Don't Haze Me: Robert Champion case

FAMU hazing death proves the need for stricter hazing laws

On June 22, 2012

Any marching band member remembers eight-hour days in 90-degree weather, carrying around a heavy instrument by the neck, few water breaks, and far too many pushups. They suffer injuries they didn't even know were possible and exhaustion-fueled nights of sleep.

They don't usually get murdered, however.

That became the reality at Florida A&M University last November when Robert Champion, a drum major for the "Marching 100" stepped on the infamous Bus C, the band's hazing bus, to "cross over." Vying to be lead drum major, he agreed to an initiation that called for him to run through a bus lined with people kicking and beating him with drumsticks, mallets, and their fists as another band member held him back.

FAMU Marching Band operates the same way any college fraternity operates. The intention of hazing is to break you down and rebuild you as a man in the image of the frat, and those that want to be part of that image badly enough are not going to refuse anything, despite their own stance.

Champion was open about his objection toward hazing, but he so coveted the respect that came with crossing over that he put that aside. The decision turned out to be fatal as he fell unconscious following his hazing and died from blunt trauma injuries.

The members of Bus C abused their power because they knew that anyone that stepped into that bus to be initiated wouldn't defend himself or herself. It works out that way in almost every fraternity. There's a pressure to submit to that kind of power. These are people that feel out of place and want to be considered great. They want to fit in, they want to be a part of something, and they're willing to do what it takes to do so.

The concept is nice - the idea of creating this brotherhood and being part of something that you're willing to do anything for. But it's the execution that's the problem. When someone have the thought process of: "I'm going to let these people do whatever they want to make me as great as them," then it might be time to reevaluate. 

Champion's death might not have hit as hard if it was an isolated incident. Previous hazing incidents at the school were well documented in lawsuits and arrests. Initiations were severe enough to cause kidney injuries and broken bones; others underwent the "hot seat" where members were sent if they had done something that was disapproved of. In fact, on the same day of Champion's death, one of the percussionists told investigators she had been severely beaten on Bus C.

And yet people still climb aboard the bus to be "rebuilt."

The law in Florida where Champion's death occurred considers the act a third-degree felony whether the hazing results in bodily injury or death, but take away the actual circumstances, and you have a man who was accidentally beaten to death on a bus. Without the hazing background, Champion's death could be considered murder or manslaughter.

If fraternity members expect to be rebuilt as men, then they should expect to suffer the consequences if anything goes awry as men. If a man dies at their hands, they should be charged as men in return.



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