, has garnered over 15 million views:
But a report released Thursday by Ohio State reveals that, behind the music, there was a pervasive culture of sexual harassment. The university said the band director, Jonathan Waters, should have done more to stop it, and fired him.
Among the findings of the report, which was prompted by a complaint from the parent of a band member, is that students were routinely given highly-sexualized nicknames including Jewoobs (given to a Jewish student with large breasts), Ballsacagawea, Sugar Bush and Twat Thumper. The nicknames were then included in a directory distributed to all band alumni and printed on band t-shirts. Two band members reported that Waters himself would use the nicknames, including a sexualized nickname, when he was upset. (Waters denied the allegation.)
Band members were also required to do “tricks.” For example: “A female student sitting on laps and pretending to orgasm. This included her sitting on her younger brother’s lap and pretending to orgasm on ‘make the Band night.’ Her nickname was ‘Squirt.’”
Another “trick” involved “Two females rubbing their chests together. Their nicknames were ‘Jewoobs’ and ‘Tiggles.’” (Waters said “most tricks were on the clean side and involved singing a theme song or a fight song” and he never witnessed a sexual trick being performed “on band time.”)
New band members, Rookies, “were made to march to the back of the bus while other students attempted to remove articles of clothing.” Band members reported these kind of “introductions” of new members as recently as the fall of last year. (Waters said “he was not aware of students’ clothes being removed since becoming Director.”)
One female band member complained to Waters that she was forced to change her clothes on the bus. She says he ignored her.
In 2013, “a female Band member alleged sexual harassment by a male Band member, and Waters initially decided that both individuals would be excluded from the next Band trip.” Waters reversed his decision when he was informed that excluding the female band member would be considered retaliation in violation of Title IX.
Waters maintained the the culture of the band was “not anti-women” and “would not describe the culture as sexualized and that sexual harassment is not a part of the culture.” The investigators disagreed, concluding “the Marching Band’s culture facilitated acts of sexual harassment under both university policy and Title IX, creating a hostile environment for students.”
Ohio State’s action comes at a time of increased scrutiny regarding how colleges handle allegations of sexual harassment and assault. In May, the U.S. Department of Education announced that investigators were looking into whether “55 colleges and universities illegally handled sexual violence and harassment complaints.” One of the schools under investigation is Ohio State University. (The full list is available here.) Groups like “Know Your IX” are seeking to raise awareness among students of their rights in the face of sexual harassment or violence. Ohio State’s aggressive response to the marching band’s culture — which the school admits persisted for many years — may represent a new chapter in how colleges handle these issues.