Before the New Year set in, Representative Frederica Wilson (D-FL) introduced anti-hazing legislation on the heels of the November death of a Florida A&M drum major from a brutal hazing ritual. Apparently, different cliques formed in the band based on the bus they ride, instrument group, or the city they are originally from. Each of these groups have established non-sanctioned rituals which include hazing beatings by admitted members onto those who want to join the cliques.
They have nothing to do with the band itself, music, or the four band fraternities that exist at A&M which is – consequently – a very well-known and popular Historically Black College and University.
After performing in the Florida Classic in Orlando, Robert Champion was repeatedly hit, punched and kicked as he walked in between a double line of Bus C clique members from the back to the front of the bus. The 26-year old later died from injuries sustained during the ritual, coroners concluded recently.
Amid a firestorm of controversy and scandal, the FAMU Board of Governors decided to allow FAMU president James Ammons to remain in his position and assist in the investigation, despite calls from Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) that Ammons steps down. The school first fired the Band Director Julian White then took him back and placed him on administrative leave while the school sorted out the details.
White has argued that he’s made attempts to halt hazing all along and has complained to school officials who have turned a blind eye.
Champion’s death is certainly not the first hazing death in history. Author and investigative journalists Hank Nuwer chronicles all hazing-related or hazing-suspected deaths of young people on his Hazing Death Website that date back to the year 1838. Of the 145 and growing list of hazing deaths linked to driving-fatigue automobile deaths to alcohol 100% of those associated with historically Black fraternities and sororities that make up the Divine 9 were beating related deaths.
Most hazing deaths linked to non-Historical Black Greek organizations had to do with alcohol poisoning or alcohol-related accidents.
It has caused many to reevaluate the role of violence within the Black Greek community once again, which some say resort to physical beating more so than their White Greek counterparts. Both groups have been known to use hazing tactics, including forced memorization of sacred historical facts about the organization, dress requirements, early morning wake up calls, consumption of unsavory foods and items and other grueling mental and physical tests, aside from physical beating.
Beyond deaths, hazing can result in other physical injuries and lapse in academic performance. That is what Dr. Nicki Washinton, an associate professor at Howard University, recalls happening with several students she counseled when they were undergoing the pledging proves. Washington, herself a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, tells Politic365 that she has worked with straight-A students whose attentiveness and alertness in class would drop, recalling one particular student who lost his academic scholarship while pledging.
She said Black Greeks have tried diligently for decades to eradicate physical hazing, but to no avail. “The national presidents of each organization have individually and collectively expressed their disapproval of this act in any form,” Washington said. “Organizations are actively taking a stand against those engaged in hazing, both within the organization, university, and legal system [which] can included permanently banning members or potential members, expulsion from the university and legal ramifications.”
Though not a member of a Black fraternity, Tarek Pertew from the University of Virginia’s Theta Delta Chi fraternity chapter, tried to explain the benefits of the pledging process.
“What I think is good about [pledging] is that it puts people with similar mindsets and characteristics together and puts them through trials together.” Petrew tells Politic365. “When you come out at the end, you become a stronger person and with a certain bond when with your brothers.”
To him, the benefits of undergoing the sometimes rigorous, physically and mentally draining process of pledging a fraternity are worth it. Incidents like the one at FAMU are isolated exceptions to the “larger global experience that people have,” he says.
In Pertew’s case, the Greek experience was not about outsiders doing whatever it took to join, but about people building shared backgrounds uniting together.
Neither Pertew or Washington see an end to hazing despite recent vigorous efforts to curtail the practice.
“Unless there is a serious movement to end it, things will fall back to the way they were,” said Petrew.
Professor Washington doubted seeing much change ultimately.
“Realistically, seeing an end to this type of behavior on any college campus would mean permanently removing all organizations that participate in any form of hazing. I don’t know if universities and national organizations will take such a drastic step,” she said.
Pertew worries though that these isolated cases will be successful in tainting the Greek system.
Some things are just intrinsically embedded in the institution – and breaking down an institution is a very mighty task.
During a news conference after her son’s death, Mr. and Mrs. Champion, along with their attorney Christopher Chestnut, said there was a pervasive culture of hazing at the school and that university officials were aware of it, treating it as a “don’t ask don’t tell” issue.
“My thing is to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Pam Champion said. “Let people know, this is real.”