Monday, December 18, 2017

FAMU trustees vote to form committee to study, prevent hazing

TALLAHASSEE — Florida A&M University's board of trustees approved plans to create an independent committee to study hazing Monday, as well as a memorial to a marching band member who police say died after being punched and paddled during a hazing ritual.

The death of drum major Robert Champion in November and the alleged severe beating of another band member have brought renewed scrutiny to a hazing culture in the band. The board also announced it would name a scholarship after Champion.

Champion's family responded through their attorney.

"Memorials, scholarships and committees will not bring Robert Champion back, nor will they prevent another student from dying as a result of the culture of hazing in the FAMU marching band," the family's attorney, Christopher Chestnut, said in an email. "We hope that the FAMU administration focuses its time and resources on developing substantive strategies that protect its band members from hazing; that is the legacy Robert would have wanted."

The five-member committee will study hazing at other universities, methods that have helped students resist hazing and how to best govern FAMU's famed Marching 100 band.

The committee will not look further into Champion's death or other hazing being investigated by law enforcement.

Trustees and university officials are being asked to make recommendations for a list of potential committee members. The committee's makeup and a time line for its work will be decided over the next 30 days.

The medical examiner in Orlando declared Champion's death a homicide after finding that he suffered bruises to his chest, arms, shoulder and back and the resulting internal bleeding caused him to go into shock, which killed him. Police said Champion was beaten Nov. 19 during the Marching 100 band trip to the annual Florida Classic in Orlando.

Any death involving hazing is a third-degree felony in Florida, but no charges have been filed so far in Champion's death. In a separate case, three band members were arrested in the Oct. 31 beating of a female band member whose thigh bone was broken.

Band director Julian White was initially fired by FAMU president James Ammons, then reinstated and put on administrative leave. Four students dismissed by the university were also reinstated while authorities continue the investigation.

The plans for the antihazing committee, the memorial and the scholarship were suggested by DKC Inc., a public relations firm hired to assist the university with crisis management and communication.

Though the trustees have reprimanded Ammons, the board rejected Gov. Rick Scott's recommendation that he also be placed on administrative leave.

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