Hazing News

Orando Sentinel reporters investigate death of Robert Champion

Note that the online story is in FIVE parts. Fine job, Sentinel.

Excerpt: The drum majors represent the pinnacle of achievement in the Marching 100: the student field generals of one of the nation’s most celebrated marching bands. Among that group, Robert Champion — poised to become the head drum major the following year — is hard to miss.

He’s a big guy, 26 years old, a little more than 6 feet tall and 235 pounds. He is remarkable in a number of ways. He’s gay and doesn’t hide it. He appeared as a teenager in the 2002 movie “Drumline,” loosely based on the FAMU band. More importantly, he has managed to move up the ranks, for the most part, without subjecting himself to the semester-long hazing that faces the freshmen seated before him.

Hazing is the reason they are all assembled. Since 1998, the university has held hazing workshops to drill into the heads of the band students that hazing is unacceptable, hazing is against school regulations, hazing is against the law.

The university has good reason to beat the drum. Ivery Luckey, a clarinetist, was hospitalized for two weeks after being paddled more than 300 times in 1998. Trumpeter Marcus Parker went into renal failure following a 2001 hazing. Luckey won a $50,000 settlement. Parker was awarded $1.8 million in his lawsuit against the band members who beat him.

Speaker after speaker — Ammons, White, campus-police Chief Calvin Ross — repeat the same mantra: Participating in hazing, either as a victim or a hazer, can cost you your music scholarship. You can be expelled from school. You can be arrested and charged with a third-degree felony.

In the workshop, band members hear that hazing extends beyond physical abuse. It includes doing chores and running errands for upperclassmen; extorting money from freshmen; and demeaning and abusive language.

Marcus Fabre’, seated in the saxophone section, knows from experience the gap between what the adults say and what happens inside the band. He’s a 20-year-old sophomore who spent his freshman year refusing to be hazed and paying the price with ostracism. The upperclassmen used him as an example: If you don’t submit, you’ll end up alone, just like Marcus.

There are others inside the rehearsal hall for whom the anti-hazing warnings are hollow admonishments and empty threats. Some of them belong to small groups within the sections: clarinetists who call themselves the “Clones,” trumpet players who go by “Thunder,” and a group of students from Georgia called the “Red Dawg Order.”

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; 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 current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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