The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is now investigating the death of a Florida A&M University (FAMU) student who had reportedly been hazed by his fellow band mates. 26-year-old Robert Champion died shortly after he collapsed on a bus in Orlando, where he and other members of FAMU’s famed Marching 100 were performing.
Governor Rick Scott decided the state should be involved in the death investigation. In a meeting with reporters last week, he said, “I think it’s very important that we do a thorough investigation, and I think it’s also important that we review our hazing policies…When things like this happen, you’ve got to make sure in your organization, our universities in this case, that people feel comfortable coming forward, you know, if they see something like this because I don’t want this to ever happen again.”
Florida law defines “hazing” as any action or situation that recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health of a student. Hazing charges range from misdemeanor to third degree felony.
Tiffany Martin, a junior at FAMU, started hearing the hazing rumor almost immediately after Champion’s death. Since then, four students have been expelled and all of the university’s music groups have been suspended. She said, “It’s kind of like divided, you know. There’s some people saying that justice needs to be served, and then there’s others kind of like, he knew what he was doing.”
An attorney representing Champion’s family has announced a lawsuit against the school. He said there is evidence that hazing contributed to the death and it happened on FAMU’s watch. The law appears to be on their side, according to Shawn Bayern, assistant professor at the Florida State University College of Law. Even if Champion willingly participated in hazing, Bayern says that doesn’t mean others don’t bear some responsibility for the tragic outcome. “I’d encourage people to move away from the notion that just because somebody’s an adult or just because they have some responsibility for their actions doesn’t mean that other people might also have done something wrong in a way that hurt them directly,” said Bayern.
Gov. Scott has asked university system Chancellor Frank Brogan to request that all university presidents reevaluate their hazing policies and procedures. Martin doesn’t think the Champion case will change behaviors or hurt any groups on campus. She thinks that “people are still going to join; they’re still going to want to do it.”
A study by the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention found that more than half of college students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations have experienced hazing.