September 19th, 2012
Burden is on students, not panelists, to change FAMU culture by Hank Nuwer
Like people, universities can have a span of life from birth to death.
Many colleges have closed their doors because of declining enrollments, inadequate endowments and mismanagement.
Scandals have injured other schools. In that, Florida A & M is not alone.
Penn State is reeling under the Joe Paterno-Jerry Sandusky pedophile scandal.
Southern Methodist University after years of football floundering has built itself back up after a disastrous Death Penalty levied against it by the NCAA.
Alfred University in New York came back from a horrific hazing death and a fraternity suicide after hazing by banning fraternities and diving into hazing research. So a school CAN come back.
Those who love Florida A & M have a long road to traverse before this scandal comes close to going away. It may take a decade or more if all goes well. Unless a lawsuit filed against FAMU is settled, that court struggle could go on five years or longer.
The death of Robert Champion has seen admissions drop drastically, and the school will need to dig in its heels to resist those who see lowering admissions standards as an answer to the 800 or so student enrollment decline.
Worse, the ill-advised decision by school lawyers to shift blame from the school and hazers in band and Greek life onto the deceased Champion has created a public relations problem only slightly less devastating than Penn State has. There is no question in my mind that alumni of the school are asking “What were they thinking?”
There are Human Resource challenges. The school has to replace an ousted president and once beloved band leader. The school continues to play football sans the Marching Band that gave the school its greatest glory and its greatest shame.
The family of Robert Champion has articulately criticized the longtime hazing culture at FAMU that cost them a beloved son.
That’s why Thursday’s Hazing Town Hall panel at 2 p.m. on Sept. 20 in FAMU’s Alfred L. Lawson Jr. Multipurpose Center and Teaching Gym is so important for the beleaguered school. The panel includes individuals known for hazing scholarship, activism and social criticism. I am confident they will conduct themselves well. I am one of the panelists and pleased to try to be there participating as a great, or maybe once-great, institution attempts to come back from adversity and shame.
What remains to be seen is how FAMU’s student body itself will respond during the question-and-answer period following the moderator’s prepared questions. The school has endured a number of fraternity scandals and arrests resulting in jail time as a result of hazing. And no sooner was the school plunged into the abyss of bad publicity following Robert Champion’s death than the dance team at FAMU was accused of hazing and punished.
At the same time, the social critic and father of two men that I am feels the grievous loss suffered by the Robert Champion family. I recall the dismay I felt when I first heard how he had been killed.
With the eyes of America on Florida A & M ever since the death of Robert Champion, pressure is on students and alumni in the audience.
Have FAMU students really decided that they have learned from the death of Robert Champion, the suspension of band and dance teams, and the past arrests of fraternity members?
Florida A & M students and alums will demonstrate that answer on Thursday. They will do so by their actions and questions.
Confirmed hazers never lose an opportunity to make excuses and demonstrate self pity for the target rightly pinned on their backs. This week a student writer for the FAMU paper writes that she’s tired of hearing about hazing. Doesn’t she think the Champion family is a bit tired also?
I have no doubt that some in the audience will be past hazers. They have had time to search their minds and souls to decide if they really have accepted the school’s call for reforming the hazing culture.
Panelists including me will have a perspective to offer on Thursday, but only a perspective. It remains to be seen if the students and alumni that attend have changed behavior for real.
They are not only the ones who must offer a solution.
They ARE the solution. Or remain the problem.
In World War Two, America rallied behind a committed people. Those who went to war became known as the Greatest Generation.
Hazing has reared its ugly head in educational situations at least since the time St. Augustine was a student at Carthage in the Fourth Century. If Society today can at long last wage a successful war against hazing, it will be because of today’s youth coming together as a Chosen Generation.