Archive for December, 2011

A Three-Part Fairness Test

December 17, 2011

By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

I’ve fielded a couple of calls today about FAMU, one from a fellow alum, one from a reporter. Both were interested in a question that’s been on a lot of people’s minds: Is the state treating FAMU unfairly in the Champion case compared to other schools that have had hazing incidents?

Ultimately, I believe the answer is no, which is definitely a minority view in the FAMU community right now. Substantively, I think the measures that have been taken so far by the state — ordering high-level investigations and calling for the president to temporarily step aside — are hard but fair given the specific circumstances surrounding the death of Robert Champion. (Please note that in making that judgment, I put aside as distinct questions whether Gov. Rick Scott is a likable guy or a wise policymaker regarding other matters.)

I also know precisely what I would have to see to change my mind. Since a lot of my fellow Rattlers seem bent on comparing FAMU to other schools, I’ll use a similar approach and say I would be interested to see hazing cases at other schools where all of these three key details from the Champion case were also present:

The hazing victim was attending a public institution. This ensures a similar oversight structure as FAMU’s, running through state-level government officials and so forth. A Florida case would make an ideal comparison, of course. But for the sake of argument, let’s say any of the 50 states will do.

The victim died. This amps up the level of seriousness to the same level as the Champion case. No mere injuries. Death. The worst case possible for any student.

The victim was participating in a university-sponsored organization at the time. This is what traces the lines of accountability to the campus administration. Frats and sororities don’t really count if you want to make a true comparison to the Champion situation. Those orgs are obviously a part of any university community in the broad sense, but they’re not explicitly university-run. The marching band is.

Honestly, I haven’t heard a single other case like this yet, one that goes three-for-three on all the above conditions. If I’m missing such a case, though, I’m interested to hear of it and examine what the handling of that situation was and how it compares to the handling of the Champion tragedy. Please tell me of that case in the comments.


Open Thread: Pressure On Ammons

December 16, 2011

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has made his strongest remarks yet about the future of FAMU President James Ammons, advocating that Dr. Ammons be put on leave pending investigations into hazing and possible financial mismanagement within the Marching 100. FAMU’s trustees could take action as early as Monday.

Probably the best thing we can do is open up the comments below and encourage members of the community to share your thoughts. Frankly, we’d much prefer to focus on specific solutions to the hazing problem at the root of FAMU’s woes. But a big personality-driven story like this is obviously going to dominate community discussion for the next few days, so we may as well provide the best forum possible.

A quick reminder about our comment guidelines: We’re big believers in free speech. We welcome comments from all users, regardless of their opinion on an issue. However, we do reserve the right to block or delete anything that’s threatening, profane, or personally abusive.

With that said, let’s open it up!

In the News: A Trustee’s Hypocrisy, Band Arrests

December 13, 2011

With some of the recent posts, we’ve purposely tried to be very solution-oriented regarding hazing. However, it must also be said, we’re still in a phase where a lot of incremental events are breaking around FAMU that just aren’t very pleasant to deal with. We can’t ignore those.

Two such headlines this morning:

•The blog Rattler Nation points out that FAMU trustee Torey Alston was accused in a St. Petersburg Times story in 2007 of going easy on hazing within the university’s Kappa Alpha Psi chapter during his days as president of it.

According to the Times, Alston said during his student days, when confronted by a pledge with a complaint of hazing: “We all went through it. It’s just a process.”

As it happens, Alston was also the trustee who introduced an ultimately successful motion last week to reprimand President Ammons rather than put him on administrative leave over his handling of hazing. In other words, Alston recommended the soft-pedal approach.

See the problem here?

Outrageous stories like this illustrate why we’re taking the approach that we are with this blog, encouraging the whole Rattler community, including alumni, to please come clean about your firsthand experiences with hazing. Forums and stern talkings-to of present-day students alone will not solve it, since hazing is an intergenerational virus amongst us.

The administration, trustees, faculty, and staff of FAMU are (for now) rife with alums who participated in various hazing orgs. Alston isn’t the only one. Not by a mile. It makes zero sense for these people or any other alum who wants to help resolve the hazing crisis to not start out by saying honestly: “I was/was not hazed while joining my favorite student org. If so, here’s what I saw. Here’s what I did or didn’t do about it. Here’s what I think we could do better now.” That’s crucial context for everything else we do now. Otherwise, our actions won’t have credibility and, as a result, they won’t work.

