Florida A&M University's zero-tolerance of hazing message appears not to be resonating with some on campus.
A Marching 100 member reported to Music Department officials Tuesday that he was being verbally harassed by another band member for not joining a subgroup of the band's trombone section known as "Thunder," a letter forwarded to board of trustees members and university officials said.
The reported incident follows the November hazing death of drum major Robert Champion, which prompted a campus-wide anti-hazing campaign, spawned investigations into the intransigent, decades-long culture and spurred a national conversation about how to eradicate the secretive and sometimes deadly practice. The famed band remains on indefinite suspension.
FAMU spokeswoman Sharon Saunders said: "FAMU is committed to ending hazing. The Board of Trustees has created an Anti-Hazing Committee to bring together some of the most experienced minds and effective ideas on how to best end this practice which, despite efforts by colleges and universities for decades, still continues."
The letter from band staff member and assistant professor Robert Griffin to interim Music Department Chairwoman Valencia Matthews says the trombone player said he was repeatedly subjected to verbal harassment and decided he needed to report the incidents "before the situation became violent." Griffin and Associate Professor Shelby Chipman told the student to report the incidents to the FAMU Police Department, which is now investigating the complaint, and inquire about the need for a restraining order.
Since Champion's death, there have been three additional reports of possible hazing incidents by FAMU students, a list provided to the university's Board of Trustees by FAMU's Department of Public Safety shows. Two of the cases do not appear to qualify as hazing, the list says, but one off-campus incident reported Nov. 22 is noted to be under investigation by the Tallahassee Police Department.
The list, dated Jan. 3 and obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat Friday, documents a total of 21 reported hazing-related incidents since 2007. Arrests were made in six of the cases. Three of the 21 cases were cleared as unfounded, and in four of the reported incidents, victims either were uncooperative or unable to be identified. The State Attorney's Office declined to prosecute one 2007 case. The remaining seven hazing reports, including Champion's death, which has been ruled a homicide, continue to be investigated.
FAMU Police Chief Calvin Ross did not respond to a request for comment about the cases.
During December's trustees meeting in Orlando, FAMU President James H. Ammons told board members that he had not raised hazing as an issue prior to Champion's death because the reports in recent years were few and had been dealt with appropriately. The list provided to the board, however, shows reports of hazing each year since Ammons took over as president in 2007.
In the year before Champion's death, from November 2010 to November 2011, there were eight reported hazing incidents, only one of which was deemed unfounded. Ammons has said suspended band director Julian White failed to keep him properly apprised of reported hazing incidents. White vehemently denies the charge and says Ammons and other top university officials are to blame for not taking strong, university-wide action against hazing.
At their last meeting, trustees called on Ammons going forward to provide them updates on any and all reports of hazing. Board of trustees Chairman Solomon Badger said that is happening now, no matter how big or small the reported incident. Badger acknowledged that the latest report of verbal harassment is troubling.
"Certainly, I am concerned about it," he said. "I am waiting to hear back from the university. It certainly has to be investigated, for sure, and what action, if any, needs to be taken."
Badger did not express concern about the list of hazing reports in recent years. He was pleased to see a few were unfounded and that the others were handled by the appropriate agencies.
"They were being investigated and being brought forward for any discipline," he said.
Trustees will meet for their next weekly conference call, established in the wake of Champion's death, Jan. 23.
Tallahassee police spokesman David Northway said Friday he would look into the reported Nov. 22 hazing incident FAMU says the department is investigating. He was not immediately familiar with the case.
Meanwhile, The Family Tree, a local lesbian, gay and transgender non-profit group, called for a federal investigation into whether Champion's death was an anti-gay hate crime. Champion's parents said this week that their son may have been hazed and killed in part because he was gay.