Saturday night, Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University student Robert Champion died after marching in the Florida Classic in Orlando. Allegedly, Champion exited a University bus, collapsed to the ground, and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. A drum major in the infamous “Marching 100,” allegations of hazing have emerged as the cause of death, and by Tuesday, it was officially confirmed. In the Orange County police report, officers credited hazing for Champion’s death and planned to conduct more medical tests and autopsies.
President of FAMU Dr. James Ammons announced that an “independent task force” would investigate the “unauthorized and questionable activities” within the 375-member marching band, and offered condolences to the Champion family. He also made it clear that all Marching 100 activities are suspended out of respect for the investigation. Yet, in spite of the many hazing allegations associated with the marching band, seven official reports in the last decade, and over 20 students dismissed this year alone under allegations, there has been little to no discussion of the details of the evening leading up to Robert Champion’s death. It seems as though many students would rather unify in silence as opposed to rally for justice of one of their own.
Hazing, is nothing new, and often associated with Greek organizations and band culture at many HBCU campuses. FAMU is, unfortunately, the current example. The increase in deaths and lawsuits associated with the illegal practices should deter abusers from participating, but it hasn’t.
What is troubling is that students continuously adhere to traditions and abuse in silence in aspiration of acceptance, even till death. Involved parties that refuse to share the truth with authorities help shine a negative spotlight on a prestigious University, focusing on foolish and fatal accounts of what is otherwise an amazing organization.
Music programs and marching bands provide scholarship money, education and development to students. However, these programs may now be at risk for further scrutiny, reduced funds or even removal due to incidents such as this.
Why not deeply consider the future of these beloved organizations and University when choosing to cover up hazing? Hazing acts are perpetuated by silence, or the idea that the tradition isn’t up for discussion with any outsiders who have not gone through the experience, but when a young person’s life is a casualty, when does the collective quiet end?
“No snitching” seems like an ignorant and cowardly excuse, when death or serious prosecution (if hazers are identified) is a result. The Champion family is burying their son this Thanksgiving holiday, and all the condolences in the world won’t bring Robert Champion back.
When will enough be enough, and the cycle of abuse and covering up in the name of “tradition” cease? No one deserves to be hazed to death, and certainly without prosecution.