FAMU Still Reeling From Hazing Death

Barrington M.Salmon | 6/27/2012, 11:34 a.m.

Elaine Anderson has been following the fallout from the hazing death of a 26-year old Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University [FAMU] drum major with increasing dismay.

Anderson, a 49-year-old Tallahassee real estate broker and mother of two, said Robert Champion's death was totally unnecessary and as details of his death emerge, has cast a pall over two renowned institutions: the university and the famed Florida A&M Marching 100.

"It's disappointing first and foremost because someone died," she said. "But it's very disappointing that an HBCU [historically black college or university] was involved. And it's not just that, but it's also because the Marching 100 is a classic. The repercussions go far beyond the school and will likely affect different elements of the institution for years to come."

Champion, an Atlanta resident, died last November after what police described as an incident of hazing. He died after witnesses said he ran a gauntlet where he was beaten with drum fists, bass drum mallets and drumsticks. Champion is alleged to have entered a bus in a parking lot in Orlando at the Florida Classic football game in the hopes of gaining his peers respect by enduring the abuse.

Called the "cross over," successful completion of the ritual - making it from the front to the back of the bus - meant full initiation into the band. Champion died later on the night of November 19 from the complications of blunt force trauma.

A criminal investigation into Champion's death led to the arrest of 13 band members. Eleven of them were charged with felony hazing for allegedly beating him to death. A judge set the trial date for October.

The Marching 100 has a storied past with invitations to perform at lavish events and ceremonies, several Super Bowls and presidential inauguration ceremonies.

Champion's death has pulled back the curtain and exposed a culture of hazing, a pervasive practice that has been a not-so-secret part of the marching band for decades.

Yet even as band members past and present detailed examples of beatings and physical violence, school officials from the president on down, claim no knowledge of the band members' activities.

Sharon Saunders, FAMU's chief communications officer, said two investigations are still underway. One is being conducted by the Florida Board of Governors concerning the administration's response to hazing reports and institutional controls to prevent hazing. And the other, a criminal investigation, is being conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement related to the use of band finances.

Since Champion's death, FAMU President James Ammons has been buffeted by criticism and endured increasing calls for him to step aside. Despite a recent vote of no-confidence by FAMU's Board of Trustees, Ammons refuses to resign promising that he will fix the problems.

The 8-4 vote reflects the trustees' displeasure with Ammons' handling of the hazing death, and concerns about his management of a range of issues, especially what board members see as a lax attitude toward band management prior to Champion's death.

Ammons, a FAMU alumnus who served as provost and assumed the presidency in 2007, remains defiant.