What can be done about hazing?

Moderated by Rick Badie

Hazing isn’t new, but last year’s hazing death of Florida A&M University’s drum major Robert Champion has thrust the ritual into the national spotlight. Today, the president of a local FAMU alumni chapter denounces the practice and seeks support for his storied but embattled alma mater; and a psychologist explains society’s role in trying to combat a behavior that she says over the past 15 years has grown more frequent, violent and sexual in nature.

Time for FAMU to heal

By James McLemore

Let me begin by sharing my heartfelt sorrow for the family of Robert Champion.

What happened last November is nothing less than a tragedy.

The practice of hazing must stop. It has no place in today’s society.

Young adults should recognize this. Everyone needs to realize that past practices must now stay in the past.

Too much danger and liability can affect the lives of many these days.

For more than 25 years, I have been affiliated with the FAMU community as a student, then as an alumni member and now as president of the metro Atlanta alumni chapter.

I admit I find my emotions oscillating among deep sorrow, frustration and even confusion.

Like many, I too find myself wanting to know what went wrong at my beloved alma mater.

Unfortunately, we cannot turn back time. Now is the time, however, to move beyond blame and instead focus on healing and ensuring that a tragedy such as the death of Champion never happens again.

Over the past few months, we have all tried to take stock of these tumultuous events while still holding on to principles of excellence sowed over the past 125 years.

FAMU’s openness, honesty and efforts to understand what happened are all important steps toward ensuring that not only the band, but all FAMU organizations, are managed in a manner befitting our esteemed university.

I am in complete support of President James Ammons’ suspensions of the marching band through the next academic year.

Reforms must be made before the band can return.

I have no doubt that once the appropriate changes are made, the Marching 100 will return to the field as strong as ever.

As we look toward the future, we face a complex and difficult set of issues, including a decline in state funding, concerns over rising tuition, student debt and the culture of hazing.

In confronting these issues, we must work together to mobilize those beliefs that have guided us throughout history, which are fundamental to FAMU.

As alumni, together we must move forward with a unified purpose and action.

In order to mend, we need to work actively. I need to know that I am serving my alma mater in the best way possible.

With this goal, I have made a commitment, an absolute promise, to do all I can to ensure that such an event does not happen again at FAMU.

It is my hope that through work and by caring for each individual, the community that is FAMU will remain whole.

What can you do as an alumni member and supporter of FAMU?

As alumni, we must never forget that we have a lifelong obligation to advance FAMU, the place and community that gave us a lifetime of accomplishment, fulfillment and friendship.

We must lead the chorus of voices who speak so highly of FAMU.

We must creatively seek ways to elevate the profile of our alma mater.

I ask that you get organized, speak about your past academic experiences and your current industry, and actively participate in defining FAMU.

This is the role we must fulfill.

James McLemore is president of the metro Atlanta alumni chapter of Florida A&M University.

Public has duty to protect amid hazing

By Dr. Susan Lipkins

Hazing is a process based on a tradition used by groups to maintain a hierarchy or to discipline. Regardless of consent, the activities are physically and/or psychologically harmful.

Clearly the events at Florida A&M University meet this definition, as do thousands of events that occur daily throughout the United States and the world.

Hazing has become more violent and more sexualized over the past 15 years. Part of this increase is due to the nature of hazing.

The “blueprint of hazing” states that when people are hazed, they become a bystander and eventually a perpetrator. They repeat the tradition that was done to them because they feel they have the right and duty to pass it on.

They usually add their own mark by increasing the violence or humiliation.

By the end of a decade, the increases can be enormous. However, since no one is really “watching,” the traditions continue to skid into the hazardous zone.

FAMU has decided to discontinue the activities of the marching band for the next academic year. This is in an effort to “clean out” the hazing traditions, and the move will give the school time to do a thorough investigation.

However, it does not mean the tradition of hazing will stop. Unfortunately, the methods used are easily passed on, and the concept of proving oneself worthy may be deeply ingrained in the culture of the band.

Therefore, what is needed is much more active intervention than simply a hiatus.

To stop hazing, we need to train bystanders, all bystanders (that means everyone on and off campus, including the nonprofessional staff as well as teachers, administrators, students, parents and the larger community) that they have a voice and a duty to protect.

