Just when it seemed that officials at Florida A&M University were taking steps to mend the error of their ways over hazing, the school has filed court papers that suggest its leaders haven’t learned anything about the situation that led to the tragic death of drum major Robert Champion Jr.
Mr. Champion, a 26-year-old in FAMU’s justly famed marching band, died as a result of ritual hazing that took place during a university outing last year. The pummeling he took was part of a disgusting but long-standing tradition that the university failed to take effective action to stop, despite its own anti-hazing rules.
Those rules were consistently disregarded for the band, where hazing was an open secret. Other rules were disregarded, as well, including allowing nonstudents to play in the band, but hazing posed the greatest risk to the wellbeing of the young musicians.
After the routine practice of hazing was exposed following Mr. Champion’s death and months of attendant negative publicity, the university belatedly put a long list of new and welcome policies into effect, including limiting the Marching 100 to just FAMU students and upgrading academic policies. Beginning next spring, students will have to sign an anti-hazing pledge before being allowed to register for classes.
This is all to the good, but a recent court filing by FAMU, in a lawsuit filed by the parents of the deceased drum major, threatens to undo this progress by blaming the victim for his death because he allegedly agreed to participate in the hazing.
Memo to university officials: The issue is not whether a student bowed to peer pressure in order to be accepted by other band members. The issue is whether the university condoned a culture that eventually claimed the life of a student.
The university can’t get off the hook by blaming the victim, whose parents had every reason to expect that he would be protected when he took part in band activities. The university has a role to play in keeping its students safe, particularly when they participate in university events with school-sponsored organizations. In the case of Robert Champion Jr., the school obviously failed
Students, parents and the wider community need to be reassured that FAMU’s administrators have learned this lesson. Blaming the dead drum major for his own death sends the opposite message. It’s also manifestly unjust to Robert Champion Jr.