In Online Submissions, Rattlers Allege Hazing Over Decades at a Dozen-Plus Campus Orgs

December 5, 2011

By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

Last week, I began coordinating with FAMU student-journalists to collect reports from victims and witnesses of hazing at the university using a simple Web form. As a proud alumnus heartbroken by the death of Robert Champion, I felt it was vital to collaborate across generations to get a better understanding of a cross-generational problem.

The premise of what we’re doing is simple: Hazing thrives in the shadows and will die in sunlight. We realize emotions are running high regarding this issue right now, yet we’re far less interested in what people think about it than in what they know.

Rattlers of all ages have been responding to our data request. As of late Saturday, 15 people have come forward to describe hazing incidents spanning almost 50 years. We’ve had a dozen alumni and three students respond.

The number of submissions so far doesn’t constitute a massive sample, we know. But it’s a start. We know we’re fighting an uphill battle against deep-rooted subcultures of secrecy on campus, and so we’re going to continue gathering data beyond today, offering the opportunity to remain anonymous if you wish. Please keep the responses coming.

Here’s a summary of what we have so far:

Accusers have come forward regarding not only the Marching 100, but also seven Greek-letter organizations and five non-Greek student organizations. A breakdown of how many times each organization was reported appears in the table below. Please note, since many respondents alleged abuse at multiple organizations, the total number of claims against individual organizations is running well above the total number of respondents.

Eight of the 15 submissions alleged violence. In the instances when such accusers took us up on the option to provide further detail via write-in, their accounts were harrowing.

A 1962 graduate wrote of her experience pledging Delta Sigma Theta: “A single-burner hotplate was laid on my back and I suffered a third-degree burn that has left a large black circle that is a permanent mark and reminder.”

A member of the Marching 100 from 1980 wrote: “I was punched in the chest. I was verbally threatened many times. I heard a girl scream and saw a freshman band sister, saxophone player being dragged across the patch by her hair late one night after band practice.”

An alumna who tried to join the Pershing Angels in the mid-80s wrote: “For every day I was online, I was beaten with paddles til my entire body hurt. I was thrown down the steps outside Foote-Hilyer that lead down to the street (Adams). That was the day I dropped line.”

Alpha Phi Alpha was named in five submissions, including one from a current student alleging violence and every other category of abuse we listed as a choice on our form. He says he encountered hazing behaviors among Alphas between five and 10 times, and he has so far only told his friends.

About half the accusers said they did not report hazing incidents to anyone around the time the incidents occurred. About half said they reported to friends. Every other option, including police and administrators, showed little usage.

Of the people who did report hazing to someone, only one — a current member of the Marching 100 — said she got a satisfactory response. More on her later.

The numbers cited above exclude several responses we threw out for various reasons that seemed to render them statistically invalid. For instance, one current student complained about a fraternity that is not currently registered with FAMU’s Office of Student Activities as being “on the yard.” It is thus unclear for the moment how such an incident could possibly have taken place, though we’ve reached out to the student asking for clarification.

I’d like to add one final thought that has little to do with numbers per se. It relates to that present-day Marching 100 member, whose complaint was limited to forms of hazing short of violence. She says she reported the incidents to band staff, her parents, and friends, then got a satisfactory response.

At a time when the Rattler community is mourning a band member who lost his life altogether, this story might almost qualify as welcome news. But let’s look again at what this young lady went through.

The student wrote: “I was made fun of. I walked home countless nights because no one would take me home. I was called out of my name everyday and ostracized because I said no. My section leader told people to steal my instrument and things so I would quit. Because I wouldn’t be hazed, my section would not let me march on the field and told me I was irrelevant and bad. They also made me give them part of my allocation money.”

If we reach a point as a community where more of the students who find themselves in situations like this get the support they need, that would be great. But even more than that, I’d like FAMU to be a place where such situations simply don’t occur.

I’ve seen several crises and scandals of varying depth at FAMU over the years, but the current hazing fiasco strikes me as fundamentally different. Usually, our problems boil down to whether we’re living up to the “excellence” demanded in our school’s famous motto. The basic sloppiness that led to the financial scandal a few years ago is a great example.

The hazing crisis calls into question whether we’ll live up to the other characteristic that’s supposed to define the university’s identity. That is to say, can we be more caring toward one another?

A version of this post will appear as a column in Monday’s Famuan.

[CORRECTION: An early version of this post that briefly appeared on the site the evening of Sunday, Dec. 4, incorrectly described FAMU President James Ammons as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha. A full explanation of the error is available here.]

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18 Responses to “In Online Submissions, Rattlers Allege Hazing Over Decades at a Dozen-Plus Campus Orgs”

  1. Ebony Says:

    Anyone can make something up and post here…you can’t verify anything. I would suggest that you start with FAMU police department. This is pointless.

    • Peter McKay Says:

      Not true. If by “here” you mean the comments, those are moderated. If by “here” you mean the hazing database, submissions are not auto-published. When you submit information, it’s saved behind a firewall to be vetted.

  2. Imdaish Bech Says:

    PLEASE NOTE…THERE IS A LOT OF EMBELLISHING WHEN IT COMES TO SO-CALLED HAZING INCIDENTS. AND NO, I HAVEN’T BEEN HAZED OR HAZED ANYONE. I DO KNOW, FOLK WILL LIE, FOR SENSATIONALISM EFFECT.

  3. Secret Says:

    I disagree. No one would lie about what was done to them. I AM the Marching 100 student whose submission is listed in this blog, and every word I typed is true. No, I wont put my name out there because the band is like the mafia – they will find out who said what and give backlash to the person. This isnt pointless. It gives a voice to those who experienced hazing.

