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.


6 Responses to “One AKA’s Story”

  1. Reginald K. Wilkes Says:

    I agree with some of her ideas. However the idea “to deny admission” to students from “feeder school’s” is wrong. If that is the case than every student from a black high school would not be admitted. Just because an individual attended a “feeder school” does not mean that they are into hazing. I attended one of those so called “feeder schools”, and yes there was hazing, nothing physical but humiliation and embarrassment, our band director who was a FAMU Marching 100 alumni made us wear white tee shirts, black shorts, white socks, white tennis shoes, and a paper bag on our head, because as freshmen we were not allowed to wear caps or hats to practice. He is a director at one of the top high schools in the country located in Jacksonville, FL, he has white students now, but I have yet to hear of them being forced to wear certain uniforms, very interesting.The school administrators practiced hazing if that is the case, if you were not a senior, then you could not enter the senior courtyard. Hundreds of high schools around the country distinguish between freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The military is even in on it also, you ever heard of blood badges? Look them up, they now refer to them as traditions, just another name for hazing. What about the PT that Drill Sergeants make new recruits do, sometimes it is excessive ( I still owe my drill sergeant hundreds of push ups). I am sorry for the Champion family’s loss, and I feel that everyone involved should be charged with 1st degree murder, it was premeditated plain and simple.However through the years at FAMU there have been numerous hazing incidents, many of them unreported. I was one of those who fought back in my freshman year, and yes the band members at that time tried to black ball me and everything else because I would not conform to their initiation process, I would never hurt someone who is trying to better themselves. After the negativity at FAMU, I left, frustrated, and without an education. I support the Marching 100, I support the “Sounds Of Thunder” (Trombone Section), however the things that have evolved over time is not warranted. I know personally of a student that was beaten with pipes, and bricks, kicked up the hill on he patch with combat boots at late night section rehearsals, after Dr. Foster gave the words. “Upperclassmen do what you must”, when the lights went down on the patch, freshmen ran for their lives to Sampson Hall and Paddyfoote Dorms. When walking down to Spurs gas station was more like a duck and dodge mission so that you would not get caught by the upperclassmen, and be beaten or extorted for money. I never went through those things after it was known that, yes , I would fight back. My first incident involved me actually fighting an upperclassmen on one of those trips to Spurs. Needless to say I did not stop my midnight trips, nor did I run when the lights went out on the patch. My room mate was from Atlanta,GA and I let him know then I was not afraid of the upperclassmen and that he should not be either. The night the upperclassmen kicked in my room door at Sampson Hall in Fall 81, telling me they were going to “take me over” with pipes in their hands resulted in me shooting at them and defending myself. Many may ask why did I have a gun on Campus. Well Samson Hall was not exactly set with an alarm system, no cameras back then, anybody could walk in off of the street, and campus security was a joke back then, (That was proven when a young lady was raped and killed in her dorm room in 1982). A week later my room mate ended up stabbing an upperclassmen in his section, because the upperclassmen slapped him. There are many numerous things that are wrong, however the hazing only came to light. The next thing that will happen will be the drug and alcohol abuse by the band members, it is there, I know becuase it was fluent when I was there. They may deny it, however I think they should be tested for drugs and alcohol abuse, by an outside agency, and monitored by medical personnel so that they do not swap urine or perfom hair sample tests, just as the athletes are tested. Les Miles, coach at LSU, suspended his top player in this last football season for drug use. Physically harming someone does not make you more of a man or a woman, nor does it make an organization greater. I was somebody before I went to FAMU. The morals and upbringing by mother and grandmother, are the things that have made me the man I am, not hazing and harassment.

    • Tracy Harmon Says:

      Hi Reginald,

      I found your post very insightful and eye opening. Thank you for sharing. I wanted to quickly address your feeder school comment.

      It wasn’t my intention to attack black high schools that feed into FAMU. Although I suspect band members who were hazed in high school may be more apt to continue the hazing in college (a study is warranted to support this idea). If I am not mistaken the case of the young lady who received a broken thigh bone was hazed by members of one of those feeder schools. One data point, but is supports the foundation of my idea. Black high schools should penalize those involved with hazing as well. I know my comment gave the impression that it was an “all or nothing” idea, but certainly there are exceptions. And my view is that those exceptions, should be from exceptional students.

      As a Presidential Scholar, my education was the most important thing to me, and I think that should be the case for the students the university admits. Including those in the university’s music program. A more stringent admission process will allow a different caliber of student across all departments of the university. Once again, I am speaking based on my time at FAMU when we were designated Time’s College of the Year in 1997, featured in Forbes magazine and led the country in National Merit Finalists. Those are the standards, I’d like to see again, was my only point.

  2. Peter McKay Says:

    Reginald, thanks so much for your comment — and for sharing your own powerful story. Again, I think doing this is tremendously helpful to the community, since openness is the opposite of the secrecy that fuels hazing. Just as Tracy’s story moved you to share, I bet your story will eventually motivate someone else to come forward. In my opinion, this is how it HAS to work if FAMU is going to put hazing behind us, one person at a time, one story at a time.

  3. Dr. John E. Duncan Says:

    Dr. Harmon,
    I am a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incoporated, and have been a member for quite some time. I read your letter pertaining to your perosnal experience with hazing at FAMU and was saddened that you encountered such a traumatic experience while pursuing membership into AKA.

    Thanks for sharing your story, I am sure your story will be beneficial to others. Personally, I had a rewarding experience; It was not an easy journey and there were many things that made little sense during the process, but I would not trade my intake experiences for the world!

    Education is the key to any process. Answering the ‘why’ and ‘how’ to accomplish certain tasks and offering a rationale for doing so is essential. Having said this, I encourage all persons interested in joining any organization of the Divine 9 to be sure that you are planning to join for the right reasons. The bottom line is that these organizations are community service organizations. There are more meaningful ways to develop the skill sets and competencies of prospective members other than terrorizing them, demeaning them, and compromising their self worth and self-esteem.

    Continue to educate our people, Dr. Harmon, and continue to uphold the legacy of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.,

    Your Frat Brother,
    Dr. John E. Duncan
    Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.,

  4. Dr. Pat Wright Says:

    I found this while while seaching on line for something else. I went to high school with Reginald Wilkes in Jacksonville, Fl and was a part of the powerful Raines Marching Band, instead of going to FAMU I went to FSU in the same city at the same time as my buddy Reginald, everything he says is true., its funny I am one at times who we get other freshman to not wear the paper bags, for the day, power in numbers. I wanted to march in the “100” but I would not stand for any hitting and unnecessary screaming at me…..hit me and I’m hitting you back and I will call the police in a minute.

    At FSU all the Black Greek sororities and frat haze the same way the do at black schools as we call them it is no difference. I was know many who dropped line for those very reasons, including myself, but it is just things I will not accept. This is powerful.

    • Peter McKay Says:

      Thanks for posting, Dr. Wright. It helps tremendously to verify people’s stories this way when possible, to underscore that people are not just making up these stories. Unfortunately, that charge does sometimes surface from those who would prefer that the existing ways remain in place for whatever misguided reason.

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