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FAMU Research Initiative to Focus on Hazing

Florida A&M University (FAMU), stepping up its efforts to demonstrate its seriousness about quelling hazing on campus over the long term, has established a $50,000 research fund for FAMU faculty to “study the nature and extent of hazing behaviors among campus organizations and groups.”

Hazing is a form of initiation, historically associated with fraternal and sorority groups, that can range from alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep deprivation, physical abuse and sex acts, according to people who have participated in hazing activities and the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention.

For sure hazing may be a widespread practice and problem, says FAMU President James Ammons, who announced the two-year research initiative.

“Yet, it presents a serious challenge to uncover and address as a hidden culture,” Ammons says. “I want our faculty members to be leaders in finding solutions and creating a body of work as FAMU becomes a part of this national discussion on hazing.”

FAMU’s decision to take a higher profile in the anti-hazing movement comes after it was thrust into the national spotlight last fall when a member of its internationally famous marching bad died of physical blows to his body received from several fellow band members during his participation in a hazing event after a football game. The death of 26-year-old Robert Champion was the first time a member of the school’s band had died from hazing injuries.

Tracy Maxwell, founder and executive director of Denver-based Hazing, welcomed the FAMU move. She says hazing is a dangerous practice that has spanned the globe for years, yet there has been little serious research into it until the past decade and most of that has focused on incidents of hazing.

Maxwell says such work as that envisioned by Ammons would be of value far beyond the grounds of FAMU as schools at all levels of education and even the Russian military are trying to find ways to root out hazing.

“It’s a relatively new field of study, and we really don’t know what to do,” says Maxwell, whose group of five years partners with the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention at the University of Maine and other organizations trying to draw more national attention and concern to the issue.

“A lot of well-intentioned people have done a good job of telling people not to haze, but it’s a complex program that’s going to require a complex solution,” says Maxwell when asked about the merits of researching the hazing issue and taking two years to do so.

Ammons’ announcement of funding research into the hazing culture came a day after the institution’s board of trustees, trying to quell criticism over its handling of the fallout from the drum major’s death, appointed a “FAMU Anti-Hazing Committee.”

The committee, a panel independent of FAMU, to provide the university with recommendations on “determining the most effective and indelible approach to end hazing on campus.”

Among those serving on the seven-member panel includes Dr. Elizabeth Allen, of the University of Maine and co-director of the National Collaborative for Hazing Research of Prevention; Dr. Na’im Akbar, clinical psychologist and former president of the National Association of Black Psychologists; and David Brewer, former vice admiral of the United States Navy and Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“To put us in the best position to permanently stop hazing at FAMU, we feel it is important to bring in many of the most respected minds on the subject and ensure that we are addressing this destructive issue from all sides,” says a FAMU statement quoting Solomon Badger, chairman of the FAMU Board of Trustees. 

Observers say the move by Ammons and the FAMU board marks another attempt by both to collectively and independently demonstrate they are serious about getting control of a secretive social practice that spans decades and had not had high-level official attention until the drum major’s death last fall.

Since the drum major’s death, subsequently ruled a homicide by the Orange County, Fla., coroner, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) has launched a criminal investigation into the incident, a probe that could result in several band members being arrested on murder charges.

Since then, arrests have been made in connection with an earlier band hazing incident, and the university’s band director, under fire for his handling of the hazing death incident, has released copies of several pieces of correspondence he had sent his superiors alerting them to an increasingly widespread hazing problem in the school band. Before Champion’s death, no punitive actions had been taken by the school, beyond the band director’s suspension of the students from the marching band.

As envisioned, the FAMU Anti-Hazing Research Initiative (ACHI), as it is called, would fund collaborative, interdisciplinary research by FAMU scholars for two years starting July 1 and ending June 30, 2014.

Funds would go to two groups of FAMU faculty who must submit detailed proposals that would go through what the school characterized as a rigorous scrutiny before being selected for funding.

A key element of the studies requires that they focus on “evidence-based measures.”

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