Hazing: What Schools Can Learn From Robert Champion



Robert Champion was a 26-year-old drum major at Florida A&M University. He was a promising student, but his life was cut tragically short. He was killed by his own bandmates, other members of FAMU’s famed Marching 100. This was not a random attack, but Robert was beaten to death in the back of a bus used to transport marching band members to a competition.

Robert’s beating death shocked the university, the community, and the nation, but perhaps it shouldn’t have been so surprising. Apparently, hazing rituals that include physical abuse against new band members have been a long-standing tradition at FAMU.

Hazing: What Schools Can Learn From Robert Champion

There are many lessons to be learned here, and hopefully, at the very least, other schools are paying attention.

Robert Champion

Robert Champion

Hazing is Not an Innocent Ritual or Game

Hazing is illegal, and it is dangerous. Initiations are extremely common when it comes to new members joining groups, and they can take many different forms. Hazing is a violent tradition that has caused many deaths in the past, yet it still persists as a rite of passage for college students everywhere, especially those who are joining groups like fraternities. A line needs to be drawn between good-spirited, fun, and ceremonious initiation, and mean-spirited hazing.

Too Many People Look the Other Way

The President of FAMU resigned after Robert’s death, and it is widely speculated that the violent hazing rituals of the Marching 100 were well-known around campus. In fact, there were previous incidents that resulted in suspension and charges for students who severely injured a female clarinet player just months before Robert’s death. It is the responsibility of coaches and administrators to stop this behavior from continuing as soon as it’s identified. Traditions have a tendency to persist despite consequences, and schools need to do a better job ensuring that violent hazing rituals are eradicated.

Hazing is Destructive to Communities

When Robert was killed, it was devastating to his parents, his family, his friends, and everyone who knew him. It also resulted in a national backlash against FAMU and more than 1,000 students dropping out of enrollment. Now, 12 band members have been charged with manslaughter. Those 12 students were culpable in Robert’s death, and they caused it by recklessly following a tradition that common sense indicates is not a safe or smart practice.

Schools Need to Start with Prevention

The problem is that hazing is an underground practice that doesn’t often come into the spotlight until someone is seriously injured or killed. Prevention is necessary to prevent anymore deaths like Robert’s, but prevention requires that schools take initiative and make significant changes now, because simply reacting to tragic situations is not enough. There should be more stringent monitoring of college groups, especially to their activities on campus and school property, including buses and school trips. There should be harsher penalties for groups that break the rules, such as dissolvement, expulsion for offending students, and criminal charges filed. Schools could also benefit by educating students more on the negative consequences that hazing can cause, especially regarding health and safety.

Jerry Day has a degree in music and writes for Drum Place.


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by StevenM_61

Author: SmartStudent

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