Waiting on the ‘Just Say No’ Moment for HBCU Hazing
Almost one year after the hazing death of FAMU drum major Robert Champion, most at HBCUs regrettably acknowledge that the practice of hazing itself hasn’t met a similar, yet deserved fate. As embarrassing, hurtful and culturally damaging as the Champion death was to Florida A&M and its family, it appears many students haven’t gotten the message despite the best attempts by HBCUs to warn them of a new no-tolerance culture about hazing.
Clark Atlanta suspended its marching band after allegations of hazing. A short time later, FAMU suspends its Torque Dance Team for reports of the same. You pray for neither case to be true, but most of us remember what its like to be 18-21 and believing sincerely, “how are they going to catch us?
The culture won’t be easy to reverse, and that’s more than understood. As long as alumni provide basements and garages for set, until the term “go hard” is foul language among Black collegians, and until HBCU trustee boards make hazing an offense on par with cheating, drug trafficking or violence, we’ll likely have fewer incidents, but never a full elimination.
Like texting while driving, unprotected sex and smoking, there will always be a few with low enough self-esteem, and a warped enough sense of self-control that the risk will always be equal to the perceived reward. But unlike those societal ills, hazing gets the “why people gotta be so dumb?” treatment, when it really should receive the punchy, three-word slogan treatment that will become embedded in the minds of today’s youth who will grow up rejecting the vile practice in their college years.
“Just Say No,” and “Wrap it Up.” Those are the slogans that resonated with me as a youth and millions of others who were culturally programmed to reject drinking and driving and sex without contraception. Today’s youth will be ingrained with “It Can Wait,” the message encouraging young people to avoid texting while driving.
But has organizational hazing risen to the level of the catchy slogan? To ask more morbidly, have enough people been maimed or killed to warrant some market-driven response from an interest group or government agency? Sadly no, but the need to combat hazing through marketing means is as clear for HBCU students as it is for keeping students of all races safe behind the wheel and in bedrooms nationwide.
Perhaps it is a message to be funded and supported by HBCU alumni nationwide, who as advocates and financiers, understand that HBCUs can’t afford the collectively brand of hazing stamped on the institutions facing legislative and pop cultural pressure to wither and die. They understand that HBCUs are losing students by the millions to larger, predominantly white colleges despite PWIs having more issues with hazing and hazing-related death than HBCUs have ever had, but that their issues are conveniently ignored or underreported while HBCU calamities are amplified.
We all understand hazing must stop, but that its up to students to ultimately render its demise. But it takes more than a pledge and plea from HBCU leadership, it requires HBCU alumni buying in to financing a message that hazing must end in our communities.