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.