Hazing at FAMU: Students Tells Stories of Violence, Mistreatment

By Peter McKay

Special to The Famuan

Last week, I began coordinating with FAMU student-journalists to collect reports from victims and witnesses of hazing at the university using a simple Web form. As a proud alumnus heartbroken by the death of Robert Champion, I felt it was vital to collaborate across generations to get a better understanding of a cross-generational problem.

Rattlers of all ages have been responding. As of late Saturday, 15 people have come forward to describe hazing incidents spanning almost 50 years. We’ve had a dozen alumni and three students respond.

The number of submissions so far doesn’t constitute a massive sample, we know. But it’s a start. We know we’re fighting an uphill battle against deep-rooted subcultures of secrecy on campus, and so we’re going to continue gathering data beyond today, offering the opportunity to remain anonymous if you wish. Please keep the responses coming at http://famuhazing.wordpress.com/report-hazing/. There is a direct link to the blog available at www.thefamuanonline.com.

Here’s a summary of what we have so far:

•Accusers have come forward regarding not only the Marching 100, but also seven Greek-letter organizations and five non-Greek student organizations.

•The organizations that were reported at least once each by current students were the Marching 100, Alpha Phi Alpha, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, and Omega Psi Phi.

•Eight of the 15 submissions cited violence. Some accusers took us up on the option to provide further detail via write-in.

A 1962 graduate wrote of her experience pledging Delta Sigma Theta: “A single-burner hotplate was laid on my back and I suffered a third-degree burn that has left a large black circle that is a permanent mark and reminder.”

A member of the Marching 100 from 1980 wrote: “I was punched in the chest. I was verbally threatened many times. I heard a girl scream and saw a freshman band sister, saxophone player being dragged across the patch by her hair late one night after band practice.”

An alumna who tried to join the Pershing Angels in the mid-80s wrote: “For every day I was online, I was beaten with paddles til my entire body hurt. I was thrown down the steps outside Foote-Hilyer that lead down to the street (Adams). That was the day I dropped line.”

•Alpha Phi Alpha was named in five submissions. One was from a current student alleging violence and every other category of abuse we offered as a choice on our form. He says he encountered hazing behaviors among Alphas between five and 10 times, and he has so far only told his friends.

•About half the accusers said they did not report hazing incidents to anyone around the time the incidents occurred. About half said they reported to friends. Every other option, including police and administrators, showed little usage.

Of the people who did report hazing to someone, only one — a current member of the Marching 100 — said she got a satisfactory response. More on her later.

•The numbers cited above exclude several responses we threw out for various reasons that seemed to render them statistically invalid. For instance, one current student complained about a fraternity that is not currently registered with FAMU’s Office of Student Activities as being “on the yard.” It is thus unclear for the moment how such an incident could possibly have taken place, though we’ve reached out to the student asking for clarification.

I’d like to add one final thought that has little to do with numbers per se. It relates to that present-day Marching 100 member, whose complaint was limited to forms of hazing short of violence. She says she reported the incidents to band staff, her parents, and friends, then got a satisfactory response.

At a time when the Rattler community is mourning a band member who lost his life altogether, this story might almost qualify as welcome news. But let’s look again at what this young lady went through.

The student wrote: “I was made fun of. I walked home countless nights because no one would take me home. I was called out of my name everyday and ostracized because I said no. My section leader told people to steal my instrument and things so I would quit. Because I wouldn’t be hazed, my section would not let me march on the field and told me I was irrelevant and bad. They also made me give them part of my allocation money. “

If we reach a point as a community where more of the students who find themselves in situations like this get the support they need, that would be great. But even more than that, I’d like FAMU to be a place where such situations simply don’t happen.

I’ve seen several crises and scandals of varying depth at FAMU over the years, but the current hazing fiasco is different. Usually, our problems boil down to whether we’re living up to the “excellence” demanded in our school’s famous motto.

The hazing crisis calls into question whether we’ll live up to the other characteristic that’s supposed to define the university’s identity. That is to say, can we be more caring toward one another?

Peter McKay, a 1997 FAMU graduate, is co-founder of the news startup Roscoe Labs. A former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, he is a past winner of the Thelma Thurston Gorham Distinguished Alumnus Award from FAMU’s journalism school. He is based in New York City.