The Ugly Side of Hazing and the Death of Robert Champion

| May 25, 2012 | 2 Comments

Robert Champion

Author: Sylvia Burley

“Don’t wanna be…don’t wanna be no Alpha Kappa Alpha…don’t wanna be…don’t wanna be no Zee Phi Bee…just wanna be…just wanna be a Bosso Delta…dyno Delta of DST!”

So sang me and my ten line sisters every day on our way to perform at Kedzie on Michigan State University’s campus. This was a Friday afternoon ritual that most of the entire black campus population looked forward to. Anybody who wanted to pledge, was pledging, or had already pledged a fraternity or sorority was in attendance to see each black Greek organization’s “line” sing, chant and strut their stuff.

We also “dressed alike, walked alike and at times we even talked alike” and all of these fun activities, along with the other more private things that took place, were considered “hazing”. Through pledging, we were being taught the concept of sisterhood and brotherhood and that, though individuality is important, many times the parts can come together to make a greater whole.

Of course, even then there were stories of someone going too far resulting in injury and even death. But those stories were few and far between, and were newsworthy because they weren’t the norm.

As I look at the smiling face of Robert Champion, the young man hazed to death just months from becoming head drum major of Florida A&M University’s “Marching 100” Band, I am filled with sadness over this promising young man’s life cut short and for absolutely no good reason. I am also saddened for the eleven young men who have been charged with third-degree felony hazing (two other students face misdemeanor charges) for misguidedly carrying on a perversion of what they thought to be a valid tradition. These were young men on their way to becoming potential captains of industry, doctors, lawyers, and teachers; black male leaders our communities and families are sorely lacking. It is so sad that one act of stupidity has cut short one promising future and potentially derailed and definitely stained thirteen others.

There is a long history of hazing in many collegiate organizations, and this young man, Robert Champion probably did agree to be hazed, especially if he was trying to become the head drum major. The problem is violence in hazing has progressively increased and instead of requiring aspiring members to do stupid, embarrassing things like singing out loud in your underwear in public (aka Animal House), it has become similar to a gang initiation where one joins by getting “jumped in” or  “beat in”. This proclivity towards violence in young people is societal and crosses ALL situations which is unfortunate because it turns something like pledging, which should be a wonderful lifetime memory, into something ugly and in this case tragic.

The ultimate purpose of hazing is to draw those being hazed closer through their shared experienced, but the concept has become increasingly misunderstood and misapplied causing some to use their control over others to destroy instead of build up. Another problem is the “I had to do it, so you do too” mentality that exists even among advisers on the college campuses leading to a “lion guarding the sheep” type of setup. Even worse are those hazers who never actually experienced what they deign to dole out, but salivate at the thought of abusing someone willing to put themselves in harm’s way in order to belong and that is what this is ultimately about…belonging.

Robert Champion, Sr., attorney Chris Chestnut, and Pam Champion listen and answer questions from the media concerning the release of documents in the hazing death of their son, Robert Champion, on Tuesday, May 23, 2012 in Chestnut’s office.

Because of the countless lawsuits Greek and other organizations have had to fight from overeager or outright sadistic people going too far, now even the fun things my line sisters and I once did at Kedzie are considered hazing, driving EVERYTHING underground and making heinous acts like this more likely to happen.

I will never forget my time spent pledging, and if you ask anyone who had a mostly positive experience, they will say the same thing. I cannot, however, say that I wouldn’t worry if I had a son or daughter in college who was required to go through this type of experience because now, it’s an entirely different animal. So, let’s not feign ignorance as if this is some sort of anomaly that we can’t believe has happened, because many of us know better. Let’s talk about what this tragic event says about the black community in particular and the larger society as a whole regarding our young people and their numbness towards senseless and over the top violence.

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About the Author ()

Sylvia Burley is a Freelance Writer and Integrated Marketing & Communications Consultant. She writes on various topics including marketing, politics, entertainment, current events, and living green. A native Detroiter, she is a graduate of Michigan State University and loves singing, foreign movies and rollercoasters. She currently resides in Atlanta because she doesn't like the cold.

Comments (2)

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  1. Lorna says:

    I agree that this young man most likely agreed to be hazed, just not hazed to death, literally. It is true that I remember my “hazing” fondly and don’t even consider it hazing per se. I think what’s happening today with the violence is an offshoot of the thought that each new group has to “kick it up a notch” or “take it to the next level”. So, where we suffered minor annoyances and inconveniences, it has gotten to the point of violence in many organizations. Too bad there is not a reset button where we can start from a no hazing position and really have it enforced.

  2. Mimi says:

    Marcus Garvey said it best when he said “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”.

    The essence of hazing – physical brutality including whipping, beating and branding – is very similar to the treatment of our ancestors during slavery.  For the life of me I can’t understand why the African American culture would continue to support and endorse this intolerable behavior for the sake of bonding and belonging to an organization.  Is racial discrimination amongst our own community not enough to feel bonded? Is the fact that most AA men are incarcerated, dead before 21 or HIV positive not enough for us to feel bonded? Or what about the issues of poverty, inequalities in our educational system, and lack of access to quality healthcare… is that not enough? Was the struggle of our ancestors who were raped, lynched, murdered, branded and beaten not enough for us to feel bonded to one another? Do we really need to continue the legacy that we must be beaten, abused, degraded and humiliated to be accepted, connected or valuable?  When is enough enough? I pray this tragic story challenges us as a people to remember who we are not what we’ve become.  

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