After a 20-month suspension, Florida A&M University's Marching 100 band will begin rehearsals next month in anticipation of resuming performances at football games. But rehabilitating the band's reputation after the 2011 hazing death of drum major Robert Champion remains a challenging work in progress. The Marching 100 has been a given a second chance to prove it deserves to be part of Florida A&M's campus life. The school's administration and band members must now demonstrate that they deserve the opportunity.
The Marching 100 once set the gold standard for creative routines, touring the world performing for heads of state, inaugurations and Super Bowls. But the beating death of the 26-year-old Champion on a bus during a vicious hazing ritual in Orlando revealed a history of abuse ingrained in the band's culture. After Champion's death, FAMU indefinitely suspended the band, president James Ammons resigned, band director Julian White retired and 12 band members were charged with manslaughter. A wrongful-death lawsuit against FAMU by Champion's family is pending.
In June, new FAMU president Larry Robinson and band director Sylvester Young announced an overdue list of reforms to clean up the Marching 100's act off the field. The university has created a compliance officer and an anti-hazing assistant reporting directly to Robinson. All band members must sign an anti-hazing pledge. Eligibility to be in the band has been tightened to require members to be full-time FAMU students who must maintain a minimum 2.0 grade-point average. The band, which once numbered an unwieldy 400 participants, will be dramatically reduced.
Though the reforms introduced by Robinson and Young are small comfort to Champion's family, they represent a good-faith effort by FAMU's leadership to address the ills of the past and afford the band a chance to turn the page on its violent history. The next step in regaining the trust of the public and the university is up to the Marching 100.
This editorial has been revised to reflect the following correction: New guidelines for Florida A&M University's Marching 100 require band members to be in "good academic standing" with at least a 2.0 grade point average. An editorial published Monday cited a different GPA.