FAMU lifts marching band suspension

Parents of FAMU hazing victim criticize decision to reinstate band

Thursday’s announcement by Florida A&M University’s interim president lifting the suspension of its renowned Marching 100 band was greeted by cheers from students on the Tallahassee campus and alumni reacting on social media.

But the parents of a Decatur drum major whose death led to the band’s suspension said the school has yet to adequately address the culture of hazing that killed 26-year-old Robert Champion.

“There is no other way to think about the fact that you are putting dollar value over student’s value,” said his mother, Pam Champion, who learned of the band’s reinstatement from news reports. Her son died in November 2011 after a ritual beating with fists and instruments aboard a bus following a FAMU game in Orlando.

Interim President Larry Robinson said the university has taken several steps to address the hazing problem, including a revision to the anti-hazing and student conduct policies, student forums on hazing and an anti-hazing website.

“It has helped us to respond more swiftly and decisively to any allegations of hazing and any university group, emphasizing our board’s policy of zero tolerance towards hazing,” he said.

But Christopher Chestnut, the Champions’ attorney, said hazing continues at FAMU. Moreover, school officials have yet to adopt all the recommendations from the Inspector General’s report conducted on behalf of the Florida university system’s Board of Governors, Chestnut said.

“It’s disheartening,” he said.

The reinstated band will have a new leader — Sylvester Young, former director of Ohio University’s band, who was hired by his alma mater last month. Robinson said Young played a key role in determining that now was the right time for The Marching 100’s return.

Rehearsals are already underway, Young said, but didn’t guarantee that the band would be ready to take the field when the football season starts. The Rattlers open their season against Mississippi Valley State on Sept. 1 in Orlando — the city where Robert Champion lost his life.

“This university had the opportunity to stand up and do the right thing,” Pam Champion said.

Fourteen band members have been charged criminally in her son’s death; several have pleaded no contest or guilty to reduced charges to avoid facing manslaughter charges.

Back on campus, students said they were excited about the band’s return this school year.

“I figured as if it’s not going to be that exciting,” said freshman Aleya Bradley. “But since the band will be back, my freshman year will be the best experience ever.”

Young said each band member has been told that hazing will not be tolerated, tradition notwithstanding.

“It’s on everybody’s mind,” he said. “There’s a process we go through with every student, and so I’m thinking, in time, the culture of the band will change and hopefully when that changes the band will be what it should be. This band is really important to this university and of course to the state of Florida and the city of Tallahassee.”

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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