Jackson State University’s famed marching band is barred from performing at the football game against arch-rival Southern University on Saturday and possibly longer after allegations of hazing surfaced.
No members of the Sonic Boom of the South made the allegations, and no physical abuse is alleged to have occurred, said Velvelyn Foster, JSU’s vice president for academic affairs and student life.
Foster said the allegations came from parents and other students and characterized the hazing as “mental abuse.”
Nevertheless, she imposed an indefinite suspension of public performances – what the university is calling a temporary halt to performances – until an investigation is completed.
There is no time limit on the suspension, but director of bands Lewis Liddell said he suspects it would “all be over by next week.” Students still will be allowed to attend class and band practice.
Some band members and supporters see the suspension as an inappropriately harsh punishment for the band’s 280 members, even though officials suspect only a few people were involved in whatever hazing might have taken place.
Foster and Liddell said they suspect there are two or three victims and about five perpetrators.
“I don’t think the band should be punished by the actions of a few people – if that’s the case,” said 2000 JSU grad and football fan Cedrick Hull. “Once they find out the facts, they can make the punishment fit.”
Hull was one of more than 200 people who signed an online petition Tuesday urging the university to reconsider.
In addition, Internet message boards were packed with comments on the topic all day Tuesday, many of them antagonistic to the university. The Clarion-Ledger’s online story on the subject attracted several dozen comments.
Posts ranged from “Y’all are a bunch of whining sissies. Hazing is part of the bonding process” to “the University should have taken this stance years ago.”
Also on Tuesday, a small group of protesters gathered outside the band room on campus, holding signs with handwritten messages such as, “Boom is 99.9 percent of JSU profit. Everyone comes to the game for the band!”
Fans and band members are even more upset because of the timing; canceling the performance at the Southern game – what is sometimes called the Super Bowl of the SWAC – seems vengeful to them.
“We’re heartbroken,” said senior trombonist Lee Shields, 24, who called the game against Southern “the highlight of our season.”
“We were so hyped about it,” he said. “They took that away from us.”
Liddell, who appeared at a campus news conference with Foster on Tuesday, said he, too, is heartbroken. He’s been director of bands at JSU for 16 years, he said.
“I really wanted to go down to Southern and put a hurt on them,” he said.
University officials informed the band of the decision during practice Monday evening, Shields said.
He said they’d been practicing for a half hour or more when the officials showed up.
“They got things from people outside the band who think they’ve seen hazing,” he said, recounting the conversation. “No specifics. They don’t have any proof.”
Foster said that is true.
“We have had no band member indicate they have been hazed,” she said.
A national expert on hazing said that is typical – whether or not hazing actually occurred.
Psychologist Susan Lipkins said there is usually a “code of silence” in organizations where hazing occurs.
Lipkins is author of the book Preventing Hazing: How Parents, Teachers and Coaches Can Stop the Violence, Harassment, and Humiliation.
She applauded JSU’s actions, and said the serious step the university has taken makes her believe officials have ample evidence that something did take place.
She said most hazing is mental, despite conventional wisdom that hazing must involve something potentially physically harmful. The goal of its perpetrators is total control.
“They want to take your ego or your own identity and strip it to the point where it blends with the group,” she said.
Long-term consequences can be severe, including lifelong nightmares and anxiety problems, she said.
She said that in situations where hazing is uncovered, it typically has been going on undiscovered for a long time.
Shields said he never saw anything he’d call hazing in the band.
Foster acknowledged that punishing the entire band would be seen as unfair to the innocent, but she said it was necessary to put an immediate stop to whatever is going on.
“It’s just important that we look very seriously at this so our students understand that we take this very seriously,” she said.”We look at it as protecting these band members.”
Asked whether a petition could help end the suspension sooner, Foster said, “They could always appeal to the university president.”
Liddell put it more bluntly: “I doubt it.”