Here's my wish for the New Year: an end to violent hazing in historically black college bands.
The most recent casualty of hazing that we know about is Robert Champion, 26, who was a drum major with the Marching 100 of Florida A&M University. Champion was allegedly killed by fellow band members who reportedly beat him to death on a band bus in a hazing ritual.
His parents are planning to sue the university, and criminal investigations are ongoing.
Band Director Julian White was fired and then reinstated, and the governor of Florida has called for action against the university president.
About three weeks before Champion died, Bria Shante Hunter, a freshman at Florida A&M, suffered a broken leg after another alleged hazing incident involving band members. She is suing the university.
I am sickened but not surprised by these revelations.
For decades, I have loved to watch black college bands perform, but as much as I have adored them as a fan and former member, I have also been dismayed to hear alarming stories about hazing.
One of the first stories I heard was that of Ivery Lucky, a clarinetist in the FAMU band, who in 1998 said he was beaten by women in the clarinet section more than 300 times with paddles. He started to urinate blood, and his kidneys went into failure. He was hospitalized for 11 days and is fortunate to be alive. He sued the university and won a $50,000 settlement back in 2004.
It’s not just Florida A&M that has this problem. Dozens of band members at Alabama A&M, Jackson State and Southern University have been suspended in recent years for hazing.
Many parents have tried to get the universities to stop the cycle of abuse. They have written letters and emails to band directors, university presidents and chairs of boards of trustees. Law enforcement in several states have prosecuted the violence.
But it is clear that something more has to happen. Entire band programs need to be suspended for several years, perhaps as much as a decade. It will take a long time to rid these bands of anyone who was part of the hazing culture.
Unfortunately, this will hurt some innocent students because playing in the band is part of their academic program and a source of financial aid.
The universities will have to figure out how to compensate for these losses so these students can still learn music and pay for their educations.
A young man has died. His death is reason enough for everyone to say “never again.”
Starita Smith, Ph.D., teaches sociology at the University of North Texas. She was an award-winning journalist at the Gary Post-Tribune, the Columbus Dispatch and the Austin American-Statesman. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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