Bowie State University has suspended its marching band, just days before a championship game, while it investigates allegations of hazing.
The Maryland school and Fayetteville State University play for the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association football title Saturday in Salem, Va.
On Tuesday evening, university officials sent an update to the campus: “Bowie State University is moving as quickly as possible to conclude its investigation of hazing allegations affecting the university bands. We are mindful of the impact of the imposed suspension on band members and the campus community, especially in light of the upcoming championship football game this weekend. We expect to be able to provide more information by Wednesday evening.”
The director of the band and officials in the school’s campus police office did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. The president of the student government association did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The historically black university in Bowie, Md., was founded in 1865. It is a public school, one of the campuses of the University System of Maryland. The Symphony of Soul is an important part of the school’s culture and traditions, rallying fans at sporting events and battling bands from other historically black colleges and universities at contests. The Bowie State band performed at the Kennedy Center in March and marched through Bowie as part of the school’s homecoming celebrations in October.
The Symphony of Soul missed the last game of the season. A reporter for HBCU Gameday, which first reported the suspension, posted a video on social media of band members out of uniform in the stands, and players calling out, “Free S.O.S.!”
A social media post said members of the band were petitioning to end the suspension.
Hazing has been a concern nationally and in the D.C. region, one that school officials and law enforcement have tried to counter — yet disturbing incidents have happened.
At Florida A&M University, the death of drum major Robert Champion in 2011 exposed the brutality and dangers of hazing rituals that were part of the band’s culture. Champion was beaten after a game and found in a parking lot; he died soon afterward at a hospital. The death led to a change in leadership at the historically black university and prison time for some of his former bandmates.
Several deaths tied to fraternity hazing last year led Greek organizations, universities, parents and lawmakers to devise efforts to change campus culture. Earlier this fall, four grieving families worked with associations representing more than 100 national fraternities and sororities, with a goal of combating hazing through tougher laws and education. Those efforts include personal, often tearful, appeals from parents to fraternity members to understand the impact bad decisions can have.
Last month, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed an anti-hazing law named for Timothy J. Piazza, a 19-year-old Pennsylvania State University student who died in 2017 after a fraternity pledging event. The law increases penalties for hazing and requires schools to have safeguards in place.
In Montgomery County, Md., five teens were charged with second-degree rape last week after allegations of hazing of junior varsity football players at Damascus High School. Four juvenile male victims were identified in the attack alleged to have taken place in the locker room after school.