Bystanders are the largest group, the audience, and therefore as a group they have significant power to say, “No more. Not here. Not now. We do not want to lose our band, our team, our coach or leaders. We do not want someone to end up in jail or the morgue.”

Most people — including administrators, security personnel and even emergency-room doctors — do not know what to do when hazing occurs. They do not know how to report and investigate it.

Nor do doctors have the luxury of using the concept of hazing as a cause of injuries. There are few systems devised that allow communication among schools, businesses and hospitals, all of which may in some way be dealing with the elements of hazing rituals.

People know that hazing occurs and for the most part they allow it to continue. Many feel that they were hazed and survived; therefore, they say, “What’s the big deal?”

Others simply feel powerless to intervene. They are somewhat correct because there are no reporting systems and no agency that intervenes and investigates as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does for disease outbreaks. No one trains bystanders on how to intervene, report or stop a hazing.

Colleges and high schools throughout the country should wake up to the fact that peer-to-peer violence, such as hazing and bullying, is getting more frequent, more violent and more sexual each year.

Well-designed systems need to be integrated into all aspects of campus life to reduce or eradicate hazing.

Simultaneously, we the public have a duty to protect, to get involved and to stop hazing.

Dr. Susan Lipkins is a psychologist who specializes in campus conflict and violence in high schools and colleges.

9 comments Add your comment


May 31st, 2012
2:05 pm

The roots for hazing can be traced back to ancient times. The Romans used a form of this that was clubbing. Make no mistake about it. This is punishment in one of its most brutal forms. In ancient times, the ones being punished usually were killed. Early settlers in North America referred to this practice by Native Americans as running the gauntlet. If any of you remember the old Daniel Boone TV series, there was one or two episodes the hero was subjected to this to prove point with the local Indians. Irregardless, this practice, and not just at FAMU, needs to stop NOW.

Frat guy

May 31st, 2012
2:01 pm

…oh Dr. Lipkins, I understand your column was probably written with statements from some individuals, but to be honest, the pledge process is really not about survival (as in you are running for your life), it has much to do with achievement. Remember, a person chooses to be in these organizations. It is totally voluntary.

Frat guy

May 31st, 2012
1:54 pm

I am a fraternity member and have been hazed. Tom Joyner, radio host and a fraternity member said recently that one chooses to be hazed, but does not choose to die, or become seriously injured. I agree. What individual (in the technology age) seeking to join a fraternity, sorority, masonic organization, HBCU band, etc. does not know that they could possibly become hazed. Really? Hazing can be linked to the Greek story told of a traveler across the burning sands…long story short…he was asked, “am I my brother’s keeper?”. The translation of this story to hazing by some organizations assists in the assurance that not just anyone (a trader, e.g.) does not infiltrate the organization easily. Furthermore, a certain commitment level is also rendered. I personally do not condone hazing in excess, but I understand that certain forms of hazing can be an effective intake tool. Anyone joining one of the aforementioned organizations is fully aware of the rich tradition and history, which is part of the reason for wanting to join. If anyone has ever witnessed a pledge process from beginning to end should be able to appreciate the process and the pomp and circumstance of its conclusion. Nothing is never mentioned about the social and political value, networking, brotherhood or sisterhood, and education yielded while becoming a member of an elite organization.FAMU band, for example, is arguably the best band in the world! Just YouTube them. To punish the director, or the organization in this case is politically correct, but not correct. Many organizations and its administration have initiated anti-hazing policies and have spoken out against the practice. It is merely impossible to control a membership of hundreds or thousands, especially when the activity takes place away from the supervision of the administration. So instead of trying to demonize the whole organization, the best thing and only thing to do is to investigate thoroughly, and punish those individuals personally involved in hazing. Period. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. While FAMU marching band may be sidelined this fall, other organizations will continue to haze. I sympathize with the FAMU situation, but hazing will continue to be a part of certain organizations as long as the members are engulfed with the rich tradition and heritage.


May 31st, 2012
1:38 pm

I totally agree with Mr. McLemore. We all feel very bad about the tragic death of Robert Champion. Our hearts continue to ache for the Champion Family. Hazing is a very serious problem in most of our schools, universities, military and organizations throughout the country. The time is now to declare that enough is enough. The majority of FAMU’s students do not engage in hazing, are not interested in hazing and are doing some wonderful things. Many of the students are in very high demand after they graduate from college. Just like thousands of others, I love FAMU’s Marching 100, but agree with FAMU’s President, Dr. James Ammons’ decision to suspend the band for a year. Here’s a golden opportunity for university officials to “overhaul” the band, hire a new band director and return the band with a new focus & spirit. We look forward to the return of “The New FAMU Marching 100″ who will march & perform in memory of Robert Champion. Upon return, I’m extremely confident that the band will be better than ever, will still be the Number 1 Choice of the best high school musicians in America and in very high demand by audiences across the country.

