Band hazing can be deadly

By Devyne Lloyd and Allen Martin
Staff writers

Bands are well known for initiations. New members come in under the old members, do as they’re told and at some point they hopefully become full members with full benefits. The continued success of an organization depends on the knowledge, dedication and traditions of its members. However, numerous reports find that collegiate and even high school bands use initiations that involve physical and mental abuse. This is hazing.

Musical instruments on sidewalk
© iStockphoto, Korhan Hasim Tsik
Robert Champion, a former drum major in the band at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, died from shock due to severe blood loss during a hazing ritual for the band fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi, Inc.,  in 2011. Several FAMU band members were suspended and charged after a girl’s thigh bone was broken in half while they beat her with instruments during another hazing ritual around November 2011. In 2006, the University of Wisconsin band was put on probation after a hazing incident involving alcohol abuse and sexual misconduct during a band trip. That prompted the assistant band director to resign. In 2008, the band was suspended for hazing incidents mirroring what happened in 2006.

In some cases, hazing occurs again and again at a college, even after someone is hurt. Band hazing can also carry from high school to college.

After Champion’s death, an investigation of his former high school in Georgia and 21 other Georgia high schools was launched by the district’s  administration. Two unnamed incidents occurred over the summer and Champion’s death prompted administration to investigate and suspend marching band activities for fear of inappropriate behavior among students.

Michael Cage, a former band member at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Detroit, experienced hazing while trying to get into the band in 2004. “We got crab names, had to wear the crab uniforms, we got picked on, took wood on occasion but it never got out of hand. It was fun to me and I can honestly say that I didn’t mind it at all.” Cage’s experience with hazing was cut short, however, after the Detroit Public Schools moved to end hazing in organizations.

The 2010-2011 Detroit Public Schools Code of Conduct classifies bullying, intimidation, harassment, and hazing as offenses punishable by short-term suspension, long-term suspension for high school students, and administrative transfer. It all depends on the severity of the incident.

Does it still happen? A student in a DPS high school, who chose to remain anonymous, said he was hazed while trying to join the band in fall 2011. “There’s things you’ve got to do while you’re a crab. It’s called brotherhood. I wasn’t really hazed, though, because I knew what I had to do to get to the level I’m at now.”

Both students say that hazing isn’t necessarily a bad thing and if the crabs do what they are told and learn what they are supposed to learn in a timely fashion, the process will go by quickly and will not get out of hand.

Michigan State University alum Bryan Cotton –  a member of the college fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. – said he sees a connection between band hazing, such as Champion’s case, and the hazing that takes place in college fraternities and sororities.

“I feel as though there is an obvious relation between the two,” he said. “Fraternities and sororities have always been documented in hazing cases and faced constant ridicule for their practices. Due to the crackdown of hazing within these organizations, bands began to pick up the tradition.”
Cotton said the constant focus on hazing in fraternities and sororities allowed bands to carry out hazing rituals without much scrutiny, picking up many rituals from them. Now that is starting to change. “Now everyone has to watch their back!”

According to Elizabeth J. Allan and Marry Madden from the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development, 73 percent of college students who are in a sorority or fraternity experience at least one hazing behavior, while 56 percent of members of a performing arts organization, such as bands, experience this hazing behavior.

Bowie State history graduate Joseph Harris, also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., says that the link goes deeper. “To truly understand hazing in relation to Greek life (college fraternities and sororities) and bands, you have to examine the issue at its roots,” said Harris. “Greeks started it, but then those who were Greek and also members of the band passed it on within those confines.”

Consensual hazing, however, is still illegal. According to at the University of Kansas, “In states that have laws against hazing, consent of the victim is not a defense.” Intimidation, threats, peer pressure and the desire for inclusion can all play a part in the victim’s “consent,” but the argument won’t hold a note with the judge.
Michigan State junior band member Auston  McMurray, who says he has never been hazed himself, but feels as though hazing is a tradition that’s going to be hard to change. “It’s so engrained in the band culture that it will take a collective mindset and effort from everyone to stop it,” he said. “The effort has to start now, though. The sooner the better.”

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1 Comment

  1. In my opinion the culture of band competitions create a toxic standard for young band members in which if they do not do what the judges and boosters tell them what to do then they instantly become marginalized. It’s not just the peers in the group that can be harmful but the directors, boosters, and even the parents related on both sides of the party should be accounted for. Competitive behavior if taken on a sport-like level like the Brass Corps can also ruin a performing art like marching band and can acutely kill opportunities for groups and individuals to create new ideas and concepts to make the band a better place for all musicians.

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