CWR Student’s Forum
Hazing: The Cost Of Being A Part Of An Organization
By Ashley Williams
As a student at a prestigious HBCU, it is normally a wonderful feeling to have your university gain national attention. For example, when our band performed at half time during the super bowl or when they were invited to perform at President Obama’s inauguration. But as I turn the channel to CNN, I see my beloved school’s name plastered across the television screen: Florida A&M University drum major dead from hazing. It saddens me deeply that we are now wedged with a stigma that will forever haunt the university.
Florida Governor Rick Scott suggested to the board of trustees to fire our university president, all because a few students wanted to feel superior. Since 1887, Florida A&M University has been producing affluent African Americans from all over the country but unfortunately when something bad happens the media will bombard you with the negative and make you forget about the positive. With the band director fired and the Marching 100 suspended, “What will FAMU be without the band?” are the whispers I hear throughout the hallways. It worries me to think that all people know about FAMU is the band, what about those 500 students that graduated with their bachelors and masters degree in December that will go on to put a good name behind the university?
So many students come to college looking to become a part of something bigger than them. Don’t get me wrong, I support my brothers and sisters in the various sororities and fraternities and I believe there is good that comes out of these organizations, but I am also aware of the line that needs to be drawn, and Robert Champions death should be a lesson to the entire world.
People are seemingly shocked and unaware but the behaviors now known as hazing have been around for over two thousand years. Educators throughout history have had to confront the practical jokes, excessive alcohol consumption, physical abuse and violence, as well as other humiliating and dangerous events that have found their way into being the rites of passage for countless young college students around the nation. It has been reported among several campus groups including athletic teams, marching bands, and ROTC squads in different schools. All hazing is designed to make new students recognize their inferiority to upperclassman and to promote their substandard status.
According to insidehazing.com, more than 250,000 students reported they have experienced some sort of hazing. Five percent of all college students admit to being hazed, 40 percent admit to knowing about hazing activities and 40 percent report that a coach or advisor was aware of the hazing. Almost all fifty states have anti-hazing statutes. Typically, statutes prohibit any willful action that recklessly or intentionally endangers the physical and mental health of a student. Several statutes enumerate certain acts which constitute hazing, i.e. sleep deprivations or forced drug and alcohol use. Although a particular state may not enact a specific hazing statute, often actions that constitute hazing may be prosecuted under other criminal statutes.
In California, hazing is defined as an initiation process likely to cause physical harm or personal degradation. The punishment for committing or conspiring to haze is a misdemeanor with a fine between $100 to $5,000 and up to one-year imprisonment.
In Florida, three separate statutes govern state universities, community colleges and public and private colleges and whose students receive state financial aid. All institutions must adopt a written anti-hazing policy complete with penalties. Those penalties shall be in addition to any penalty imposed for a violation of the criminal laws of Florida, and Georgia classifies hazing as a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature and prohibits any possible activity which endangers the physical health of a student, regardless of a student’s willingness to participate. With all these statutes in place, one would think that the hazing levels would decrease but students are still slow to come forth and are dying because of it.
The Tallahassee Democrat reported on the previous incident of FAMU Clarinet player Bria Shante Hunter. For a week the Atlanta freshman tried living with a fractured femur and on November 7th she reported the incident to band director Julian White, who sent her to the hospital and immediately referred the case to the campus police. Four band members were charged with hazing and battery. Hunter told authorities that her injuries, which included blood clots as well as a cracked thigh bone were the result of being struck repeatedly for failing to live up to the credo of the Red Dawg Order, a sub-group made up solely of students from the Atlanta area, within the FAMU Marching 100.
Days after Hunter told her story to band director White, drum major Champion died on a band bus after a similar hazing incident. No criminal charges have been filed in the incident yet, which has now been ruled as a homicide.
Hunter revealed to the police that members of the Red Dawg Order forced her to lift her legs in marching position while they punched her upper thighs and struck her with spatulas, book binders and metal rulers. When Champions autopsy results came back they revealed that he died from shock from blunt force trauma to his back, neck, and body.
While some former FAMU band members acknowledge that some forms of initiation exist at the school, such as students being forced to get haircuts or run laps which could never lead to broken bones or death, few would speak openly about anything more severe.
It seems the topic of hazing is met with a code of silence among these groups. This type of secrecy is one of the main factors that allow hazing to continue.
I am disappointed more people aren’t speaking about what has now become a serious problem.
Many people are skeptical of what is to come of FAMU in the future years, but I refuse to believe that one group of people could jeopardize the reputation of my prestigious university. I bleed green and orange and this is not what we are about, what the band is about, not what Florida A&M University is about. When one student at Virginia Tech mass murdered 32 people, nobody questioned the integrity of the school so why question ours?
Robert Champion’s death points out two major things, one is that hazing happens across a range of student groups and two; it can be harmful or even deadly. Champion’s parents have been on CNN and made their voices heard about not wanting their son’s death to go in vain. Champion’s untimely death is a wake-up call to all schools around the nation.
Unfortunately, hazing is an equal opportunity disgrace and exists even within the organizations we least expect.
What seems to be in common is a group has a certain amount of status and the members within that group that have status are looking for power in some way, shape or form.
Although some organizations are great to be involved with, being a part of any educational program should never cost anyone their life.