Archive for January, 2012

One AKA’s Story

January 23, 2012

Today we want to pass along an amazing personal story from Dr. Tracy Harmon, a 1998 FAMU grad who’s now an assistant professor of marketing at University of Dayton. Using this site’s online reporting form, she recently passed along a powerful anecdote about hazing she and her roommate experienced while trying to join Alpha Kappa Alpha during their student days. She also provided some great insight about the broader issue of hazing.

Courageously, Dr. Harmon has allowed us to quote her by name, all for one very simple reason.

“I want to set an example for students on campus,” she told us by phone. “I often talk to students about hazing, and I think that’s important.”

In her form submission, Dr. Harmon said she experienced multiple hazing incidents as a student, all of them in categories like verbal and psychological abuse that fell short of violence. Nevertheless, her experience does sound pretty scary, as you’ll see below. When asked to describe her experience in more detail and what FAMU might do to fight hazing in the future, Dr. Harmon wrote:

The norm for becoming a member of the sorority was to go through introductions and to familiarize yourself with members of the chapter. In one case, my roommate who was interested in joining called a member of the sorority who happened to also be a band member.

The young lady did not appreciate the call from my roommate (we are not sure why). She begin to yell at my roommate over the phone, and my roomate hung up on her. The sorority member/band member called our apartment back using the *69 feature and began to interrogate my roomate about her identity. She never told.

During a seminar a few days later, the members of the sorority took attendance and identified me and my roomate through a process of elimination. The surrounded us in our car after the seminar by parking their car behind ours, so we could not reverse the car. This took place in the parking lot in front of McGuinn/Diamond, so we could not drive forward either.

Roughly 10 members of the sorority begin to pound on our car windows/doors and demanded we get out of the car. It was like a scene from the movies. My roommate decided that we were not going to roll down the windows or open the doors, they kept trying to get in and when they couldn’t they cursed us out. They kept demanding that I get out of the car.

As much as I didn’t want to meet my fate, I figured it was the quickest way to get out of there. I got out of the car and they questioned me about my roommate and her phone call to a sorority member in the previous days. They put their hands in my face and pinned me against the car and continued to shout and demean me and my roommate.

After they were satisfied, they all laughed and walked away. I returned to the car with my roommate. They all got into their cars and waited about five minutes or so before they removed their vehicle from behind ours.

I called my mom and told her about the incident. Seeing as how she didn’t have a college education and came from a large rural family, she told me not to call home about “that nonsense” anymore, because if I was going to let someone hit then I deserved it! I never called home again about hazing.

Today, I am a university professor. I never joined AKA at FAMU, but I did join the graduate chapter some years later and I am currently an active member. So is my roommate. There were many other cases, but none as egregious as this one.

I think hazing is a phenomenon that is borne out of factor larger than the actual activity. If there was a rubric to profile a person who would haze someone else, I think you would find they would all have a predisposition towards the activity.

FAMU should for starters increase their admissions standards. Hazing is associated with power and most academically successful students gain power through their accomplishments and not necessarily social acceptance and power.

FAMU can also create a position that caters to issues of hazing on campus. In this capacity, the person would convene members of a jury to address reported hazing incidents. Incidents would be reported through a online anonymous system. Most predominantly-white institutions have a similar reporting system for bias/race related incidents.

Report hazing allegations on the students’ transcripts so that employers can be made aware of a student’s behavior. Hazing is a reflection of poor character. Which company would want a hazer to be affiliated with their company?

Make hazing sessions mandatory during orientation time for both parents and students.

Have students sign an anti-hazing agreement which informs them of the penalties.

Deny admissions to students who have an interest in band from “feeder” schools. These schools can be identified by examining the high schools of those involved in past and current hazing allegations.

Have students write about the importance of anti-hazing behavior during their admissions essay. Filter students out by their response.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

January 16, 2012

If the great man were here today, we’re sure he’d be appalled at the idea of black people brutalizing one another by hazing. Bad enough when police and lynch mobs were doing the job.

A vintage MLK appearance on Meet the Press, from 1965:

Why the Marching 100 Is Probably More Expendable to FAMU Than You Think

January 9, 2012

By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

Seems the news cycle surrounding FAMU’s hazing scandal is picking up again now that everyone is back for the new semester in Tallahassee. USA Today just ran a pro-con on hazing, with its editorial board criticizing the hazing record of FAMU and academia in general. President Ammons wrote the “con” piece defending the school’s record. Meanwhile, the Orlando Sentinel ran a story detailing parents’ complaints over the years about hazing at FAMU, with many of the complainants saying they weren’t satisfied with FAMU’s response in the pre-Champion days.

For its part, the university has tried to turn PR lemons into lemonade by creating a new “independent blue-ribbon panel of experts” to look into hazing. This by no means should be confused with the “task force” they had to cancel earlier that was supposed to do essentially the same thing.

In any case, forming committees for further study is a classic bureaucratic delaying tactic. It remains my belief that while there are certainly details that the FAMU community should flesh out regarding hazing, the basic contours of the problem have been known for a long time. Given the parts that are already known, there are specific actions we could be taking now, with some added motivation because of the Champion tragedy.

One basic matter the administration has been conspicuously mum about is whether there will be a Marching 100 next year. Yes, band performances have been suspended “indefinitely” for now, but will the president or trustees commit to keeping the band inactive for a certain number of years to come?

So far, we have no idea. Having an “indefinite” ban cuts both ways, you know. Rest aassured that every person in a position of power at FAMU, in the back of his or her mind, or maybe even in discussions behind closed doors, already has some vision of the band’s future that’s anything but indefinite. Either they want the band to stay gone awhile, or they want to get enough of the Champion fallout behind them to claim a quick victory over hazing and bring the ‘100’ back next fall. No Rattler is truly agnostic on this issue.