•Still no arrests in the Robert Champion case, but police have arrested three Marching 100 members in connection with the alleged beating of their colleague Bria Hunter, who came forward prior to the Florida Classic.

This story illustrates one of the main dangers of hazing within the band in particular: It’s a co-ed group. That means, unlike with hazing in a frat or sorority, you can have men hitting women.

Not that any form of violent hazing is ever acceptable, of course. But given the general difference in size and strength, you’re getting into really dangerous territory in terms of injuries once men start hitting women as Bria Hunter alleges.

Palm Beach Post Story on FAMU

December 12, 2011

Thanks to the Palm Beach Post’s Dara Kam for her mention of the blog in her story in today’s paper. Crass self-promotion aside, it really is one of the most comprehensive features we’ve read about hazing at FAMU, out of all the ink that’s been spilled since the Florida Classic.

Dara writes:

TALLAHASSEE — Robert Champion should be stepping with his cherished “Marching 100” band at Florida A&M University’s fall commencement on Friday.

Instead, hundreds of mourners gathered on Nov. 30 in Georgia, where 26-year-old Champion was laid to rest in his school uniform, a polished baton in his hand.

Champion’s lifelong dream was to become a member of the university’s renowned band and ascend to the elite status of drum major.

That dream may have led to his death.

Definitely worth reading the whole thing, especially as we head into another week that may hold all sorts of additional surprises for the FAMU community. Developments have been coming fast and furious regarding the various investigations into Champion’s death and the university’s overall handling of hazing.

Why Alumni Hazing Stories Matter

December 11, 2011

By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

New York Times columnist Charles Blow, a Grambling alum, wrote a powerful column in the paper Saturday about his own experience being hazed in college. An excerpt:

I was first paddled when I pledged a fraternity in college. It was one of our first meetings as a pledge group and the brothers were working their way through a line of us from shortest to tallest. Eventually they got to me. No. 13.

I moved to the center of the room and assumed the position. I stared straight ahead. I tried to brace myself for the blow, but nothing could have prepared me.


The force of the impact nearly knocked me over. I rose on my toes to keep from falling forward. The pain of it crackled through my thin body. My vision blurred. The sound in the room grew muted as if I was listening from underwater. My temples throbbed. My nostrils flared. My nose ran and my eyes watered despite my best efforts to prevent it. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead. I was on fire. My body demanded that I scream, run, cry, do something. But I knew that I could do nothing. I stood firm.

“Thanks — may I have another?”

…When I view what we did with a mature mind and enlightened eyes, it seems insane. But, in the moment, as a young man, it seemed to be a perfectly reasonable rite of passage. And that is the attitude that must be changed. It’s not reasonable. It’s ridiculous.

We must end the “conspiracy of silence.”

Charles’s column is amazing enough when taken at face value. Between the lines, it also eloquently highlights an issue I’ve already come across in the last few weeks blogging about FAMU’s strain of hazing: What’s the point of alumni telling these old stories?

A few people have asked me this, especially since I wrote about the initial round of data we’ve collected regarding FAMU hazing, including firsthand accounts dating back nearly 50 years. (The database continues to grow, by the way. We’re now up to almost 30 entries, doubling in size from the initial round I wrote about. People are submitting their stories at a pretty consistent clip of one or two everyday.)

To me, the answer has two parts. The first is that alumni stories help illustrate what’s meant by the phrase “culture of hazing.” In my social-media streams, a lot of FAMU people were essentially in denial about this in the early days after Robert Champion’s death, saying the phrase is inherently hyperbolic.

When we share stories that go back a decade or three, yet still bear serious resemblance to present-day events, it has to cut through the denial. Hazing is a long-term problem, very deeply ingrained and transferred from generation to generation. If that’s not culture, what is?

The second powerful thing about alumni speaking out is the unique standing we have to say: “When I joined Organization X, the experience was a certain way for me. But I don’t want it to be that way for the members after me. It should be different for them. Better. And I will accept them as fellow members wholeheartedly.”

That’s the sentiment that shouts out from between the lines of stories like Charles Blow’s, or the ones I’m seeing everyday from my fellow Rattler alumni. It takes a lot of maturity and courage; it’s not easy. But it also has serious power to really bring hazing to an end at FAMU, I think.

Conversely, when we as alumni set a bad example and take the opposite attitude — “Hey, I did it. It’s OK for these kids to do it. In fact, they don’t really belong if they don’t.” — we’re helping to prolong the problem.

Again: “That is the attitude that must be changed. It’s not reasonable. It’s ridiculous.”