A loss that pushed for change


The Florida A&M community is reminded of the day that changed the lives of students and sparked a movement to transform the culture of the university.

On Nov. 19, 2011, drum major Robert Champion died after being hazed by members of the Marching “100” at the Florida Classic in Orlando. Champion’s parents have since filed a lawsuit against the university and the band has been suspended for one academic year.

Two weeks ago, the Champion family did not accept a $300,000 settlement from FAMU. That is the largest amount the university can offer without approval from the Florida Legislature.

New standards and procedures, such as an anti-hazing pledge, have been put in place as a result of Champion’s death. Students are now required to sign the pledge to register for classes. FAMU has also launched a new website at stophazingatfamu.com, which seeks to keep the FAMU community informed about hazing.

For many, this is the first year they were unable to see the Marching “100” perform on the field at the homecoming game or compete at the Florida Classic. However, for some, the aftermath of Champion’s death extends far beyond a halftime show.

Tori Clayton, a second-year mechanical engineering student from Orlando and third-generation Rattler, said the hazing incident has made her hesitant about telling people she is a FAMU student. Clayton said she is saddened by people’s perceptions about the school.

“Sometimes, I have to think twice whether or not I can tell them I go to FAMU because then it starts raising questions,” Clayton said.

She said it is hard to explain that FAMU is the same as other universities.

“We’re not in the middle of the hood, no one walks around with guns and my life isn’t in immediate danger just by being a student here,” Clayton said.

While some students are disheartened, others feel that Champion’s death and the band’s absence have not had much of an impact on their experience at FAMU.

“Life must go on,” said Austin Sanford, a fourth-year physical therapy student from St. Petersburg. “School is school. I’m here for education. The band is entertainment.”

Throughout the semester, a number of mandatory workshops have been held to keep students abreast of FAMU’s mission to stop hazing, a change Jake Nounoume, a second-year biology student from West Palm Beach, said he recognizes.

“I see the changes that happened,” Nounoume said. “I see people trying to stop it.”

Nounoume said his hope for FAMU’s future is that hazing ends.