Gary: Hard work, dedication, pitch, tone and rhythm. All elements that are essential for making a great marching band, especially one as famous as Florida A&M University, or FAMU, as it is known.
But there is another underlying element that is showing up in many marching bands across America — hazing. And recently, a drum major from the prestigious FAMU marching band, known as the Marching 100, died because of it.
Hazing is any activity intended to humiliate a person or when someone risks emotional or physical harm in order to join a group, even if they are willing to participate.
“Is he breathing?”
“I have no idea. I cannot tell you that. He just threw up.”
Gary: On November 19th, 26-year-old drum major Robert Champion was found unconscious on a band bus after an apparent hazing incident. It was after the band’s big show at the annual Florida classic football game. The official cause of death hasn’t been determined.
Champion was laid to rest on November 30th. His fellow drum majors led the procession for his funeral. Shortly after, some of those drum majors were dismissed for violating the school’s hazing policy.
Hazing is the biggest little secret among many college marching bands, and even in some high school bands. Experts say marching bands are close knit groups, so students haze because they think it will make the group even closer, and they don’t realize the dangers.
Former band director, Dr. Julian White, said he did his best to prevent hazing.
Dr. Julian White: I feel very comfortable I did all I could. I’m not proud that I lost one of my children.
Gary: Dr. White was fired after Champion’s death. He said he tried to stamp out the band’s hazing culture with workshops and anti-hazing messages, but it didn’t work.
Dr. White: The drum majors are a step above as far as leaders are concerned. I talk with them even more about hazing than I do to the band.
Gary: Just ten days before Champion died, Dr. White notified the school he was suspending twenty-six band members for separate hazing incidents. The following day, a school dean and the university’s police chief met with the entire band to warn about hazing. But many say that warning didn’t do any good. Champion died two days after that. His family is now planning to sue the school.
“My son meant the world to me. He was my only son.”
Gary: Student government leaders at FAMU are asking fellow students to join them and stop hazing at their campus. Last night, students held a rally and signed an anti-hazing agreement. They are hoping this could be the first step in ending hazing at FAMU. And they hope the message reaches other schools as well.