DAVID GREENE: And let’s turn, now, to the story at Florida A&M University. That school’s Marching 100 Band has traditionally been a great source of pride for the historically black institution. But that changed dramatically on November 19, 2011. On that day, in a brutal hazing incident, 26-year-old drum major Robert Champion was beaten to death by fellow band members. This past Wednesday, charges were brought against 13 individuals, putting a fresh spotlight on that case. Now Florida Public Radio’s Lynn Hatter reports that the incident has put the future of the university’s marching band in question.
LYNN HATTER: The hazing death of Robert Champion has brought the band’s storied performances to a screeching halt. The university placed the band on an indefinite suspension immediately following Champion’s death. The Marching 100 used to perform at bowl games and presidential inaugural parades. But no more. Pam Champion, Robert’s mother, says the group needs to remain suspended until hazing has been completely eradicated from campus.
PAM CHAMPION: You cannot go on as usual, business as usual, with that band and the functioning of that school.
LYNN HATTER: Florida Governor Rick Scott expressed sympathy for the family. But he stopped short of saying the Marching 100 Band should go away forever.
RICK SCOTT: I think that we ought to finish and make sure that there’s not going to be anything that’s like this happen again. I don’t think we’re that position yet. The band’s got a great history, but we can’t afford to have – lose another individual like Robert Champion.
LYNN HATTER: Florida A&M University has been in embroiled in controversy since Champion’s death. And the Florida state school has struggled to respond to public concerns about the persistence of hazing within the marching band.
HANK NUWER: There is a kind of belief that hazing is still necessary in order to keep the status quo in a group, in order to add a certain cache or prestige to the group. And those beliefs die hard.
LYNN HATTER: That’s hazing expert Hank Nuwer. He teaches at Franklin College. Champion’s death resurfaced a long history of hazing within the band. In 1989, eight members were jailed for hazing. In 2002, a hazing lawsuit resulted in a $1.8 million civil judgment.
FAMU psychology professor Dr. Seward Hamilton has surveyed students about hazing. And of those surveyed, he found a significant minority said even advisors and coaches participated.
SEWARD HAMILTON: We have to be careful about who we put in leadership positions.
LYNN HATTER: Following the announcement of criminal charges, University Board of Trustees Chairman Solomon Badger said in a written statement the university is vigorously trying to eradicate hazing. FAMU’s 13,000 students are now required to report incidents within 24 hours. Students must now also sign an anti-hazing pledge.
And the university board of trustees created a task force. However, that group has broken apart due to internal disagreements. But those measures still aren’t enough for Pam Champion.
PAM CHAMPION: You have to clean house in order to get that mess out of there.
LYNN HATTER: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is actively looking into additional cases of hazing within the Marching 100.