FAMU band director threatens legal action over hazing

November 26, 2011

The weekend after Thanksgiving typically gives black college bands one of their biggest stages at the Bayou Classic.

Southern University and Grambling University bands quare off in New Orleans for their annual family reunion party and rivalry.


In this Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, photo, Robert Champion, a drum major in Florida A&M University's Marching 100 band, performs during halftime of a football game in Orlando, Fla. (Joseph Brown III/AP)

On Sunday, an attorney for White, the band director, threatened legal action against FAMU unless he is reinstated.

White’s “removal for the specious allegations of wrongdoing with respect to hazing is protected by the rules regarding tenure and could subject the university to separate legal action if he is denied the privileges and protections appertaining to his rank,” Tallahassee attorney Chuck Hobbs wrote, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Rumors are swirling about why Champion, a clarinet player who was recently named a drum major, would have been hazed.

Hazing has a long history on college campuses. It ranges from binge drinking to demeaning pranks and, at its worst, beatings that have sometimes turned fatal.

At first blush, the use of the term seemed all wrong to me. In college fraternities—like the one I pledged—hazing was part of the initiation process. Those seeking to get in were at the bottom of the totem pole and, far too often, willing to do whatever was necessary to get in.

Once in, however, the threat of hazing ceased.

But friends and colleagues said that’s not the case in every organization. One, a retired Marine, wrote: “From a military point of view, hazing was a continuous thing. Although you weren’t hazed by your subordinates, you were welcomed (hazed) into your new group of peers once promoted.”

Sometimes hazing is trivial and silly. But it can also be dangerous. Universities have cracked down and so have fraternities and sororities to fend off lawsuits that have threatened to bankrupt them.

Wherever it happens, hazing typically requires the complicity of the pledge, the current chapter members and, almost always, adults in authority who conveniently look the other way.

Far too often, only significant injury or a death forces people to pay attention.

In this case, Champion, 26, was found unresponsive in a parking lot after the team’s game with Bethune-Cookman. He was vomiting and complained of shortness of breath. He died at a hospital a short time later. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has ordered an investigation punish “individuals directly or indirectly responsible for this death.”


In this photo taken Nov. 19, 2011, Florida A&M University's Director of Bands Julian White conducts the marching band during the halftime the Florida Classic at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. White, the longtime director of the famed marching band, was fired Wednesday, Nov. 23 by the university. (Joseph Brown III/AP)

I hope that the inquiry doe not end with any young people who may have been involved. Nor should it end with FAMU. Thuggery that results in death or serious injury cannot and should not be tolerated.

Lawrence C. Ross Jr., in July, wrote a piece for The Root, calling out abusers who arrogantly assume that, through their actions, they are building better people.

“Hazers want and seek the power that comes with being able to order subservient pledges to do whatever they want,” wrote Ross, the author of “The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities .” “And for the pledges, the feeling of validation as a man, having gone through some trials and tribulations, is what motivates their continued participation in hazing activities.”

It is all of our jobs to remind our young people that there is nothing laudable about taking or receiving a beating.

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