MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And now, we turn to an issue also involving violence, but much closer to home. In Florida, a drum major with Florida A&M University’s marching band died recently, and police suspect hazing played a role. Funeral services for 26 year old Robert Champion are scheduled for tomorrow.
In the wake of Champion’s death, Florida A&M has called for an investigation and cancelled all upcoming band performances. The university has also fired its longtime band director, Julian White.
Now, many people are probably familiar with hazing allegations directed at fraternities and sports teams, but many were surprised to hear that hazing may play a part in other groups, like a marching band. So, we wanted to know more about this, so we reached out to someone who has studied the topic of hazing extensively.
Hank Nuwer is the author of several books on hazing. He’s also an associate professor of journalism at Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana. Thank you so much for joining us.
HANK NUWER: Thank you.
MARTIN: How did you get interested in the whole subject of hazing?
NUWER: Well, I was a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno, when a death occurred in 1975, in October. The death was of John Davies, and a lot of us simply walked by while that hazing was done and then a second one at a bar, and then a third one was done in the middle of nowhere and John Davies died and another pledge had brain damage.
So I contacted Human Behavior magazine to write about the group dynamics, the group think involved, and got the assignment.
MARTIN: Now, is this something that is a particular feature of life on some campuses more than others? For example, I think many incidents involving HBCUs, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, have gotten public attention. But does your reporting indicate that this is something that tends to happen on HBCUs more than others, or are all institutions or are some institutions more likely to have this than others? Is there a through line?
NUWER: Definitely, some are more likely to have it than others. If you have a culture of hazing, it usually goes back many, many years. And if you take an institution such as Florida A&M, it’s not only been a series of horrific hazing incidents that have cost a lot in terms of civil suits, but they’ve also had fraternities involved in hazing beatings. And, in fact, Florida, which has about the toughest hazing law in the nation, with making it a third degree felony, has had people sentenced for two years in a Kappa Alpha Psi beating.
MARTIN: What are we talking about? When we talk about hazing, what are we talking about? And why does it persist? You know, what’s it for? What’s it about?
NUWER: Well, hazing has a lot of different nuances, as we can see from this case here. It’s usually thought of as anything silly, demeaning or dangerous that’s used to welcome people into a group. But, over time, we have seen it morph where accepted members of a band or accepted members of a group who are seen as messing up, not measuring up, disrespecting the house, have been punished. And we’ve seen, at the high school level, serious hazing incidents, including sexual assault, that have been done to cause someone to quit the team, not to bond with the team.