Ohio State University (“University”) fired the director of its marching band following a two month investigation into an alleged culture of sexual harassment and alcohol abuse in which student band members were told to participate in numerous hazing activities, including mimicking sexual acts and marching on the football field in their underwear in a ritual called “Midnight Ramp.”
In a statement released by the University, the school acknowledged that after a thorough investigation by the Office of University of Compliance and Integrity, serious cultural issues and an environment conducive to sexual harassment within the Marching Band was revealed. The 23-page investigation report, prompted by a formal complaint under the University’s Sexual Harassment Policy and Title IX from the parent of a band member, concluded that a pervasive culture of sexual harassment existed within the marching band and that the band’s director should have done more to stop the offensive behavior. Specifically, the investigation found traditions within the band of assigning new members sexually explicit nicknames and requiring them to march down the aisle of a bus while other band members tried to pull their clothes off were allowed to continue unabated and that the band director “failed to eliminate the sexual harassment, prevent its reoccurrence and address its effects.”
The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the United States Department of Education is responsible for enforcing Title IX, which states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” In a series of communications, the OCR has highlighted that sexual harassment of students is a form of sexual discrimination prohibited by Title IX and that acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex or sex-stereotyping are forbidden. (OCR April 4, 2011, Dear Colleague Letter).
In discussing the investigation’s findings, University President Michael Drake stated,
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our students. We expect every member of our community to live up to a common standard of decency and mutual respect and to adhere to university policies.” President Drake added that there would be a zero tolerance policy applicable to the entire campus community for any behavior that creates a hostile culture at Ohio State.
The University has also announced the appointment of Betty Montgomery, former Ohio Attorney General, to lead an independent task force to review this matter in its entirety and report back to President Drake and the Board of Trustees.
The disciplinary action taken by the University comes at a time when the enforcement of sexual harassment and assault allegations is at an increased level of scrutiny by the federal government. The United States Department of Education has announced that investigators were examining whether 55 colleges and universities, including Ohio State University, improperly handles sexual violence and harassment complaints. The University’s clear and immediate response to its investigation’s findings may be a model that other colleges and universities seek to follow.