Archive for November, 2011

Young Rattlers Speaking Out Against Hazing

November 30, 2011

By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

Just wanted to pass along three hazing-related items from current FAMU students and recent alum. These young people really do make me proud as a (relative) old-timer (C;

First, the most newsy development: Orlando’s WFTV spoke to Marching 100 member Bria Hunter, who said she was violently hazed along with 10 or 11 other band members, resulting in hospitalization for Bria, just days before the 2011 Florida Classic. Drum major Robert Champion, who was one of Bria’s mentors, died after that game.

Full text and video of Bria’s story is available on WFTV’s site.

Closer to home, Famuan Editor-in-Chief Clarece Polke, who’s been coordinating with me a bit over the last few days during the setup of this blog, also managed to put out her first post-Thanksgiving print edition. It includes a great column by the boss, who writes in part:

In the whirlwind of events that have unfolded in the past week and a half, it’s almost easy to forget that a student died.

There have been protests, Facebook groups and countless other visible outbursts from students, alumni and other supporters to have the Marching “100” reinstated and former Director of Bands Julian White re-hired after the death of student and drum major Robert Champion. But where are the student-led anti-hazing protests and Facebook groups?

Where’s the outrage and frustration that a fellow Rattler has been killed and members of one of the university’s largest organizations are under investigation for causing it?

Finally, a FAMU grad who blogs under the name “Anti Intellect” has written a powerful account of his experience being hazed on campus. He doesn’t name the organization involved, but he does provide a lot of detail of the events, as in this heartbreaking passage:

The “process” was supposed to last a little over a week, but I only made it halfway. We were knee deep in verbal and physical abuse, and two of the old members enacting this cruelty on us were keying in our our perceived weaknesses. My weakness, it was decided, was my femininity. And, so, I was repeatedly taunted and bashed in regards to my perceived sexual orientation, and lack of “masculinity.” I put up with this throughout the night, but at some point I had had enough. Me and the rest of the line were doing some physically painful activity, and, I, alone was being taunted. If their goal was to “break my back,” they did. I stood up, with tears in my eyes, and said that I can’t take anymore of this. I was tired of being verbally and physically abused all in the name of joining an organization. If I thought I would be joined by my fellow line members, I was wrong. None of them came to my side, and none came to my defense. They were concerned with making it into the organization, and they weren’t going to let their previous abuse be in vain by quitting with me now, so they remained silent. The drunken men doing the hazing didn’t seem to care about my protest, and simply told me to leave. After all, they didn’t want me in their organization anyway.

After I had left the site of the hazing, I found myself alone on a dark street. I didn’t have a car, as first year students weren’t allowed to have them, so I had no way of getting home. Fortunately, I was able to call one of my friends and they were able to pick me up off the side of the road. Over the next few days I had to deal with the cold shoulders of some of my fellow line members. I did, however, receive some support after the fact from others on the line. They admitted that I had received harsher treatment, and that they had wished that they could have stood along me, but they were scared. The thing about hazing is that it warps people’s mentalities. It’s very difficult to think straight in a climate of hazing because right/wrong becomes very blurry to the point of invisible. Is it choice? Is it force? Is it abuse? Is it exploitation? Is it will? These questions seem to linger, but never get answered. It’s as if everyone else expects someone else to answer them, but ultimately no one does.

I’ve read that victims of abuse often rationalize their abuse, and I certainly know this to be true. The days following my hazing were filled with feelings of shame, lack of self worth, and guilt. I asked myself why I, unlike the others, hadn’t had the strength to continue on? Was I weak? I felt really ashamed of the fact that I hadn’t been able to withstand the physical and emotional abuse that others had.

I never went to university officials about my hazing. I am not alone. I met many students over the course of my time at Florida A&M University, and other colleges, that had been hazed, and who had not spoke out. Who wants to be seen as the one who couldn’t take the heat? Who couldn’t prove their loyalty? We are told that it is a defeating position to not endure hazing. The culture is set up so that those who accept hazing are the majority voice, the ones considered sane, but those who reject it are considered outcast and misfit.

Anti Intellect mentions elsewhere on his site that he’s gay, but doesn’t mention in his blog post whether he was “out” to his tormenters at the time of the hazing. I think that’s important given the homophobic nature of some of the hazers’ taunts. Either they knowingly picked on his homosexual identity, or they inadvertently heightened the pain of was was probably already a difficult daily struggle being in the closet.

In any case, Anti Intellect’s blog post was extremely courageous. I definitely recommend reading the whole thing.


Why It’s OK to Speak Out

November 29, 2011

By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

We made this site live yesterday evening in an effort to encourage Rattlers to report their experiences with hazing at FAMU for use in future posts for this blog and in FAMU student media. Using our submission form, Rattlers from all eras can report on any campus organization. You can provide your name or remain anonymous.

You can find a fuller overview of our project here. My personal bio, which includes extensive experience as a newspaper reporter and a Distinguished Alumnus award from FAMU’s journalism school, is available here.

In a little less than 24 hours, we’ve already garnered a few dozen Facebook responses, tweets, and other pieces of one-on-one feedback, just looking at my personal accounts. That feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, including this much-appreciated response from Philander Smith College President Walter Kimbrough when I called our little project to his attention on Twitter:

In private, a few friends have already cautioned me about seeking and publishing information about FAMU that’s not “positive.” I’d like to address that publicly, since I think it’s a fair point that other members of the extended Rattler community are likely to be concerned about as well.

I reject the standard definition of “positive” as saying things that sound nice or superficially rosy about our school. To me, being positive is saying what needs to be said so that the institution becomes more effective at its educational mission, which obviously includes protecting the welfare of its students.

If that means saying something that’s unpleasant-sounding for the moment, so be it. It’s for the long-term good of FAMU. That is what it means to truly love the institution.

I encourage other Rattlers to adopt the same principle and speak out about their personal experiences with hazing either as victims or eyewitnesses. No one’s story is unimportant. If just a few people open up, you’ll make it easier for the ones after you, and they’ll make it easier for the ones after them, and then, eventually, this disease of hazing will cease. Rather than addressing it as an abstraction, we’ll put human faces on it, which will be powerful. We’ll understand it better. The university, which has hitherto dragged its feet, will be forced to respond with better policies and stronger enforcement. And so on.

Hazing thrives in shadows and will die in the sunshine.

I’ll close here with a couple of powerful videos of HBCU grads sharing their stories. The first is by FAMU grad Sebastian Bonet, who recently spoke at length in a self-made YouTube video about his hazing experience in our Marching 100. The second is a clip from the HBO show Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, which recently did a story on hazing in HBCU bands, including powerful interviews with alumni hazing victims from Southern University, Alabama A&M, and other schools.

In my opinion, all of these people are doing their alma maters a great service.