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“Crab” Hazing: The Dark Side of Band Hazing at Southern Exposed by Advocate

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Here is a great Advocate article By JORDAN BLUM
* Advocate Capitol news bureau
Southern University marching band members being nearly beaten to death with 2-by-4-inch wooden boards may sound extreme even for hazing.

But such acts occur “in the moment” when hazing is accepted as part of the culture, sociologists and band directors say.

The Southern marching band’s seven felony hazing arrests last week are the latest in a string of nationwide incidents that led the Inside Higher Ed publication to print a “Bands Gone Wild” headline atop an October story.

“I always refer to it as going to the dark side,” said Lewis Liddell, band director of Southern’s Southwestern Athletic Conference rival Jackson State University.

“Kids are coming to college expecting to do these things and that’s really sad,” Liddell said. “If you don’t watch it, it can blossom into something out of control.”

The impact on Southern’s famed “Human Jukebox” band will remain unknown for at least a few more days because Southern officials are waiting for the case to be finalized and handed over to the district attorney before taking formal action. So far, the seven arrested have been suspended indefinitely by the university. But the band itself has not been penalized.

“Expulsion surely is in order,” if the allegations are true, said Southern Board of Supervisors Chairman Myron Lawson.

Southern University System President Ralph Slaughter said there already are multiple band education sessions each year concerning hazing, he said.

“We have zero tolerance on hazing. We’re trying to stamp it out,” Slaughter said. “We need to re-evaluate to make sure this kind of thing never ever happens again.”

Southern also has a “marching band anti-hazing contract” signed by band members and their parents that states in part: “Allowing oneself to be hazed is as unacceptable as requiring it of others.”

Southern Chancellor Kofi Lomotey and Band Director Lawrence Jackson did not return multiple phone messages all last week.
Southern’s recent incident was part of a Nov. 25 initiation into the marching band’s unofficial French horn fraternity — “Mellow Phi Fellow” — prior to Saturday’s Bayou Classic football game, according to arrest records. The alleged hazing occurred at a home north of Baton Rouge.

Two of the three students were hospitalized for treatment of injuries that, at least at one point, threatened possible organ failure, according to East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office records.

Richard Kessinger, University of Louisiana at Lafayette sociologist, said mental and physical hazing often is used within organizations to create more solidarity and loyalty so members feel everyone has earned their place.

“You’re more likely to stay with the group and treat it more important,” Kessinger said. “It’s like a fraternity — it’s for life. Once you’re in it, you’re in it.”

But hazing leads to aggressive and dangerous behavior, he said.

“Those acts or behaviors might spill over into other areas of their lives,” Kessinger said.

Jackson State’s Liddell said he sees hazing as an attitude problem, noting that he knows of instances where school bands have even hazed students in middle school. Jackson State had band hazing allegations last year, but Liddell said the problems have decreased since the early 1990s.

While Liddell emphasizes the nationwide problem — including recent band hazing at the University of Wisconsin and the University of California at Davis — he sees problems at historically black colleges.

“Some of our African-American males have a serious sense of misplaced masculinity and what it means to be masculine,” Liddell said.

Kessinger agreed.

“We’re supposed to be aggressive and manly men and be able to beat someone up,” Kessinger said.

Frank Wickes, LSU’s band director, said there is “no place” for hazing in marching bands.

Wickes said LSU’s “The Golden Band from Tigerland”  has avoided hazing controversies by preaching a code of conduct and zero tolerance policies. But he can understand how hazing can become a part of band culture.

“There’s a lot of different philosophies,” Wickes said. “Some (bands) are run different ways. Some are student run, and some traditions are bent over the years.”

Southern has suffered public marching band hazing allegations in 2005, 2001 and 1995.

First-year members of the marching band are referred to as “crabs.” The Bayou Classic traditionally represents the time when new band members move out of “crab” status.
Southern students have mixed feelings on who is to blame for hazing allegations.

Southern sophomore Natasha Jones, of St. Martinville, who is not a member of the band, said the victims are partly to blame for allowing themselves to be hazed.

“They just didn’t think it was going to be that bad,” Jones said, noting that it was not the victims’ fault the alleged hazing went far overboard.

Southern junior Sherman Allen, of Shreveport, said the band director should be blamed because the hazing occurred under his watch.

At the same time, Allen, who is in a Southern fraternity, said some hazing — such as making new members perform tasks — can be character-building as long as no one is physically harmed.

How the case will play out legally is another matter.

Earlier this year, hazing charges against some Tulane University fraternity members were dropped when the alleged victims decided not to cooperate.

Col. Ricky Adams of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office would not discuss whether something similar could occur with the Southern case.

“At this point, everyone is cooperating,” Adams said without elaborating.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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