FAMU Trustees Discuss Hazing

It’s been more than four years since the brutal hazing death of Marching 100 drum major Robert Champion.

The horrible tragedy in November 2011 thrust Florida A&M University into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons, led to the suspension of the famed marching band, preceded an unprecedented 25 percent decline in student enrollment and ended up forcing a president to resign.

Yet hazing allegations continue to plague the university, and on Wednesday, hazing became a topic of discussion when the Florida A&M University Board of Trustees’ Student Affairs Committee met via conference call during the day-long BOT committee meetings.

Since Champion’s death there have been numerous initiatives and action plans created to combat hazing within FAMU clubs and organizations.

The committee of trustees, led by Nicole Washington, had a discussion with Bryan Smith, university ombudsman and assistant to the vice president of student affairs, regarding the strides being made in stopping hazing on FAMU’s campus. Smith was hired in 2012 as FAMU’s “hazing czar.”

Washington, who inquired most out of the trustees about whether the hazing culture and environment at FAMU is shifting for the better, worse or staying the same, asked many questions about how this number of allegations compares to past fall semesters, and for specifics about the allegations made.

There were 14 hazing allegations made in Fall 2015 from multiple organizations on campus, two of which are on-going investigations, Smith said. Though Fall 2015 had fewer hazing allegations than fall 2014, there have also been fewer organizations registering with the university and undergoing mandatory intake since fall 2011.

Smith spoke about the hazing allegations made last fall, and gave updates on organizations most involved in hazing allegations.

“One [hazing allegation] was in the marching band, and that included a number of individuals,” Smith said, “We had one Greek letter organization that had four different allegations.”

Smith pointed out that there were multiple hazing allegations made in multiple Greek letter organizations and a public service organization.

“Every time you have an intake season there’s an increase in [hazing] reports,” Smith said.

“We have had concerned resource and efforts on this for the past four years, and I just wanted to get an idea as to whether we felt that effort and those resources were working,” Washington said.

The FAMU website now has a section dedicated to hazing regulations, where anyone is able to report a hazing incident, see the FAMU anti-hazing regulations and take an anonymous quiz on hazing to learn what hazing is. Students were also prompted to take anonymous hazing surveys for the university.

“We have some who will admit to [hazing], and it’s all anonymous, so you get a good feel for what they’re saying, and you can really see the number of organizations that people are in, the people who are claiming that they have experienced hazing,” Smith said.

Smith also discussed how the recent steps taken to prevent hazing have impacted the FAMU community.

“I will say that [hazing] has changed for the better from what i’ve seen since i’ve been here,” Smith said.

“There has been more awareness based on our initiatives that we’ve implemented. Students, I feel, have a better mode of reporting, I think faculty and staff are more engaged in any reporting [hazing].”

Smith went on to note how hazing is a national issue, not just a FAMU issue.

“[Hazing is] a national problem, so I don’t want to use the word culture,” Smith said.

Vice President of Student Affairs William Hudson, Jr., mentioned the fluctuating state of FAMU students and how it affects the university’s relationship with hazing.

“As we get more organizations that may return to campus, those numbers will change as well,” Hudson said.

After questions about how organizations currently suspended that may soon return, “reintegration” is the method the office of student affairs plans to use.

Outside of hazing, the committee discussed updates on financial aid, student life, student government association and admissions and enrollment management.