Those of us who have sent children to college know that parental worries take a different turn when the kids are off on their own.
We worry that they will drink too much and not study enough. That they'll be mugged on their way back to the dorm. That a much-anticipated date will go horribly wrong.
Since Robert Champion's horrific death, though, I wonder if we worry about the wrong things.
Champion was the Florida A&M University drum major who was found unresponsive on a band bus after performing in a November game against Bethune-Cookman. He had been vomiting and was having trouble breathing before he collapsed and died at a hospital in Orlando, Fla. Authorities have said he had been repeatedly punched by band members as part of a hazing ritual.
As a result, four students have been dismissed, band director Julian White has been fired and state and federal agencies are investigating the school.
None of that, however, will bring back the 26-year-old.
The first thing I did when that story broke was phone my college freshman, who was pledging a fraternity.
"No way, Mom," he said when I asked him about hazing.
His denials and those of his brother, in the same fraternity, have done little to assuage my concerns.
Apparently it's no longer enough to worry about spiraling tuition and minuscule acceptance rates. Here's another potential headache for parents of college-bound kids: How safe, really, are those bucolic campuses? And, what should we fear most -- run-of-the-mill crime or the headline-grabbing tragedies that seem to pop up in the news every so often?
I've been packing children off to college for more than 12 years, and practice has not made this transition easier on the wallet or the heart. Knowing how many things can go wrong -- the kind of knowledge acquired after living a few hard years -- is trying on the nerves.
The FAMU hazing death is only the latest incident in what sometimes feels like a long line of campus horrors. Just last month, a riot-clad police officer pepper sprayed a row of peaceful Occupy Wall Street protesters at a California university. The video went viral and caused every parent I know, regardless of political affiliation, to foam at the mouth with outrage.
In September 2010, a Rutgers freshman jumped to his death after his roommate secretly taped him during a "sexual encounter" in his dorm room and posted it on the Internet. And a year earlier and a few miles north, a former animal research technician murdered a Yale graduate student and then stuffed her body in a wall of the lab. He was sentenced to 44 years in prison this summer.
But the worst campus incident of all time is surely the 2007 Virginia Tech rampage, when a student diagnosed with mental illness killed 32 people and wounded 25 others before turning the gun on himself. Could any parent have predicted such a massacre?
When we pack extra-long sheets, power strips and bathroom caddies into our child's college trunk, we brace ourselves for inevitable surprises. We know this is the first step in a long journey toward independence, and for years we have been training them -- and us -- for the rite of passage.
But how do you prepare for random evil, for inexcusable meanness, for horrific acts that defy logic and humanity? You can't, and maybe that's why the worries -- and the feelings of helplessness -- never cease.
(Ana Veciana-Suarez is a family columnist for The Miami Herald. Write to her at The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132, or send e-mail to aveciana(at)herald.com.)