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    Experts convene town meeting on hazing at FAMU, but a third of students say they will not report it

    September 20, 2012
    By: Michael Abrams
    Tallahassee


    A panel of experts gave their best on Thursday as several thousand FAMU students filled the gymnasium for a mandatory “Town Hall” session on hazing.

    When it was all over, students were asked “how likely are you to self-report hazing if you witness it happening?”

    A third of the students who were polled at the meeting still say they won’t report hazing if they see it.

    While no reasons were given in the poll of about 300 students who used electronic clickers, some students have said that they feel the anti-hazing program is put on for the public show rather than for FAMU students, and many apparently didn’t show up, as required, in the Al Lawson gym which has the capacity for about 9,000. FAMU has about 11,000 students. 

    Series of events

    This is the first in a series of events including anti-hazing pledge signings on “the set” (central campus area) on Friday Sept. 21 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.,  an “anti-hazing jam” that night 8 -12 at the Gaither Gym, a community day on Saturday 11 a.m. -3 p.m. at the track with free refreshments, a “Rattlers Pray Out Hazing”  meeting on Sunday at 11 a.m . in the Grand Ballroom, a legal discussion Monday Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. in the ballroom,  a “Meet the Greeks” session Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Gaither Gym and a seminar on Wednesday, Sept. 26, “Rattlers Strike out Hazing” with speaker Gina Lee Olukoya at the Gaither Gym at 6:30-9 p.m.

    As the university lawyers negotiate to place an acceptable price on the life of Robert Champion, the 26-year-old drum major whose hazing death resulted in the suspension of the university’s famous marching band, students and some faculty gathered to hear the university’s latest attempt to push hazing into the past.

    National experts sat on the panel that was covered by local television and various newspapers. Perhaps the best received speech was that of Na’im Akbar, a Tallahassee clinical psychologist and past president of the National Association of Black Psychologists.

    ‘Self-love leads to self-respect’

    Saying he was not an expert on hazing, Akbar said he has spent 35 years “trying to understand how black people function the way that we do.”  He said he didn’t intend to call hazing a black thing. But he said that “our craziness is a consequence of our unique experiences that have driven us crazy – we spent most of our time in the western world as captives, not as free members of society. . . “

    He said blacks, as a result of slavery, have a perverse concept of power – “we don’t know what real power is” and therefore “we do crazy things to try to prove our power and demonstrate that we are powerful.”

    Along with a strong need for acceptance, created by the plantation, he said, blacks believe they are “not as good as other people.”

    Others, who have experienced bondage react in different ways, such as with the idea of “never again,” he said.

    “We must formulate an affirmation of healing ourselves,” he said. “Self-knowledge leads to self-love leads to self-respect. If you know who you are, you will love who you are,” he said.

    Story of ‘wasted potential’

    Elizabeth Allen, a professor of higher education at the University of Maine who has researched social climates on campuses, told the audience that hazing is a story of wasted potential. She has seen students sprayed with oven cleaner, with kidneys damaged, with alcohol intoxication. She said she has heard “hundreds if not thousands of stories.”

    She said that anyone who believes that something good can come out of hazing must ask “at what cost?”  Many students do see the potential for harm, but they fail to stop the hazing. Hazing is widespread in U.S. colleges and in recreational programs, intramural sports and even honor societies. “We need to find our way out.”

    The way out is to recognize the longterm goals, even in hazing, that are positive, and the challenge is to accomplish admirable aims without hazing.

    ‘Much larger than FAMU’

    Attorney Rasheed-Ali Cromwell, executive director of the Harbor Institute which deals with fraternity and sorority life on campuses, said that hazing is “much larger than FAMU” and the responsibility is “not glamorizing” it.

    Actions should be consistent with the motives, if you are talking about brotherhood and community service, he said.  He mentioned Morehouse College which changed its pledge process for fraternities to an “intake” process.  But not everyone buys into new processes. He mentioned the story of slaves in Texas who did not know they were free for a year, and acted as slaves until someone told them.  Everyone was on different pages, he said.

    “We operate in a paradigm of oxymorons – a recipe for catastrophe,”  he said. “We are left with a need for validation.”

    Victor Gaines, president of the Marching 100 Alumni Band Association, a former drum major, said that he wants to be one of the first people on the field when the Marching 100 returns.  He said the death of Robert Champion “made me wonder if there was something I could have done to prevent it.”  Hazing is a matter of self-esteem, he said. If you subject yourself to hazing, that shows low self esteem. Hazers “are also struggling with their own self-esteem.”

    “A momentary lapse in judgment can be catastrophic.”

    A “three prong approach” would put policies in place at an administrative level, have students decide that they will not subject themselves to hazing, and put alumni, stakeholders and neighbors on a kind of “neighborhood watch.”

    ‘Equal opportunity disgrace’

    Hank Nuwer, a hazing researcher with four books on hazing and journalism teacher at Franklin College in Indiana, said that some may feel that FAMU has become target practice on a firing range. But it is widespread, even on major sports teams, he said.

    “It’s an equal opportunity disgrace,” he said, quoting himself. The first hazing death was in 1873 at Cornell University.  Eighty percent of hazing deaths involve alcohol.  Students have a desire for approval. They can have their throat slit or be buried alive. Even Martin Luther, the great theologian, was in favor of hazing.

    Many people don’t report it for fear of retribution, said Nuwer. Students at FAMU can contribute much to research, he said. He founded a hazing library at Buffalo State College in New York State.  He emphasized to FAMU students “you are not alone” and mentioned a string of colleges with hazing problems. Even the night before he had gotten a call about a student who had drowned in Idaho, he said.

    He also said he would like to point a finger at the owners of the professional football team, the New York Giants, who excused hazing by saying “boys will be boys.”

    “Wake up major leagues, wake up football, wake up baseball, wake up hockey!”

    Also speaking was Merissa West, president of the FAMU Student Government Association, and moderating was James Bland, former FAMU SGA vice-president and wirter and director of the feature film “Dreaming in Color.”

    Pledging to end hazing were representatives of student organizations and representatives of the marching band, whose president, Brandon Cunningham,  gave a short speech, introducing band members and telling everyone “before you are a member of your organization you are a member of FAMU.”