FAMU’s Task Force Is Shutting Down. We’re Not.

December 2, 2011

By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

If you’re hoping for independent scrutiny of hazing abuses at FAMU, this blog and other journalistic undertakings like it may be your last hope for now. Seems President James Ammons has shuttered the inquiry he announced for awhile.

The Tallahassee Democrat’s Doug Blackburn and Jennifer Portman report:

Florida A&M University President James H. Ammons announced Thursday night that the task force he appointed last week to look into hazing within the band has been suspended pending law-enforcement investigations and a probe by the Florida Board of Governors into whether top FAMU officials took appropriate action to address reports of hazing within the band.

“Based upon input from the governor’s office and in light of the recently announced Nov. 29 investigation by the Board of Governors, I believe it will be prudent to postpone the work of the task force to allow this and other investigations to be pursued with our full cooperation and attention,” Ammons said in the one-line statement.

Also on Thursday, several members of FAMU’s Board of Trustees said they are disappointed they haven’t been able to question Ammons in the wake of the Nov. 19 suspected hazing death of Marching 100 drum major Robert Champion.

I’ve written previously on my personal blog about the task force’s apparent flaws, chiefly that it seemed from the beginning to be too narrowly focused on the band rather than the broader problem of hazing at all campus orgs. The president’s early remarks about it also didn’t dwell much on outreach to alumni, who can provide a key piece of the puzzle in figuring out how hazing is transferred from generation to generation.

Even so, one could easily envision the task force’s scope broadening over time as a policy inquiry. It’s not as obvious to me how the criminal investigations into Champion’s death, or his parents’ civil suit, might achieve similar breadth. If anything, I’d bet that those legal actions will mostly continue along the lines of sussing out a single tragic event on a specific date at one campus organization.

To really combat hazing campus-wide, you need an approach that’s a little more broad-minded, but maybe not so abstracted as a lot of the conversations I’m seeing among alumni on social media these days. That script usually goes something like this:

“Well, I’m a (fill in Greek organization or section of the 100) with a degree in (major) and … yadda yadda yadda…skipping over every detail of what it took to get into said org and how the speaker treated subsequent pledges… and I love FAMU! Strike and strike and strike again!”

Come on. The first step we need is to ask one another some very specific, telling questions: Who was hazed? Were you hazed? Did you haze afterward? In their younger days, what was the hazing experience, if any, of some of our administrators and staff who are alumni?

It only takes one person at a time, not an investigative force of any kind, to answer those sort of questions. But they can add up to a whole lot.

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