The beat will go on at FAMU. But administrators must ensure that the beatings do not. They have finally implemented anti-hazing policies to prevent the kind of tragic death that Robert Champion Jr. met at the hands of band mates in the strutting, gyrating Marching 100.
The famous band will be allowed to take the field again in the near future. It was suspended almost two years ago after some members beat, paddled and pummeled Mr. Champion, 26, so brutally while on a bus trip in November 2011 that he died.
FAMU President James Ammons resigned.
It’s stunning that it took Mr. Champion’s death for the university’s administrators to finally get serious about the dangerous tradition. Ten years earlier, trumpet player Marcus Parker won a $1.8 million lawsuit against other members of the Marching 100 after he was paddled so severely that he suffered renal failure. But that didn’t seem to get anyone’s attention.
After Mr. Champion’s death, Gov. Rick Scott had to step in to ensure that the remedial process was transparent and not carried out behind closed doors as a task force misguidedly sought to do.
Hazing, at FAMU and many universities in Florida and across the country, is an initiation rite into a fraternity, sorority, club or, like at FAMU, the band. Sometimes, it involves a dare to do something silly or dangerous in order to be considered worthy of inclusion. At FAMU, however, initiates endured a sickening mashup of hitting, beating, pummeling and paddling, all just to be one of the guys.
For years, students, officials and otherwise proud alumni remained mum and looked the other way. Worse, hazing was tacitly encouraged by irresponsible adults who should have known better.
Last week, President Larry Robinson announced that he was lifting the suspension on the Marching 100. At the same time, he announced policy changes that he says will prevent, or uncover, hazing violence: FAMU has installed a compliance officer and a special anti-hazing assistant who reports to the president; people can anonymously report incidents on an anti-hazing website; every student must sign an anti-hazing pledge; and, in order to be recognized by the university, every student organization must be educated in anti-hazing practices. There have been anti-hazing town halls and a panel of national hazing experts will meet on campus.
Band members must be full-time students at FAMU. Before, band members also came from Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College. Members must maintain a 2.5 grade-point average; the band will be about one-fourth its previous size. At its largest, the Marching 100 had about 400 members. Rehearsals will be closely supervised by music-department staff.
These changes will make for a leaner, more structured band and higher-quality graduates from among the Marching 100. However, the cultural shift from an institution that tolerates hazing to one for which there is zero tolerance will take time — two sororities were suspended recently.
Administrators must relentlessly make clear that hazing incidents on or off campus are unacceptable and back it up with appropriate punishment, including expulsion. Mr. Champion was killed on a bus trip with band mates. Other incidents took place at a staffer’s home.
The Marching 100 is about to resume its fine tradition on the field. It should never return to the shameful off-field tradition of brutality.