My own belief is that the band’s hazing sickness simply cannot be cured in a few months. To ensure student safety, which should be the paramount concern, I think there should be a ban of at least five years to truly clean house, down to the current freshman class of band members. The entire staff should also be replaced. And then after some time off, yes, reconstitute the band as funky as ever. Of course.

The inevitable counter-claim is that not having the ‘100’ will generate an intolerable hit to the university’s fundraising. Everyone in the FAMU community “knows” this, but I believe hard numbers simply do not bear the perception out.

According to a recent story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, FAMU gets about $300,000 in revenue from the band every year.

That’s equal to less than 0.1% of the university’s annual operating budget of about $480 million, based on the most recent full version that I could find at famu.edu.

Some people will argue that the band’s impact is difficult to capture directly, since they have a large unmeasured pass-through effect on the attendance at football games. Undoubtedly true. So let’s make some reasonable assumptions about that based on the numbers we do have at hand.

The athletics-related items in the 2010-2011 budget came out to about $9.5 million, including concessions. To be very generous to the don’t-break-up-the-100 crowd, let’s assume for the sake of argument that about half that total would dry up due to unbought football tickets if there were no band to fill the seats.

That hit still comes out to less than 1% of the university’s overall operating budget.

What about the likely effect on charitable giving? What if alumni have less of that gung-ho school spirit and don’t dig as deep? Again, that effect is hard to predict precisely. But I’d point out that the annual ‘100’ revenue is equivalent to about 0.3% of FAMU’s endowment, according to the numbers cited by the AJC.

Finally, I think we should ask how much the revenue loss from the ‘100’ might hurt compared to other cuts that FAMU has suffered in recent years. While no loss of revenue is ever fun, experience suggests that going without the band would be child’s play in terms of the tangible effect on campus compared to what’s already happened.

In his 2010 “state of the university address,” President Ammons noted that the state had cut about $26 million out of FAMU’s budget over the previous three years, which averages out to a little less than $9 million a year. That’s almost 30 times worse than missing out on a year’s worth of band revenue, yet everyone somehow got through it. We found a way.

It would be relatively easy to do the same if the band revenue went away, especially if the alternative scenario entails risking another tragedy like the loss of Robert Champion.

What the numbers bear out is that the true meat and potatoes of FAMU’s budget come from fairly mundane sources — the state’s regular budget allocation, transfers of federal aid to cover individual students’ fees, and out-of-pocket tuition. The school’s endowment is a nice size as HBCU’s go, though there are a lot more impressive ones in academia as a whole.

Beyond that, FAMU’s administration rightly aspires to get extra cash wherever else it can. But in practice, no single source of extra revenue has so far proven itself truly vital to carrying out the university’s mission. Any such source — including the band — could go away tomorrow and the university could carry on its work quite ably, thank you very much.

Spring 2012 Plan

January 6, 2012

By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

This blog took something of a hiatus over the recent holidays, recognizing that much of the FAMU community was on vacation and focused on happier stuff than the usual subject matter here. But now that the spring semester is starting back up on campus, we’ll get back in swing as well.

Here are a couple of my key goals for the blog for the period through this spring’s graduation:

Increase student involvement. From the beginning, I’ve wanted this blog to be a collaboration between alumni and students. This approach is intended to address the multigenerational nature of hazing itself.

The Famuan staff, led by last semester’s editor Clarece Polke and adviser Andrew Skerritt, were indeed great collaborators last semester, including two-way sharing of information, cross-publication of certain content, and general moral support during last semester’s tumult, when a certain portion of the Rattler community basically lost its collective mind regarding the valuable role of a free press in society.

This semester brings a new group of Famuan editors that I’ll have to build relationships with, working remotely as I am from New York City. I also have yet to scratch the surface with other campus media organizations. Glad to help them out with hazing coverage as well, of course. If you’re a staffer at Journey, WANM, or another campus media org aside from the newspaper, feel free to drop me an email anytime.

I’m also still looking for a couple of student bloggers to write for this site on a more dedicated basis this semester. If you’re interested in that opportunity, again, please drop me a message.

Get more alumni participation as well. I welcome guest posts, as long as they’re focused on solutions to the underlying problem of hazing. If you’re interested, please drop me an email. (Noticing a pattern developing here?) I can even publish your stuff under a pseudonym if necessary, as long as I can independently verify your identity.

Please note, this blog is not much concerned about second-derivative problems like hazing-related publicity, the careers of individual FAMU staff members, et cetera. Frankly, I think there’s been way too much focus on such stuff in the Rattler community already. If you really have a burning passion to write about those things, save it for the comments, which I will approve for the sake of free speech but summarily ignore for my own purposes.

Collect more individual hazing reports. So far, we have about 30 people who have submitted stories about hazing they’ve witnessed or been victims to over the years at FAMU. We’re still accepting submissions via our online reporting form, which allows respondents to remain anonymous if they wish.

If you have questions about our information-gathering efforts, what the data will be used for, and so forth, please check out this FAQ.

Write at least one longer blog post of my own each Monday. I figure a weekly commitment will fit into my schedule, which is busy over the next few months due to the for-profit tech startup I’m working on, Roscoe Labs. If I can post on other days, it’ll probably be more of the quick-hit variety.

At the end of the semester, I’ll reassess how the blog is doing and go from there. I’ll keep it up as long as there’s community interest, which so far has been running high.