01:21 - Source: Capitol News Service
Florida A&M launches anti-hazing effort

Story highlights

NEW: FAMU's president promises "our actions will be swift and ... decisive"

New school measures include a website through which students can report hazing to police

A FAMU band member died in 2011 after being beaten in a hazing ritual

A school dance team was suspended this week after a tip about a hazing incident

CNN —  

Ten months after a drum major died after being beaten in a hazing ritual and days after a school dance team was suspended amid similar allegations, Florida A&M University said Friday that all students must sign an anti-hazing pledge in order to attend classes.

The school’s announcement – which also heralded the launch of a website, StopHazingatFAMU.com – is its latest attempt to address events that thrust the university into the center of the national discussion about the perils of hazing.

The new requirement, starting in spring 2013, mandates that students sign the anti-hazing pledge in order to register for classes at the Tallahassee school. By signing it, they promise not to participate “in any hazing activities either as a hazer or hazee, on or off campus” and to report any information about hazing to campus authorities within 24 hours.

“Everyone on campus needs to be unified in the fight against hazing,” Larry Robinson, the university’s interim president, said Friday in a press release. “We will continue to enact change, positively empower our students and provide resources going forward to ensure that we provide a safer and healthier environment for learning.”

In his convocation address kicking off the school year Friday, Robinson stressed to students that eliminating hazing is a priority.

“If in fact (hazing incidents) do occur, I just want everyone to know our actions will be swift, and they will be decisive,” he said.

Robert Champion, a 26-year-old member of FAMU’s high-profile marching band, died in November 2011 after being beaten on a bus in Orlando, Florida, after a football game at which his band performed.

The ritual, called “Crossing Bus C,” was an initiation in which pledges try to run down a bus’s center aisle while being assaulted by senior members, according to some university band members.

An autopsy found “extensive contusions of (Champion’s) chest, arms, shoulder and back,” and “evidence of crushing of areas of subcutaneous fat,” the medical examiner reported, ruling the death a homicide.

Fourteen people since have been charged in the case. They include 11 facing one count apiece of third-degree felony hazing resulting in death and two counts each of first-degree misdemeanor hazing. Three others each face a single count of misdemeanor first-degree hazing.

In July, Champion’s parents filed a lawsuit against the school’s board of trustees, the company that owns the bus in which the abuse occurred and the driver of the bus.

The band and the university came under fire as the investigation into the drum major’s death unfolded.

Trustees and school officials took a number of steps in response, including suspending the band through the 2012-13 school year and crafting an anti-hazing plan that includes setting up an independent panel of experts to investigate hazing allegations.

The band’s longtime director retired, while the university’s president stepped down. FAMU is creating two jobs – a special assistant to the president on hazing and music compliance officer. About 60 people have applied for each position.

Still, accusations of hazing at the school haven’t gone away.

On Tuesday, the Torque Dance Team at the school was suspended after a parent anonymously reported that hazing had occurred at an off-campus event over the Labor Day weekend, the school said in a statement.

The all-female dance team allegedly conducted hazing involving alcohol consumption and “running up hills,” university spokeswoman Sharon Saunders said.

The latest measures announced by FAMU, especially the new website, aim to “further educate students, faculty, alumni and others about the dangers of hazing, foster an online community and encourage collaboration to help end hazing at the university,” the school said Friday.

Among other features, the website features a quiz to test students’ knowledge of hazing, copies of state laws and school policies and a form for people to report hazing incidents in “real-time” to university police.

“We are confident that the anti-hazing efforts at FAMU will be successful and will serve as a model for other colleges, universities and other entities within our society plagued with this unfortunate issue,” said Solomon Badger III, chairman of the university’s board of trustees.