Enough Blame to Go Around in Robert Champion Hazing Death, So No One Deserves All of It
That’s the question for Florida A&M and the ongoing case of Robert Champion, as there is new controversy surrounding Florida A&M’s assessment of Champion’s responsibility in his hazing death last November.
From what we know, Champion willingly signed up for a violent hazing ritual at the hands of Marching 100 members that ultimately cost him his life. The Marching 100 created culture rampant with hazing that dated back decades, and has now caused FAMU universal embarrassment, scrutiny, and a missing band for the 2012-13 academic school year. And that’s not to mention the slate of new rules, statutes and requirements for all members of the student body going forward.
We know that FAMU as an institution knew about the culture of hazing by way of student, parent and alumni complaints. It issued suspensions, stern warnings, and words of assurance that safety was its number one priority. But those actions didn’t save Champion’s life, and the result has been multiple executive resignations, pending lawsuits, and uncertainty about FAMU’s credibility on the subject of hazing and student safety.
With all that we know, is it really fair to cast most of the blame on one person or institution? Given that all involved – Robert Champion, the Marching 100 and Florida A&M University itself – never imagined homicide as the final result, it is reasonable to say that one side should pay a heavier price than the other?
Everyone involved had no idea that hazing would rise to the level of death. Bruised bodies and egos, maybe. But no one thought that a man’s life would be taken in a process for which too many men and women before Champion had signed up, survived and perpetuated. FAMU knew that hazing was degrading, and a major potential liability. FAMU’s reaction in suspending students guilty in the practice shows that it didn’t welcome hazing or turn away from its dangerous potential. But its lack of reaction to the number of internal and external complaints, a reaction that could have included suspension of the 100, shows that FAMU didn’t do quite enough.
Everybody involved needed to have a little more forethought, a little more respect for the most dangerous possible outcomes. With hazing, the only way to find the physical and mental threshold is by surpassing it – usually to the point of physical death, emotional and mental breakdown, and in this case, death. Everyone had a responsibility to do more, but no one did.
Everyone shares some blame, including Champion himself. But no one, specifically FAMU as the biggest and easiest target for criticism, deserves full blame.