    • Peter McKay Says:

      Note: Using the site’s admin ccontrols, I have checked the email address associated with the above comment against the one associated with the original database submission. They are the same.

      Thanks you for speaking out!

  4. ebony Says:

    Peter, Hazing happens at ALL universities not just at FAMU or other HBCUs. Why are you targeting FAMU? The Florida Hazing Law did not go into effect because of a Hazing incident at FAMU but at the University of Miami. Include all schools, not just FAMU!

  5. Rosalind Says:

    I feel this information, while important, would be better provided to the National Leaders of these organizations, the University Administration and, if warranted, law enforcement then posted on the internet to be read and repeated by individuals who can do nothing to help the situation but through word of mouth can continue to tear down the University.
    I feel, as an alumni also, that this is more detrimental to the University than helpful as far as changing the situation. Hazing is a reality that needs to be dealt with, I agree with that sentiment.

    • Peter McKay Says:

      Based on comments, emails, etc., my sense is that it has been mostly Rattlers reading the site so far. So I do view it in large part as a form of talking among ourselves.

  6. CLAUDIA R BURKS Says:

    Rosalyn I totally agree with you. What will be gained by people coming forth from 1960 alledging hazing in their organization. We all know this is not an isolated occurence and hazing is going on at ALL Universities. I too strongly feel that this will not be helpful to FAMU at all.

    • Peter McKay Says:

      Well, I do think there’s some value to these elder Rattlers coming forward, though it’s obviously not the same as a present-day student who might be in danger.

      The submissions from earlier times underscore what’s meant by having a “culture” of hazing and point toward the problem’s root causes and what we might do to stop it. That it gets passed from generation to generation is precisely part of the problem.

      If more alums from within hazing orgs spoke up and said, “Things were a certain way for me but I *don’t* want my brothers/sisters after to have the same thing,” that would be a powerful message to the younger generation. Sadly, I think many are saying the opposite.

  7. Sarrah Fanny Says:

    How EXACTLY do you verify that this information is not fabricated? I know that you said you have a “firewall” and match up emails & what not, but I don’t understand how that means that people won’t impersonate others.

    Moreover, are you aware that the credibility of your website is very low due to that blunder you made regarding Dr. Ammon’s membership in Alpha Phi Alpha?

    • Peter McKay Says:

      The site FAQ covers certain topics regarding vetting. I’d also note, I included an example in my post of one data point that I threw out because it was current and pertained to an org not “on the yard,” which struck me as implausible.

      So I’m trying to be as transparent about that issue as possible. At the same time, to be honest, I don’t want to go into so much detail that I end up inadvertently instructing people in how to game the system, which would only make it worse.

      The error about Dr. Ammons concerns me deeply. I fixed it ASAP and explained it as much as possible, including a public apology to Dr. Ammons, at
      https://famuhazing.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/a-mistake-explained/

  8. c u rious Says:

    Id be interested in knowin how many pledged(previously hazed) Alumni allowed their kids to attend and pledge. You think that if they were careless in their own behavior…they would be more careful about their own kids. But that is exactly how it continues, isn’t it. Their silence condones hazing.

  9. tHATvenom Says:

    Peter,

    As an alum, I am deeply saddened and sickened by the incident with the young drum major Robert. As a member of a fraternity, FACES, and some one that marched in the 100 in 1997 , I will also say i am extremely disappointed with this entire blog. Especially considering the timing. I didn’t let anyone HAZE me in either one of those organizations.

    FAMU didn’t haze me… [REDACTED] tried to haze me. [REDACTED] on cymbals TRIED to haze me. Some old dude named [REDACTED] that says he played bass drum in 1989 tried to haze me. lol… Call em out.

    We can’t allow alum or current students to say that its a FAMU thing. Its a stupid and ignorant young adult thing that happens on every campus in the UNITED STATES.

    I agree that this has gone on LONG enough at FAMU, but this is actually an AMERICAN SOCIETY issue. Hazing, rituals, pledging, what ever you want call them, have been happening way before 1887. Your blog, maybe therapeutic for some and enlightening for those that did not attend famu, but in the big scale of things this only hurts our school right now.

    have you not noticed that the PENN STATE situation has damn near disappeared even though teens continue to come forward about being molested? why their alumni stick together and work together. You don’t see penn state alumni creating websites about this in the midst of a public scandal!!!! They are working with pr and boosters to ensure the future of their school, recruiting , and their reputation. I respect what your doing….BELIEVE ME.

    But this is something we should be handling through the alumni associations or other internal alumni/ current student based organizations … not giving another story to can and fox.

    After the storm passes. it would make an amazing book…trust. Right now Peter…i think you may be just adding fuel to the fire. What are you prepared to do after all this has been “exposed” to rebuild enrollment? raise money for scholarships?

    Since you’re a journalist I’m sure your also aware that the state has been looking for reasons for years to take away our pharmacy program, engineering program,and school of nursing just as they did with our law school. This is not a game.

    This is so serious on so many levels my fingers are on fire trying to make sure I REMAIN professional and respectful on your blog.

    ps

    theres a better way brother

    sssssssssstrike

    • Peter McKay Says:

      Sorry, I had to redact a couple of names there. Thank you for taking the time to do this and express your concerns. Over time, I hope this site is a force for removing hazing and protecting students.

  10. Imdaish Bech Says:

    SECRET…IF YOU THINK THAT NO ONE WOULD EMBELLISH A STORY FOR SENSATIONAL EFFECT…THAT SPEAKS VOLUMES ABOUT YOU.

    PETER, AS AN ALUM, THIS IS VERY IRRESPONSIBLE OF YOU. TAKING YOUR FANGS! …NOW YOUR JUST A SNAKE IN THE GRASS!


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