There is still a lot unsaid about hazing and pledging in the wake of FAMU drum major Robert Champion's death (Joseph Brown III, Tampa Tribune, via AP)

Since the first story broke about the untimely death of Robert Champion, 26 year-old Florida A&M drum major, many are trying to piece together information to make sense of it all.

After performing at the 2011 Florida Classic, Champion was vomiting, complained about not being able to breathe and eventually collapsed on a band bus parked in front of the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando, Florida.

After being taken to a local hospital, the band member was reported dead. On Tuesday, November 22, 2011, President Dr. James H. Ammons of FAMU announced the suspension of all practices and performances for the Marching “100”.

This decision came after school officials indicated that hazing occurred before the 911-call was made. Band Director Julian White was dismissed this past week as an investigation of the case began.

Dr. Ammons obviously is not taking this tragedy lightly, as he shouldn’t.

Aside from the fact that a young man’s life was cut too short, in the state of Florida any death that takes place in connection with hazing is a third-degree felony. Whenever the word “hazing” is mentioned on any campus, many become wary. Why? The truth is, hazing is illegal and while it does take place on a lot of campuses (let’s not get it twisted, it happens at PWI’s as well), the act has become a part of many campus’ cultures.

Knowing that it is illegal and people can face serious repercussions for it, it is done in silence and no one is to know.  Or should I say, people act as if they don’t know about it. Florida Orange County Sheriff, Jerry Demings stated in an Atlanta Journal Constitution article, “…in the next few days or weeks, it will become clearer as to whether any criminal charges will be forthcoming.”

While no arrests have been made yet in connection to Champion’s death, the victim’s family is planning a lawsuit against FAMU and the former Band Director. The real question is: Did Robert Champion die due to hazing? And if he did indeed die because of the awful act, what does this mean for FAMU’s image and the Marching “100” band?

One must take into consideration that besides academia, the 375-member band is what the institution is known for. It will be anything but good for the institution if investigation proves Champion’s death was at the hand of hazing.

They may lose funding from sponsors and partners.  The school’s enrollment may decrease.  There may be a permanent stigma created about the entire school that will forever haunt their image.

With two previous cases of band members being hazed, filing lawsuits, but then later settling, this very well may be the last straw for the famous HBCU band.

Whatever emerges in the next few days, weeks and months to come, I hope that the university can learn from this and rise to the occasion to assure that a situation like this won’t happen again. I hope that other HBCUs can learn from this as well. Most importantly, I hope that Robert Champion’s family finds peace through this difficult time.


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