Monday marked one year since the hazing death of a Florida A&M University drum major. Students and faculty gathered together on the FAMU campus to remember the life of Robert Champion.
About 50 friends, former band mates and university faculty attended the vigil. Student Brandon Cunningham, former president of the school’s Marching 100, recalled the night that former band director Julian White told them the news.
“Dr. White the man who seems to always know what to say and have something to say, walked in with his wife on one arm and his daughter on the other and he could barely speak and you know, it took him a second but he spoke the words: folks there’s been some difficulty, we don’t know why, but we lost Robert,” Cunningham said.
Champion died while in Orlando for a football game, where he participated in a hazing ritual known as “crossing bus c.” Thirteen of Champion’s fellow band mates were brought up on various criminal charges. White and the school’s president, James Ammons, eventually stepped down amidst the fallout. But, Interim President Larry Robinson said the university is doing everything it can to eliminate hazing.
“At this institution and I’m pretty sure in your minds and hearts, we’ve been working very, very hard to address the issue of hazing on this campus and in fact, I think that the work that we’ve done here, with your involvement, has influenced not only what we do at FAMU, but I believe institutions around the nation,” Robinson said.
Robinson mentioned several anti-hazing initiatives the school has put in place.
“We’ve had workshops, forums, changes in policy, changes in procedures; we’ve even developed a new medium- a website that allows students and others to report hazing incidents to us and to the appropriate officials,” Robinson said.
The Champion family is suing the university, claiming the school turned a blind eye to hazing even after a dean had proposed suspending the Marching 100 because of previous complaints. The school recently offered the family a 300-thousand dollar settlement but they rejected it, calling the offer, “substantively low”.