Hazing in the News: One Year Later

Photo courtesy of Florida A&M University

Almost one year after the death of drum major Robert D. Champion, Jr., in an alleged hazing incident, Florida A&M University (FAMU) and all Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) are still dealing with the aftermath.

Eleven former band members await trial on felony hazing charges, and one other on misdemeanor hazing charges. Brian Jones, the first to be sentenced, pleaded no contest to the charges. The judge determined that he was minimally involved in Champion’s death, and he received probation and community service.

Champion’s parents continue to pursue a lawsuit against the charter bus company and the university, which has argued that Champion’s decision to undergo the hazing ritual known as “Crossing Bus C” as a 26-year-old adult makes him responsible for his own death.

FAMU’s famed “Marching 100” remains suspended through spring 2013. Investigations revealed that at the time of Champion’s death, more than 100 of the 350 band members were not enrolled students and more than 50 members had GPAs lower than the minimum of 2.0. When the band returns, it will be under the guidance of a dedicated compliance officer, who will ensure that all band members are full-time students with GPAs above a 2.0 and limited to four years of band participation.

Despite an anti-hazing website, town hall meetings and a new zero-tolerance hazing policy, various FAMU student organizations continue to struggle with allegations. An allfemale dance team, a business fraternity and a professional healthcare sorority have all been temporarily suspended.

This fall, three other HBCU bands have been under investigation for alleged hazing. Texas Southern University’s “Ocean of Soul” underwent a month-long suspension for a hazing investigation that found 10 upperclassmen trumpet players had paddled (but not seriously injured) nine freshmen. Those responsible lost their band scholarships, were suspended from the university through 2012 and required to leave campus. The band was reinstated for home games, but not away games, and was barred from participating in the Honda Battle of the Bands.

The North Carolina Central University “Marching Sound Machine” drum line served a two-week suspension as school officials investigated hazing allegations. The university chose not to disclose whether or not hazing had occurred, but did say that its code of conduct had been violated. The entire drum line was ordered to attend an anti-hazing workshop and complete 10 hours of community service.

Hazing allegations at Clark Atlanta University’s “Mighty Marching Panthers” Band led to a month-long self-imposed suspension. The investigation ultimately determined that no hazing or illegal activity had occurred, and the band was reinstated.

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

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