Florida A&M University is continuing with efforts to educate students about the effects of hazing. Thursday the university suspended classes and held a hazing town hall meeting with a panel of experts. The meeting coincided with the introduction of a federal bill to impose new penalties on hazing perpetrators.
Florida A&M University is slowly beginning to move past the death of school band drum major Robert Champion. He died last November after being beaten in a hazing ritual. The school has weathered criticism that it hadn’t done enough to prevent Champion’s death. But in the months since, it has revised its policies and put new restrictions on campus clubs and organizations. Students say they're ready to move on.
“I believe the incident that happened last November was wrong. This is not what our university stands for and this shouldn’t be the label we have. Students are ready to move on and blaze a new trail for Rattlers this year,” said Gregory George, a 3rd year political science major.
During a town hall meeting on hazing Thursday, FAMU Alumnus and event moderator James Bland addressed what many FAMU stakeholders have been feeling—that the school has been branded with a scarlet “H” for hazing.
“I felt that the totality of what FAMU represented was being distorted by outsiders who have taken it upon themselves to tell the FAMU story,” Bland said.
FAMU is being criticized for the way it responded to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Champion’s family. The school says that ultimately Champion had a choice of whether to participate in the hazing ritual that led to his death, and that the school itself is not responsible.
As FAMU held its town hall meeting, Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson unveiled legislation in Washington D.C. aimed at cracking down on hazing at the federal level. Wilson’s bill would ban federal financial aid for students convicted of hazing, and deny federal transportation funds to states that don’t enact anti-hazing laws. She says according to statistics, there’s been one hazing-related death a year on college campuses since 1970.
“It just so happens that the Champion’s have called attention to their case, but so many other children have been murdered, assaulted on college campuses, it just hasn’t caught the attention of the national media," said Wilson.
Florida has one of the strictest anti-hazing laws in the country which makes hazing resulting in serious harm or death a third-degree felony which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.
As Wilson unveiled her proposal she was joined by the parents of a Florida A&M University drum major who died after a hazing ritual, and relatives of a 19-year-old Tampa native who allegedly died while trying to pledge a fraternity at a North Carolina university. In recent weeks a liberal arts college in western New York canceled its women's volleyball season because of hazing allegations.