Florida university system to investigate FAMU over hazing

8:38 PM, Nov 29, 2011   |    comments
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Video: Family of FAMU drum major to sue school

FAMU drum major Robert Champion (CNN)

ATLANTA (WXIA) - The group that oversees the state university system in Floriday says it will investigate whether top administrators at Florida A&M University ignored reports of hazing in the school's marching band.

Board of Governors Chairwoman Ava Parker on Tuesday asked Chancellor Frank Brogan to look into whether university officials responded to problems of hazing brought to them by Julian White, the band's former director.

White was fired as part of the fallout over the death of drum major Robert Champion. Authorities say hazing played a role in Champion's death, but they have not released any more specifics as they continue to investigate. The school says it will also have an independent review.

White says he had warned school officials for years about hazing, but that his warnings were not heeded.

Monday, Champion's parents spoke out together, blaming what they call a "culture of hazing " for their son's death.

In a news conference Monday, the Champions and attorney Christopher Chestnut announced plans to file a lawsuit against Florida A&M University.

"My thing is to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else," Pam Champion said. "Let people know, this is real."

Champion, 26, died November 19th following the band's performance at the Florida Classic in Orlando. Officials say Champion began to vomit on the school's bus and complained he was unable to breathe shortly before he collapsed. He was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Authorities initially said they did not suspect foul play, but Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings later said that hazing was likely involved in Champion's death.

Champion was a graduate of Southwest DeKalb High School.

In Monday morning's news conference, the family's attorney said the university had a history and culture of hazing that has been "covered up for generations."

"There is evidence of a pervasive culture of hazing at FAMU. So everything points to Robert's death because of hazing," Chestnut said. "Hazing is a culture of don't ask, don't tell. The family's message today is please tell."

The Champions said their son never said anything about hazing. They said it is a practice he did not condone, nor would he have inflicted it on other band members.

"If it wasn't my son, it probably would have been somebody else. If you've got something like this going on and on and on, eventually something is bound to happen," Pam Champion said.

Last Wednesday, Florida A&M University president Dr. James Ammons announced the firing of long-time band director Dr. Julian White in the wake of Champion's death. A letter from Ammons' office cited "alleged misconduct and/or incompetence involving confirmed reports and allegations of hazing."

White has since hired his own attorney and is contesting his pending termination. In a news conference Monday, he said he tried for years to eliminate hazing, but did not receive support from school officials.

"Sometimes I feel that I'm out there by myself," he said. "And by that I mean, if I've given you the names, do something about it. If you've had the names for two weeks, do something about it. I wish they had suspended the students from school."

White said in the days leading up to the Florida Classic, he suspended 26 members for suspected hazing. The Florida Classic is considered one of the biggest band performances of the year.

The university has formed an independent task force to look into the practice of hazing within the Marching 100. The band has been suspended indefinitely; Dr. Ammons says that suspension will last at least through the investigation.

Champion's funeral is scheduled for Wednesday at 11 a.m., at Beulah Missionary Baptist Church in Decatur.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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