Florida A&M University holds forum to end hazing

Story highlights

  • Hundreds of students attend an anti-hazing forum at Florida A&M University
  • FAMU president James Ammons calls on students to "honor the legacy of Robert Champion"
  • Police suspect Champion, 26, a drum major for "The Marching 100" band died after being hazed
  • Forum participants were asked to read and sign an anti-hazing pledge

Students and faculty at Florida A&M University have pledged to put an end to the dangerous tradition of hazing which is believed to have caused the death of one student and tarnished the reputation of a program that was once well-respected across the nation.

"We are going to have to unify around honoring the legacy of Robert Champion," said university president, James Ammons.

Hundreds of students gathered Monday night on the Tallahassee, Florida campus for an anti-hazing forum held more than two weeks after Champion's death. The 26-year-old was a drum major in FAMU's prestigious marching band, The Marching 100. Champion died November 19 after performing in a halftime performance at a football game in Orlando, Florida. No cause of death has been released, but police and university officials both suspect Champion's death was caused by hazing.

The practice is considered a rite of passage in sororities and fraternities on campuses across the country; it is also banned by most universities and is a crime in the state of Florida. Ammons told the crowd at FAMU, the university must eliminate this pattern of destructive behavior from the campus.

Everyone at the forum was asked to read and sign an anti-hazing agreement.

"We have to stop it," Ammons said. "We don't have a choice."

Marvin Green, FAMU's director of student activities, told the students it was time to rededicate themselves to becoming a first class example of a student body with dignity and respect.

    "We are here to make a change," Green said. "It starts with us."

    Champion's parents said the last time they spoke to their son was before Thanksgiving. He told them he couldn't wait to come home. The next call they remember receiving came from their daughter who told them their son wasn't breathing.

    "When you get that kind of news you think, no not my Robert," Pam Champion said.

    It's like "a bad dream," said Robert Champion, Sr.

    Incidents of hazing have followed the FAMU band for years. In 2001, a student was paddled so badly he had to be hospitalized for kidney failure, and just weeks before Champion's death, the band's director suspended 26 members for hazing.

    The Champions have accused the university of "turning a blind eye" to reports of hazing and believe the school must be held accountable for their son's death. The Champion's attorney, Christopher Chestnut, has announced the Decatur, Georgia family's intention to sue the school.

    "Whatever it takes to clean house," Champion's mother said.

    The university fired band director Julian White following Champion's death. Four students have also been expelled from the school and another 30 band members have been dismissed.

    Ammons said the university's number one priority is to "protect and to ensure the health, safety and well-being of every student, faculty, staff or visitor to our campus." Ammons said that his office and the university have been "cooperating fully' with the investigations being conducted regarding Champion's death.

    Speaking at Champion's funeral, Ammons vowed that his death would not be in vain.

    "Robert Champion was good people," Ammons said. "We will keep him close in our hearts."

    Once criminal investigations end, said Ammons, a task force would convene to determine whether current anti-hazing regulations, policies, practices and enforcement mechanisms at the university are consistent with best practices across the country.

    The university has also taken steps to heighten the awareness of hazing incidents among students and faculty, and it appointed an internal steering committee that will work to root out the "hazing culture" and restore confidence in campus security and safety at FAMU, Ammons said.