A sense of shock has followed the death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion. Shock that the 26-year-old collapsed soon after leading FAMU's famed Marching 100 band during the Nov. 19 Florida Classic football game. Shock that hazing within the band's own ranks may have caused his death. And shock that hazing could be part of a marching band.
Why so much surprise? A 2008 study, "Hazing in View: College Students at Risk," noted that "stereotypes often shape perceptions of hazing as only a problem for athletes and Greek-letter organizations." The truth's more inclusive. Hazing infects every group from varsity sports teams to honor societies.
And, apparently, marching bands. FAMU band members allege Champion was beaten as he marched from the back of the bus to the front, a hazing ritual that band members call "crossing bus C."
That's why Gov. Rick Scott was right to ask the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Champion's death. And it's also why college officials throughout Florida would be wise to view Champion's death as call to remove the blinders and rid their campuses of hazing once and for all.
The 2008 study found 55 percent of students who join college clubs, teams and organizations endure hazing. Popular initiations involve drinking games, humiliation, isolation, sleep-deprivation, and sex acts. Virtually all hazing victims stay mum, and "hazing behaviors are often dismissed as simply harmless antics and pranks," the study notes, possibly explaining why it's firmly entrenched in organizations like FAMU's band.
Fired FAMU band director Julian White says he was a scapegoat, insisting he had a longtime no-tolerance policy for hazing and labored to end it. He failed. So did the university.
On Thursday, Scott implored State University Chancellor Frank Brogan to urge all university presidents to review their current policies on hazing. That's fine, but anti-hazing measures must go beyond furrowed brows and tough words.
Prevention efforts require a deep commitment to anti-hazing education and, maybe more important, memorable penalties for hazers and the groups they represent. We suspect a one-year suspension of the FAMU band would get the musicians' attention more than a student government rally that's planned for Monday.
To its credit, Florida's one of the few states that considers hazing a felony. However, locking up offenders after the fact is cold comfort for families like the Champions, who may have lost a child to tradition that just won't end.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun