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.
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At the root of hazing is a group-think culture and a desire to exercise power, Professor Crow and others say. “It’s a vicious cycle of, ‘It happened to me when I was a freshmen and now it’s going to happen to them, and I’m going to make it a little bit worse,’ and it continues to build,” he says.Skip to next paragraph
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Victims often accept that it’s just the price they have to pay for being part of something special, and they often say it was worth it, Crow says.
This week, FAMU freshman Bria Hunter told WFTV that she was beaten several times this semester by band members, and that being part of the underground groups where the hazing takes place is seen as necessary to be accepted.
Many state laws deem hazing a misdemeanor. In Florida it’s a third-degree felony. But if more students were expelled or jailed, that might become a deterrent, says Thomas Reardon, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students at the University of Mississippi, and also a longtime anti-hazing advocate.
“We’ve got to look at holding individuals responsible ... both criminally and through university student conduct systems,” he says.
It’s perhaps not surprising that FAMU moved quickly to fire band director Julian White, given the recent attention to questions of accountability for the sex-abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University.
But Mr. White plans to challenge his dismissal and this week told reporters he’s made extensive efforts to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for hazing, including suspending band members earlier this semester.
“I hope that if nothing else, I can become part of some kind of national movement to eradicate hazing,” White said Thursday in Jacksonville, according to News4Jax.
White’s firing raises several questions, Jones says: Did the university follow the proper procedures given that White was also a tenured professor of music?And if he’s being let go not because he failed to respond to incidents he knew about (which no one seems to be alleging) but because of a general sense that hazing takes place and he wasn’t able to prevent it, why aren’t others – even the university president – also culpable?
FAMU president James Ammons has vowed to try to change the culture of hazing on campus. In addition to appointing a task force to examine the issue once criminal investigations are complete, he issued a statement this week to the editorial board at the Tallahasse Democrat that read in part:
“It is the university’s intent and absolute goal to break the culture of secrecy and the conspiracy of silence that has helped to institutionalize hazing, verbal and physical abuse.... We are going to honor the memory of Robert Champion by establishing a strong, safe new set of traditions in the culture of the music program and bands – and across our campus.”
Classes will be suspended for part of a day next week for a FAMU campus assembly on the issue.
But when the students in bands or other organizations have for so long refused to change hazing traditions, maybe it’s time for college administrators to make the bold move of shutting them down, Jones suggests.
“It’s not a question of if someone else will be killed, it’s a case of when somebody else will be killed,” Jones says. “Are the organizations that important [on campus] that you wait and say, will this hit my campus next?”