The happenings at The Ohio State University and the firing of Director Dr. Jonathan Waters have played very heavy on my heart over the past few days. I feel obligated to my band family to share this with my friends, colleagues and family who have only seen the media’s side of the story.
Everyone has a story, and I need to share mine. I am a proud alumni of TBDBITL – The Best Damn Band In The Land. I was a member of H-Row and the OSUMB for one year, the pinnacle year, of my college life. I must also add that one year ended with a Rose Bowl Victory for the Buckeyes but that, being as outstanding as it was, did not even compare to the “family” that I found and became a part of.
I never once felt threatened, persuaded, abused or sexualized during my time with TBDBITL however I do feel those things now. The President and the media have victimized each of us and the University has allowed this to happen. They have over generalized and shared private information so that the public now sees what was once a cherished organization as one identified with doubt. I am Tonya Hill-Sheridan. I am a “mommy” to three children. A wife to the love of my life (and also a TBDBITL alumni). I am a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter and an auntie. I am a Daisy Scout Leader. I work endlessly to fundraise and support the charities that I believe in. I am a leader and top performer within the company that I work. I am an artist. I am a baritonist. I am a runner. And I am me. I am not a pervert. I am not an alcoholic. I am not a bigot or sexually deviant nor have I ever been. However by being an alumni of the OSUMB, I (we) have been generalized and labeled as such. This is my alma mater. This is my family that we are talking about, the Pride of the Buckeyes: the same family that saw me through joys and sorrows; defeat and triumph; and life. And we will fight: fight for one of our own, Jon Waters, and for our pride. #westandforjon.
I was not a music major and not a traditional college student. I was a Child and Family Studies major and worked a full time job in my chosen field through most of my time at Ohio State. I was very intimidated of trying out, and being a part, of the marching band at Ohio State even though my passion for TBDBITL ran deep. I was intimidated not because of the “culture” of the band, but of my own ability. I lacked the confidence that I felt was needed to succeed as a member of The Best Damn Band in the Land. However, what was instilled in me, and what I gained that year, have carried with me and helped mold me into the person that I am today. I learned self-confidence and self-worth. Decorum, integrity and perseverance. But more importantly, I learned the meaning of being a part of something important and much bigger than myself. And I learned that together, we could move mountains.
The University cited numerous accusations and findings of dirty sexualized nick-names and tricks, midnight ramps (what the band calls their entrance into the stadium into their pre-game performance) in underwear, hazing, the victimizing of women and alcohol abuse within the band culture. I can attest that I was not an incoming freshman when I was a part of the band and was in fact “of age” but nevertheless a non-drinker. I never once felt pressure to drink or that I was penalized for not doing so. I went to non-university sponsored events and parties with band friends and not once was challenged for standing up for my morals/beliefs.
My rookie name was Umpa-lumpa with a fellow 4’11”-5” row member although the two of us never determined who was umpa and who was lumpa. Our task was to do the Umpa-lumpa dance. The name was endearing and I still laugh every time I watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with my children—and I can do the dance in my sleep. There were no sexual overtones in my name, or task, what-so-ever.
I did participate in the midnight ramp. The girls in my row wore boxer shorts, sports bras and tank tops —nothing that I don’t wear running out in our community’s park and I guarantee much more conservative than what one would see on a beach. Others might have chosen differently but that was their choice—one of my best friends even wore long underwear. It was all in fun and tradition. As a fellow alumni noted – if you can march down the ramp onto the field at midnight with your fellow bandsmen in your underwear then you can certainly march down that same ramp in front of 100,000 screaming fans in your full uniform! It took some of the fear of our first ramp out of us and was a bonding experience with our “family”. That being said, we were not “made” to participate but I have not one regret.
I never felt un-safe during my time the band – in fact quite the opposite— the guys in my row were quite protective of each other, our row, and in particular of females in our row. When we played Michigan, I remember being pushed and shoved while we lined up to march to the Skull Session by opposing fans. A drunk fan hit my horn so hard that my mouth bled. I had bruises for months. I am certain that being 4’11” I was an easy target. My “spot” was on the end of the marching row thus closest to the crowd. I remember my squad leaders re-positioning us so that the smaller girls were on the insides of the squad and the taller men were on the outside edges. Sexist? Harassment? No mam. Protective, yes indeed. They knew the abuse that the band took from the crowds, the glass thrown, and the intent of the opposing side to break the ranks. The men moved to the outside anyway; took the blunt of the crowd abuse and they were protective of our well-being. And I am truly thankful.
I am not here to say that questionable incidents did not exist within the band members however they were the exception and not the norm. The traditions run deep within the band and most were established before most of my row was even born. As such, times have changed too since my experiences and I am sure some of the questionable traditions are somewhat different within the culture that we now live in. We did not have access to social media, the increasing rise of bullying, the internet with graphic sexual images and culture as the students are now exposed to. Dr. Waters recognized that these traditions needed to be addressed and was in the process of making changes and filtering out the traditions that were growing more questionable – all while he was moving mountains with the students and taking them to world recognition on the field. Changes take time: time that he was not given. I marched with Jon. I know the integrity that he has, and have followed his career. He is a man of honor and who is dedicated his adult life to the OSUMB. He has taken the band to new levels. He is the man that will take TBDBITL to the next level given the opportunity. I urge Dr. Drake to reinstate Jon and allow him to make the needed changes to the culture while continuing the excellence and the pride that TBDBITL is known for.
I challenge you, to be open minded and hear our stories before forming opinions. We were not asked to share our experiences or given the opportunity to defend ourselves. And neither was Jon. We stand together and #westandforjon.