July 6, 2013
Florida A&M University, to paraphrase a quote made famous by the Blues Brothers, is getting the band back together.
Last week's announcement that the university was lifting its suspension of the Marching 100 was meant to instill confidence that strides have been made against hazing — the rites of initiation that cost drum major Robert Champion Jr. his life.
Changing the campus' hazing culture is an ongoing challenge. Just last week, the university suspended two sororities — Delta Sigma Theta and Gamma Sigma Sigma — because of hazing. The good news from those cases, however, is that the university acted swiftly and strongly.
Pressure has been building to allow the university's famed Marching 100 to return to the field. In the year and a half since its suspension, attendance has fallen at football games and applications have dropped for student enrollment.
The iconic band — the face of the university — has long been FAMU's most famous draw. It's been a big revenue-generator for the school.
But is it too soon? Can FAMU assure students, parents and the public that adequate controls are in place to prevent another youngster from being harmed?
FAMU's interim President Larry Robinson says it can. And while vigilance will be critical, there's reason to give FAMU a chance to prove it.
The school has taken deliberate and sustained steps to curb hazing through policy directives, new personnel and on-campus promotional programs.
It's made another big change, too, one that should have been standard operating procedure all along: Band members now must be full-time FAMU students. After Champion's death, a quarter of the band's members were found not to be students at all.
Now, band members also must maintain a 2.5 grade point average and make timely progress toward completing their degrees.
These changes are important in helping the university make progress toward its top priorities: raising academic performance, improving graduation rates and ending probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which controls its life-giving accreditation.
Hiring Sylvester Young as the new band director is another plus. He's a FAMU alumnus and former Marching 100 trombone player. He's a strong leader who's led bands at two other historically black universities. He understands the culture of hazing and his vital role in putting an end to it.
We all look forward to the return of the Marching 100. And when it marches off the field, we will trust that FAMU leaders have instituted sufficient change and oversight to keep their students safe.
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