Florida A&M's Band 'Needs To Stop' Hazing
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Another college campus is facing a scandal. A criminal investigation is under way at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. It comes after the death of a drum major who was in the school's marching band. Allegations that the 26-year-old man died because of hazing have shaken a group many consider one of the best university bands in the nation. Florida Public Radio's Lynn Hatter reports.
LYNN HATTER, BYLINE: The first thing people associate with the Florida A&M University band is the sound.
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HATTER: The Marching 100's musical selections range from traditional Sousa marches to Motown. But unlike other bands, its members move, shake and shimmy, and writhe in high-stepping dance routines. During football season, many people attend not for the games, but for the band. The Marching 100 has made appearances at Super Bowls, presidential inaugural parades and the Grammy Awards. But the death of drum major Robert Champion has turned attention to the program's dark side: hazing.
PAM CHAMPION: It needs to stop. And we want to stop.
HATTER: That's Pam Champion, Robert's mother, speaking at a news conference yesterday, announcing a lawsuit against the university.
CHAMPION: And the whole purpose is to try to put it out there, to let people know that you have to make a change. And this needs to stop. No one wants to be standing in our shoes.
HATTER: Champion died earlier this month after the band performed at a game in Orlando. He was vomiting, and couldn't breathe, in the parking lot of a hotel. Authorities say the death was hazing-related.
Reports of hazing in the Marching 100 go back at least half a century. Students have been suspended, arrested, jailed and prosecuted over the years. There have been lawsuits against the university and other band members, by those who suffered abuse. FAMU President James Ammons says there's a deep-seated culture that cuts across the entire band.
JAMES AMMONS: We have done everything that we can think of - education, meeting with students, meeting with the band staff, holding workshops - and it still happened.
HATTER: Ammons has taken action. He placed the band on indefinite suspension and fired its longtime director, Julian White.
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HATTER: On campus yesterday, about a hundred people protested White's dismissal, saying he did all he could to eradicate hazing. Band member Robert Gause-Wills says the incident has shaken the unit.
ROBERT GAUSE-WILLS: We don't want to say too much. We want to keep it simple, and we want to focus on Robert Champion and his family, and trying to save the Marching 100 right now. That's why people are not doing a lot of speaking.
HATTER: The Marching 100 was once a symbol of pride for Florida A&M, and a main recruiting tool. Now, student Jamaal Rose wonders how the university moves forward.
JAMAAL ROSE: We take so much from what the band does. The band makes us come alive. When we drive out of class at 8 o'clock and we hear the band still practicing, that is certainly inspiration to a lot of people.
HATTER: Rose says Florida A&M and the Marching 100 are so intertwined, it's hard to imagine one without the other. And that, he says, is what makes the current situation so hard to deal with.
For NPR News, I'm Lynn Hatter in Tallahassee.
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