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Ohio State's ex- band director says he was working to change the band culture
Former band members say he was taking a gradual approach to desexualize the band culture, but it was not fast enough for the university

A former member of the OSU Marching band says fired director Jon Waters tried to improve the culture within the band.
Courtesy of Sam Howzit
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From the beginning, fired Ohio State band director Jon Waters has vowed to clear his name. Waters claims he was in the process of making changes to the OSU band culture even before the investigation that cost him his job began. For Ohio Public Radio, WOSU's Mandie Trimble reports those changes are detailed in a report Waters gave investigators last month.


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In its report released last week, Ohio State investigators gave explicit examples of a sexually charged culture within the marching band. But the report left out a seven-page document Jon Waters submitted to university investigators July 14.

In the report, Waters acknowledges the band’s culture was not in a “‘good place’” and “dire need of change.” He writes when he took over in 2012, he began a process aimed at bringing “real, lasting change” within the band.

Training and prohibitions
He says hazing and inappropriate behavior on buses would not be tolerated. Waters outlawed the explicit student-written newsletter. He notes student band leaders attended training sessions on alcohol abuse, hazing and sexual harassment. Waters attorney David Axelrod says he hosted many more of these sessions than previous band directors.

“He definitely cracked down on us,” former band member Victoria Nolte says. She played trombone from 2010 to 2013 and graduated last year.

“He was the one guy who came in and started changing stuff," Nolte says. "Some of the vets got pissed. They were like, 'Oh my gosh, it’s the fun police. We’re not going to have any fun anymore.'”

Nicknames and other problems
Nolte’s nickname was listed in the OSU report. She declined to elaborate on what it meant, but she said it had a sexual connotation to it. Nolte added it did not make her uncomfortable.

But they may have made Waters uncomfortable. In his response, he writes he had worked for two years to reduce the number of inappropriate nicknames given to first-year band members.

Nolte says Waters wanted to make the long-standing traditions a little cleaner.

“He would sit there and get feedback from us and say, 'How can we change this so that it’s not as uncomfortable, so that it’s not as racy, so that we can still participate in something that’s been going on for 50 years?'” Nolte says.

Student leaders' role
Waters stresses student leadership was crucial in cultivating change because as he put it, “the students are the individuals… creating the culture in the band.”

Where the OSU investigation and Waters response differ is on timing. The university says Ohio State policy and federal law mandate that Waters should have acted immediately and decisively to eliminate any sexual harassment.

Waters stressed change is a process and many of the changes, like banning the midnight underwear march, completely prohibiting nicknames and banning all drinking, only came after Waters was confronted with May’s formal complaint.

Nolte says she thinks Waters did what he could to cultivate change considering he faced push back from veteran band members and others.

“If he would’ve gone in there and just said, 'We are not doing 100 percent of the traditions anymore, do you understand our alumni association would have been up in arms?" Nolte says.

Waters' attorney, David Axelrod, agrees Waters likely faced significant challenges to his vision for a new Ohio State Marching Band.

“It does seem likely that there would have been a lot of push back," Axelrod says. "Again, for things to change, for things that have been going on for a long time and are perceived as entitlements ..., it has to happen organically from within rather than by decree.”

It is unclear what the next steps are for Waters. Axelrod says they want to find a way to get Waters reinstated and Axelrod has been in contact with university attorneys.

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