Former OSU marching band member writes letter criticizing report that led to firing of director

The news that The Ohio State University made the decision to fire its legendary band director over what a report called a “sexualized culture” of harassment shocked people across the state and the Internet.

One of those most shocked was one of the persons referenced in the report. But it wasn’t for the reason most would expect.

Alexandra Clark, who says she was a member of the band from 2009 to 2011, wrote an open letter directed to the attention to the new president of the university, Dr. Michael Drake.

Drake had been on the job for about three weeks before he received the results of the two-month investigation into the behavior of the band.

The probe determined Jon Waters, who led the 225-member band since 2012 but had been with the group for more than a decade, knew about and failed to stop what the university called "serious cultural issues" within the program.

A spokesman told the Associated Press the university was required to promptly perform the probe under federal Title IX sexual discrimination laws, after a parent complained band members were asked to swear secrecy oaths "about objectionable traditions and customs," some in place well before Waters took over.

Waters denies the allegations against him - including that he texted sexual limericks to band members - and disagrees that the band's culture is sexualized. He said the culture was evolving, while suggesting to investigators "that sexual innuendo is found in much of what college students do."

That sentiment is echoed in Clark's letter, which is posted on the pro-Ohio State website, "The Buckeye Battle Cry: Ohio." 

READ THE FULL REPORT 

“‘We respect women and we respect all the different people who work with us, we respect that diversity,’ Clark begins the letter, referencing a line directly from the report.

“This is a line from your statement on the firing of Ohio State University Marching Band director John Waters. I find it to be particularly ironic given the events of the past few days thanks to a report filed by OSU’s Office of Compliance and Integrity."

According to the report, investigators spoke of what they called a “sexualized culture” within the university’s marching band program. They cited the harassment of female members, the use of alcohol, inappropriate nicknames and “tricks” performed by young members given to them by their peers.

However, despite those criticisms, Clark said what is “truly shocking” about the report is the fact it didn’t respect the privacy and “dignity” of its band members.

In the report investigators list the nicknames of several former members of the band. Thy consider those names, things such "Donk," "Tulsa" and "Tiggles," offensive and inappropriate.

Clark thinks the report unfairly calls out those mentioned by identifying them and not looking at the meaning of the names or how they were picked.

“Ohio State clearly had no interest in learning anything about these strong, intelligent woman and instead decided that their delicate feminine sensibility needed to be defended by adding their names to a list of things they fell the Buckeye community should feel disgusted and ashamed about,” she wrote.

One of the band names Clark references most often is “Jewoobs,” the moniker bestowed upon her while she was a member.

"I’m the 'Jewoobs' that the entire Internet seems to be talking about. It wasn’t until (the release of the report) that I ever felt sexualized and degraded because of my name,” she added.

Clark also points out that she was "never consulted about her opinion" or asked for comment on the situation.

“I would also like to point out that is it spelled Joobs, not ‘Jewoobs’ as they spelled it in the report," she contends. “They felt ‘Jewoobs’ was so offensive that they added the descriptor ‘given to a Jewish student with large breasts’ so you could be fully aware that she was being sexualized and harassed because of her faith and her anatomy."

At this point in letter Clark shames those who looked into the matter for trying to turn a playful nickname given to her by people people she cares about into something mean-spirited. 

“You turned a lighthearted joke and a rookie name given to me by my row mates with my full consent into something shameful, and you decided that my entire identity could be boiled down to being a Jewish woman with a large chest. Please allow me to provide my prospective of the report, my nickname and my time in the band.”

Clark goes on to express that she didn’t feel attacked or forced into accepting the name and doesn’t feel as though name negatively reflects on her, her gender or her cultural identity.

“I’m a proud, strong, Jewish woman. My relationship with my faith is not the business of anyone else and that include The Ohio State University if you respect diversity, there is absolutely no necessity to turn this issue into one of religion nor is it necessary to define me in a report as Jewish.”

What she does feel ashamed of, now, is how the report forced to look at herself.

“I also have a large chest, but thanks to the investigation, the entire Internet knows that,” she wrote. “You took a physical feature that many women feel self-conscious toward, myself included, and made sure that it was what I will always be identified by in correlation with my time in (the band) and broadcasted it to the entire world.”

Clark suggests the authors of the report and the decision-makers who fired Waters did not provide her with the consideration or respect the band did while she was part of the program.

“The name Joobs was given to me by the older members of my row during my rookie year. They waited several weeks and after getting to know me they gave me a funny nickname that is, quite frankly, really fun to say out loud. They understood that I was able to enjoy the name and that it suited my sense of humor. All of this was done with my consent."

Be that as it may, the allegations against Waters went much deeper than allowing teenagers to come up with colorful nicknames for one another.

Some other criticisms included raunchy songs and a late-night march (the Midnight Ramp), described as optional, in which band members stripped down to their underwear. Investigators found band staff and directors, including Waters, had sometimes attended.

One female student said older members of the band would warn newcomers to wear "fuller coverage" undergarments for the event; others wore pajamas or shorts, but some marched naked.

But Clark said after making the band, the first thing all the members of her row told her was: “You don’t have to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.”

"Before the infamous Midnight Ramp, that same year, my female squad leader informed me that I could be fully clothed if it would make me feel more comfortable about participating, though there was no pressure to if I did not want to."

She also said she chose not to consume alcohol that first year, and the band supported that decision. She said she was joined by other members in her decision to abstain from drinking.

Clark also said her parents “embraced their role as band parents and supports of the band," even her father who she says is an Emeritus Faculty member at Ohio State. Band members called him “Dr. Joobs” and her mother “Mama Joobs,” even to this day.

Beyond parental support, Clark claims Waters made an attempt to take care of the members of the band, even if his decisions weren't always popular.

“To say that I never had any differences of opinion with Jon Waters would be dishonest and I can’t say I always agreed with everything he said or did during my time in the band or in the time since I left," she said. 

But Clark claims to have “witnessed (Waters’) attempts to change the culture.”

One way she said he did this was by implementing a zero tolerance policy for overtly degrading nicknames and made sure that band leaders made a point of documenting that they were taking care of rookie members of the band.

She asks: "If Ohio State has to investigate claims of sexual harassment, why was I never contacted for my side of the story? Where are the claims of sexual harassment towards me coming from?”

WCPO reached out to the publishers of the "The Buckeye Battle Cry" website for comment. Here's the response:

Prior to the publication of this letter, no one at The Buckeye Battlecry personally knew Ms. Clark. However, when it was brought to our attention that she was looking for someone to publish her letter, we felt that as one of the individuals listed as victims in the OSU report who had not been contacted by the investigation, she deserved the opportunity to share her story.  In light of complaints that the investigation's report failed to properly provide context for the described incidents, we also felt that Ms. Clark should be able to share her story in full without any edits on our part.

Drake previously said band staff is working to carry the band season forward smoothly as a new director is found. Members of the band recently performed with the Columbus Symphony, in an annual event considered the unofficial start of its season.

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