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.

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