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Death by hazing? Why even tragic FAMU case won't end such rituals.

Initiation rites are so ingrained in parts of college life that even egregious incidents aren't enough to eradicate hazing, experts say. Investigations into last month's death of a FAMU band major are under way.

By Staff writer / December 2, 2011

A marching band leads a horse-drawn carriage carrying the casket of Florida A&M University (FAMU) band member Robert Champion following his funeral service Wednesday in Decatur, Ga.

David Goldman/AP


Hazing is so ingrained in various aspects of college life that even egregious incidents – such as allegations that a Florida A&M University (FAMU) marching band drum major died as a result of the rite – won't be enough to eradicate it, say some experts.

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A criminal investigation into the death of student Robert Champion, allegedly tied to hazing, is under way. The university in Tallahassee has expelled four students and dismissed the longtime director of the Marching “100” band. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has called for all state universities to review their antihazing policies to ensure they’re being enforced.

Though the Champion case has generated a flurry of national attention, hazing is so prevalent in college athletics, Greek organizations, and, in this case, prestigious historically black marching bands that experts are skeptical it can be ended.

One reason: Deaths and serious injuries have happened before in various college organizations because of hazing. At FAMU, band member Marcus Parker won $1.8 million in a 2001 lawsuit against fellow band members because of injuries from severe paddling.

Because the marching band is so central at many historically black universities such as FAMU – carrying more status than playing on the football team – “it’s almost like the students hurt or killed are acceptable losses but the band must play on,” says Ricky Jones, a professor at the University of Louisville and author of “Black Haze,” a book on black Greek-letter fraternities.

What’s particularly disturbing, Professor Jones says, is that the Champion case may indicate that hazing rituals are expanding beyond the typical initiation of new members of a group. Champion was a junior and in a leadership role as one of the drum majors.

There’s no official account yet of what happened during and after the football game in Orlando, Fla., Nov. 19, the night of Champion’s death. Band director Julian White told The New York Times that he interviewed students after the incident and discovered that some band members had punched Champion repeatedly before he vomited and passed out.

Jones has heard from some FAMU alumni that fellow band members may have punished Champion for dropping the drum major’s mace during the band’s performance that day.

Someone called 911 and tried to revive Champion on the bus parked outside their Orlando hotel.

Despite laws against hazing in 44 states, most hazing goes unreported.

“Awareness of hazing has increased greatly in the last decade, partially because ... people involved in it now put pictures of hazing on Facebook and [Twitter] ... but it still is an underground culture,” says Brian Crow, a professor of sport management at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.


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