I was a member of the marching band every year in high school, and I loved almost every minute of it, and even though I didn’t enjoy my college marching experience enough to continue past freshman year, I still made some really great friends and had some good times. (Because marching band was my life in high school but something I mostly left on the practice field in college, pretty much all references in this post to my personal experience with band will be drawn from high school.)
I will be the first to admit that marching band culture as a rule is inherently sexualized…when you have that many teenagers and/or twenty-somethings spending that much time together, there will be innuendos and dirty jokes and the occasional inappropriate nicknames and whatnot. We called the trombones “boners” and asked people to be our “hookers” to fasten the hooks at the collars of our uniforms. On the flip side, however, certain things that might have been considered sexual outside of the band were just utilitarian actions in a band context, such as sitting on someone’s lap or huddling under a blanket with someone to keep warm at a late October game, regardless of the involved people’s genders. And changing clothes on the bus was no big deal. We always made an effort to give people privacy, and I never recall anyone indicating that they felt uncomfortable.
I was blessed with excellent band directors who worked very hard to make marching band both educational and enjoyable for everyone involved. They were respected and well-liked by all the students, but if a situation came down to a choice between making an important leadership decision or being friendly toward a student, they would make the important leadership decision, hands down. The directors’ promotion of a safe, welcoming, inclusive environment for all students inspired us to uphold that environment for each other. They might roll their eyes at “boners” or “hookers,” but any sexually explicit behavior or language beyond that level was immediately taken care of. (I can really only remember one instance of truly inappropriate behavior in the band room: When we got new uniforms, the first garment bags we had were just flimsy plastic sheets with holes in the top for the hangers. There was one guy (a trumpet player, unsurprisingly) who liked to put the garment bag over his head, wiggle around, and then jump and spit through the hole, imitating a condom-covered penis. I found it mildly amusing, but also pretty uncomfortable, and I strongly remember the band directors shutting the guy down every time.) Additionally, if the band directors had been aware of ANY alcohol or drug abuse on the part of their students, they would have reported it immediately.
I read the 23-page report that was released by OSU today about the investigation into the OSU Marching Band culture. As both a long-time band geek and a four-year Certified Peer Educator in college (meaning that I received lots of training and education about alcohol abuse and sexual harassment-type situations), I have to agree with the decision to fire OSUMB director Jon Waters. It’s pretty clear that the culture of sexualization in the OSUMB is extreme and in some instances seriously harassing, and it’s pretty clear that Waters was well aware of the situation and did little to rectify it. TBDBITL is a very large marching band, and I’m sure most of the inappropriate language and behaviors cited in the report were not practiced by all the members, but the fact that such instances occurred at all, let alone repeatedly, indicates a really big problem.
I don’t care very much about OSU at all, except for the marching band, but living where I live, it’s nearly impossible to hear about everything that goes on there, on the news and in newspapers and on Facebook and talking to friends. I haven’t been a big fan of some of the decisions made by OSU in recent years, such as those regarding Jim Tressel and E. Gordon Gee. I’ve never met Jon Waters, and I have friends who are OSUMB alumni and are very upset about the school’s decision today, but I can’t help feeling that the problematic TBDBITL culture would only have gotten worse if Waters had been allowed to stay on.
As a marching band member, I always had three objectives: 1. To put on the best performance I possibly could; 2. To represent my ensemble, my school, my school district, and my community in a positive light to everyone around me; and 3. To make every member of the band feel included and respected. From what I’ve read today, TBDBITL as a whole has been excelling at the first objective but failing at the last two. I really hope that with this change in leadership and closer monitoring from the university, the OSUMB can turn itself around and become truly worthy of the moniker “The Best Damn Band in the Land.”