Sharon' Daughter

May 31st, 2012
12:37 pm

I agree with Mr. Lemore. He offers sympathy and understands that at some point we have to stop pointing fingers or else this will happen again. I was hazed and I have hazed others, not to these extremes but I really didn’t know that asking someone to run to the grocery store or wear all black was hazing but I do now.

Hazing is in every facet. In Congress, where do they have the new Congressional members sit? In the Back. In the Military, who gets to eat first? Senior officers.

When we start to look at every facet of our organizational culture then we can combat the systematic problem of hazing, bullying and acceptance.

Hillbilly D

May 31st, 2012
12:27 pm

It’s amazing to me that anybody would submit themselves to humiliation to join a group. I just can’t understand that mentality.


May 31st, 2012
11:23 am

You won’t like this post, but here goes: Hazing is something that we, as a society, have known about and accepted. It appears in books, TV, movies, and arguably every single fraternity or sorority, and is often times seen as a cherished pastime. It exists in almost every sporting outfit, both school and professional. It exists in many private clubs and in some cases office environments. It also exists in the armed forces. It is part of the larger aspect of acceptance and in some cases, like the military, deconstructing the individual and reconstructing them to be a part of the larger group. This is so ingrained in our society that I don’t think it can be fully eliminated. I also don’t think that most people want to see the practice hazing eliminated. It’s part of being in the club or the group.

While yes, it’s a tragedy that something went wrong and someone got hurt, or that unforeseen medical issues lead to a death, where would you draw the line? Making it against the law to willingly participate in an activity to join a club or movement that you are again, willingly joining and participating in, would have far reaching legal implications that you are likely not prepared to deal with. Hazing is not bullying. It is not a pragmatic, prolonged deluge spanning the entirety of an experience such as school. It is a toll charged to weed out those who either weren’t serious about something or who aren’t willing to sacrifice themselves physically or emotionally for whatever thing they are trying to be a part of. And by the way, you don’t have to agree to be hazed or go along with the ritual at all. Saying no can be as effective as putting up with whatever ritual is in place. In the rare event that hazing is forced upon someone against their will, then yes, punishment can ensue. But how often does someone standing in line at the grocery store get a bag tossed over their head and covered with indelible ink?


May 31st, 2012
8:56 am

As a high school teacher in Georgia, I was shocked to see that a student club’s hazing ritual was not stopped by the school administration for the three years I taught at the school. The stated purpose of this particular student club is to provide community service and leadership opportunities, which is quite ironic considering the club’s hazing practice. The club is comprised of popular females at the school and these girls determine through an application process who may join–exclusivity seems to be a wide reaching problematic root of hazing. After new students are inducted, the senior members of the group dedicate a specific day to “dress” the new inductees in the most humiliating way possible (without blatantly violating the dress code). The new members are forced to wear signs with words like “ugly” or “stupid,” and they wear makeup in the fashion of rodeo clowns.

This type of hazing certainly does not sink to levels of what happened at FAMU; however, the fact that a high school does not take a firm stand against all forms of hazing encourages a culture that values humiliation.

I do not think the school at which I taught is alone in its ignorance of hazing rituals which it deems permissible. In schools around our state, students in different clubs and sports are undoubtedly carrying out acts in order to preserve the traditions that likely made them feel inferior upon their own initiations. But in the case of one group of human beings intentionally inflicting emotional or physical pain on another, there should be zero tolerance. The road from emotionally attacking another person to physically attacking another human being is not a long, winding one, and the hazing slope is indefensibly a slippery one.


May 31st, 2012
7:31 am

Where is the support that hazing is more violent and sexual than it was in the past? When did hazing have a place in society? There are several biographies/autobiographies of people, especially college athletes, that detail some horrific hazing rituals that occured when they were joining a group. In the 1980s there were several incidents at Indiana University where students suffered serious injuries, I believe there was one death, due to hazing.