WOUB: Harmless Tradition or Harassment?

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Lifestyle Staff Writer | Sydney Dawes | sd983213@ohio.edu

In just about every student organization, you’ll see attraction; you’ll see romance; you’ll see relationships. When does this natural occurrence become inappropriate, though?

OU’s WOUB published a press release March 11 to report two shows, FaceOff and Bobcat Sports Showcase, were cancelled due to allegations of inappropriate behavior related to gender.

According to a junior journalism student, who wishes to remain anonymous due to their involvement, three instances possibly led to the cancellations. First, a GroupMe, a social media messaging app, was created by a member of WOUB for other members to name their “WOUB Top 3.” Second, a confrontation took place between two students where a male student told the host of Bobcat Sports Showcase that she had her leadership position because of her looks. Finally, another incident of “WOUB Top 3” rankings was reported occurring when a few WOUB volunteers attending this year’s Associated Press of Sports Editors (APSE) trip to Tennessee, were chatting in a car.

With 24 students dismissed, suspended or put on notice to improve their behavior, sexual harassment has shaken WOUB staff. Source: WOUB via WOUB.org
With 24 students dismissed, suspended or put on notice to improve their behavior, sexual harassment has shaken WOUB staff. Source: WOUB via WOUB.org

This tradition of WOUB reporters choosing three people whom they find attractive has been going on for several years, according to junior Josh Vermillion. “One of the first questions anyone ever asked me within the first couple of weeks was like, ‘Who’s your ‘WOUB Top 3’?’” Vermillion said. “Which is, essentially, what three people in WOUB you would consider the most attractive. That’s been going on for as long as I have been there.” He commented that because he was asked so early on, it could point to the “Top 3” trend existing before his time with WOUB. Vermillion joined WOUB as a reporter his freshman year when he came to Ohio University as a journalism major; three years later, even though he is now a psychology major, Vermillion stayed involved with Hardwood Heroes and Gridiron Glory.

“The head people at WOUB know the names of the people who were in it,” the anonymous junior journalism major said. “Since the GroupMe was deleted, they don’t know the content that was in it.” He was added to the GroupMe, but made no posts. From what he saw, the only posts in the group chat were “Top 3” rankings.

On Wednesday, March 9, the WOUB sports section had a meeting that the directors of WOUB, as well as Professor Justice Hill, attended. Students were asked by the executives to send emails to Mark Brewer, the chief content officer of WOUB, giving names of people who were involved in the group chat, as well as their own personal involvement with it, according to the anonymous source. He also added that students were asked to report times where they felt uncomfortable. Freshman Alex Harrison, who attended the meeting, said they listened to a speech about sexual harassment.

Hill, who is the former advisor of APSE, declined to give a comment.

Male students whose names were mentioned in these emails were then requested for personal meetings with Mark Brewer and Michael Rodriguez (Director of Production Services & Student Development) on Friday March 11. In all, 24 students were either dismissed, suspended for the rest of the year or put on notice to improve their behavior, according to the junior journalism major, who was temporarily suspended from WOUB. Another student lost an internship because of the incident, according to Vermillion.

“One of the most frustrating things about this entire thing is they’re not allowing us to defend ourselves,” the anonymous junior journalism major said. “They’re basing it off one or two emails. They handed you your punishment, they told you what it was, and then they asked if you had any questions. Whatever you said wasn’t going to change their decision; they already had it concrete.”

Harrison agreed. “They didn’t talk to me and found out what I did; they’re just going off emails.”

The GroupMe chat, according to Harrison, was active for not even a day and ended after Carter Eckl, the director of the sports section, was added to the chat. Many male members of the WOUB sports section were added to it to name their “WOUB Top 3.” Harrison posted one comment, stating that a fellow WOUB reporter’s pet bulldog was his number one, as a joke. He was suspended from WOUB for the rest of the year.

Harrison pointed out that he, too, was asked early on who his “WOUB Top 3” was, and that it was a trend carried on by both male and female sports reporters at WOUB.

Freshman Chloe Szakovits, a reporter from WOUB, confirmed this, saying the trend has become a tradition and has been going on for years. She was asked about her “WOUB Top 3” within the first few months of being heavily involved in the program.

“It’s something all the students involved [with WOUB] knew about, whether they were asked who their ‘Top 3’ was or not,” she said.

Eight other female students were contacted for comment, and only one responded, though she did so on condition of being anonymous.

“I’m just really frustrated because members of WOUB have been doing ‘Top 3’ for many, many years, and now they are making a big deal about it,” the female freshman WOUB sports reporter said.

Thursday, March 10, Harrison had a meeting with Mark Brewer to discuss his punishment. Brewer told Harrison that the suspensions and reprimands were influenced by events that occurred last year.

“I don’t know how I should be punished for that, considering I was in high school last year,” Harrison pointed out.

Although he was not suspended, Vermillion sympathizes with students who were. “When they go back, how are they going to be comfortable? I don’t know how those people who plan on coming back after a semester are going to be able to function and work cooperatively with those other people. Now there’s a stigma on it.”

“We’ve talked about sexual harassment in classes, but we never had formal training from WOUB,” Vermillion said. “We were always told, ‘If you have a problem, talk to each other and talk to your sports directors.’”

Harassment, as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), is “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” According to the EEOC website, “Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.”

The press release never explicitly mentioned sexual harassment.

Vermillion doesn’t ignore the fact that sexism exists on college campuses and in the professional realm, and he explained how complicated conflict can become because of social media and technology. “Just because it was in written form in a GroupMe made it just blow up way more than it should have. What’s going on in WOUB right now is a reflection of what is going on in America.”

We will continue to update this story as more people come forward to give information.

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