Student leaders at Florida A & M University (FAMU), hoping to help repair damage to the school’s reputation stemming from the death last month of a school band drum major after a hazing incident, are planning to ask peers across the campus to sign an anti-hazing “agreement.”
“In order for us to move on, we must address the problems of hazing by collectively committing to the eradication of hazing on this campus,” says FAMU Student Government Association President Breyon Love, a senior at the university majoring in business administration. FAMU has an enrollment of some 13,000 students.
Love’s comments Friday were issued as the Student Government Association announced a campus-wide “anti-hazing” forum on Monday, declaring mandatory attendance by representatives of all official campus groups. Clubs and organizations failing to have representation at the forum “will be sanctioned by the SGA,” says Love.
Love, who described the passing of drum major Robert Champion as “a tragic shock to the FAMU community,” did not respond to requests for a clarification of the penalties a group could face. Generally, sanctions at colleges run the gamut of possibilities from withdrawal of financial support to being banned from campus.
The call for the mandatory anti-hazing forum was one of several dizzying developments to emerge in recent days as the school continues reeling from the aftermath of the student’s death. The incident spurred the school to suspend the world famous “Marching 100” band indefinitely and dismiss its veteran band director, Dr. Julian White.
FAMU president Dr. James Ammons advised his board of trustees late Friday that four FAMU students have been “dismissed” from the school in connection with the hazing incident.
Further, Ammons suspended the work of his quickly organized, high-profile task force on hazing pending the outcome of several law enforcement investigations into the incident. The task force includes the state’s former attorney general and a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, among others.
At least three law enforcement agencies have active investigations. The incident occurred in Orlando on a band bus after a college football game during which the FAMU band played and performed at half-time. White has retained a lawyer to help him re-gain his job. The Champion family says it intends to sue the school.
Ammons said Friday he would attend the student anti-hazing forum and a special faculty meeting on Monday. Some faculty at the school have increasingly complained they have not been kept up to date on developments on a timely basis, noting they are learning as much, if not more, through word-of-mouth, from the school’s campus newspaper and other media outlets.
As the healing effort and legal investigations progressed on campus, speculation emerged in some circles over the weekend about whether an inquiry would be initiated by the influential Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
The Atlanta-based independent agency sets performance standards for most colleges and universities in the South. One section of its rules deals with “institutional environment” and whether a school maintains a reasonably safe learning environment for students. SACS ends its December meeting this week in Orlando.
Meanwhile, Tommy Mitchell Sr. national president of the FAMU alumni association and a drum major in the FAMU band in the 1950s when he was a student says alumni are concerned about the impact the hazing incident has had on the school’s image and reputation.
Mitchell acknowledges much of the FAMU community is divided over the firing of band director White, an institution at the school, and is debating whether President Ammons should be embraced for his efforts or dismissed.
Mitchell says the alumni association is withholding judgment pending the outcome of the various investigations into the specific hazing incident and more information on how the school hierarchy has handled past complaints of hazing. Mitchell warns of responding too hastily, noting the risk of falling victim to people with personal agendas who may use the hazing incident to advance their own causes.
Meanwhile, Mitchell, who recently reported a 42-percent gain in alumni giving, says alumni will be working hard to do what they can to help restore FAMU’s image and reputation as a top school for college-bound students.
“We’re not in a position to let a few students destroy this band or this institution,” says Mitchell. “We have a problem that we have to solve.”