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July 29, 2014, 8:46 am

Charges underscore Fla. hazing tragedy

Prosecutors announced criminal charges Wednesday in the tragic and senseless hazing death of a Florida A&M University band member.

Prosecutors have prepared at least five separate cases against suspects who contributed to the death of Robert Champion, a 26-year-old drum major, who died last November after he fell unconscious on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel after the school’s football team lost to a rival. Champion was vomiting before he was found unresponsive aboard the bus.

A medical examiner’s office in Orlando ruled his death was a homicide. Champion had bruises to his chest, arms, shoulder and back and internal bleeding that caused him to go into shock, which killed him, according to the medical examiner’s office.

Champion’s death is a tragedy on many levels.

It is first and most importantly a tragedy for the victim’s parents who lost a son in a senseless killing. It is a tragedy for students, who must bear the responsibility and consequence for hazing that led to a fellow student’s unintended death. Some of these students may now face charges of manslaughter. It also a tragedy for the school’s legendary marching band.

Champion’s parent, believe the filing of charges is “bittersweet,” said their attorney, Christopher Chestnut.

“Obviously it’s comforting to know that someone will be held accountable for Robert’s murder, but it’s also disconcerting to think of the impact of these students,” Chestnut said. “This is just unfortunate all the way around.”

The pending charges should bring more media scrutiny to the problem of hazing at FAMU and colleges across the country.

Champion’s death has brought negative attention to the university’s famed Marching 100 band, which has performed at Super Bowls and other high-profile events.

While the Marching 100 is under the spotlight and investigation the problem of hazing goes beyond FAMU.

Hazing is widespread across the country, according to Hazing Prevention.org, a national organization dedicated to preventing hazing in college and university student groups.

“Hazing is a plague in our society. Incidents are on the rise — particularly among younger and younger kids committing increasingly more violent acts,” said the anti-hazing organization on its website.

A look at data taken from the national study Hazing in View: Students at Risk show that that hazing is widespread problem. According to the statistics:

1.5 million high school students are hazed each year; 47 percent of students came to college already having experienced hazing.

55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing.

Alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep-deprivation and sexual acts are hazing practices common across all types of student groups.

Ending hazing will be difficult. It is a long deeply-entrenched tradition where the students themselves are often willing victims.

Still schools and colleges should make greater efforts to educate students about the dangers of hazing at orientation, make it clear that hazing will not tolerated, outline the penalties for hazing and have clear policies and procedures for reporting hazing.

Students and student organizations must also speak out against and not participate in hazing. Peer pressure could go a long way to prevent hazing.