FAMU Board To Consider Suspending President
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
A month ago today, a drum major with the celebrated Florida A&M marching band died in a hazing incident. His name was Robert Champion. This morning the board of trustees will consider Governor Rick Scott's request that the university's president be suspended while that death is being investigated.
Some parents and students worry about what the scrutiny will mean for other band programs. NPR's Allison Keyes spoke to people attending a college bowl game in Atlanta yesterday.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: In the parking lot outside of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities All-Star Bowl, tailgaters were talking about the questions surrounding Champion's death. Valerie Rochester's daughter is in a high school performing arts program.
VALERIE ROCHESTER: My daughter is a senior in high school and she was thinking about going to FAMU and I am really hesitant about it.
KEYES: Florida A&M is known as FAMU. Rochester and others at the game say the news coverage of Champion's death has made it sound as if hazing is a problem only at African-American schools. But Rochester says there was also hazing at her alma mater, Boston College.
ROCHESTER: It could happen at any school.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KEYES: Inside the stadium, Edith Quansah's twin daughters were playing their hearts out with the Tri-Cities High School Band. They were in Florida with their band the day Robert Champion was found unresponsive on a Florida A&M University band bus. Both bands were in Orlando for the Florida Classic.
EDITH QUANSAH: They called me. It's like, Mama, a student is dead.
KEYES: The Florida state medical examiner has ruled that the 26-year-old Champion's death was a homicide and concluded that he was beaten severely in a hazing incident and died within an hour. Quansah says band - no matter what school or age level - is family and no one should lose their life.
QUANSAH: Band for me is something that's supposed to be fun activities. So to find out a student's life has been lost because of hazing I think is very disturbing.
KEYES: Band students from many HBCUs have taken to Twitter and Facebook saying they are disturbed by the shadow they feel is being cast against their collective band programs. Sitting in the stands at the game, Prairie View A&M University sophomore Jordan Blackshur is among them.
JORDAN BLACKSHUR: Band is not a bad thing. It's really not a bad thing. It's really fun.
(SOUNDBITE OF BAND)
KEYES: He says if you don't know what's going on in the band, you can't judge them all by what happened at one school.
BLACKSHUR: The only thing that might happen is the person might do some pushups, but band, you have to be physically fit to be in the band, so pushups are going to benefit you, running around is going to benefit you.
KEYES: But for people like Keith Sailor, the larger issue here is that the scrutiny sparked by Champion's death could hurt those who aspire to what he calls the honor of being part of a famous band program like Florida A&M.
KEITH SAILOR: I mean, you're treated like rock stars.
KEYES: Sailor is an alumnus of Florida A&M and now raises money for the band at Southwest DeKalb High School, Champion's alma mater. But DeKalb County has suspended its band activities while it investigates two hazing reports - right at the time of year when students are applying for band scholarships. Sailor worries that this could eventually affect the number of students entering music programs.
SAILOR: Once you have less kids entering into the music programs in college, their college budgets get cut. Then you get less students graduating in music, becoming music instructors and directors and things of that nature. So it's a full circle.
KEYES: Robert Champion's parents have said we don't want to stop the music, we want to stop the hazing.
Allison Keyes, NPR News, Atlanta.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.