Ten years ago, at historically Black college Florida A&M University, a marching band member was hospitalized with kidney damage after being hazed very harshly by his band mates. In 1998, another band member was hurt after being beaten with a paddle hundreds of times. These incidents alone should have been enough to get university administrators involved to suspend or completely eliminate the marching band until its violent hazing programs stopped. But the administration didn’t get involved, and now somebody’s dead.
Most recently, clarinet player Robert Champion, who had recently been named drum major, was found dead at an Orlando hotel. Authorities suspect Champion, who was 26, had been put through hazing rituals after FAMU’s loss to Bethune-Cookman, another HBCU, but nothing is conclusive for the time being, and the medical examiner in charge of Champion’s case says cause-of-death results could take months.
While Champion’s family waits for answers, the entire FAMU band has been suspended indefinitely, and the band director, Julian White, has been fired. But none of those punishments will bring Champion back to life. The best thing that can happen, and what will honor Champion’s memory the most, is when bands, fraternities and sororities around the country start ensuring no story like Champion’s will ever happen again.
Nobody expects young people to stop the light ribbing that goes on in collegiate social clubs. Poking fun and even some light physical stresses can be pretty fun for everyone involved, and they can establish the sort of bonds proponents of group hazing say their rituals are for. What’s absurd is groups beating the hell out of new recruits to let them know they’re welcome and part of the team. What’s more, it’s important for parents and professors to let students know that if they have good self-esteem, they don’t need to let their friends beat them up to prove they’re worthwhile.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.