- Faith & Family
Florida A&M University (FAMU) has been under fire since the hazing-related death of band member Robert Champion, 26, occurred just a few weeks ago. Champion’s death has since been ruled a homicide. Meanwhile, more reports have come forward detailing other hazing activities, the majority of which are alleged to have taken place off campus. Some students have been arrested and charged for their participation in hazing while attacks have come from all sides aimed at the University’s current president, Dr. James H. Ammons, 58.
But after Florida’s Governor Rick Scott got involved, advising Ammons to step down while investigations continue, FAMU’s able-bodied and vocal alumni said they had had enough of outside interference. FAMU National Alumni Association [NAA] President Tommy Mitchell, Sr., 72, addressed the media, supporters of the University and the nation on the steps of Lee Hall Sunday afternoon. He said that while this is a difficult time for FAMU, “we will survive.”
“We are pleased with the decision the board made not to suspend but rather to reprimand our president,” Mitchell said. “It’s important to state that this is not about Dr. Ammons and we do not need outside forces to tell us who should lead FAMU. We are the stakeholders here. I retired from FAMU, have three children who graduated from FAMU and am preparing the way for my grandchildren. This is about maintaining our history and our reputation. If Scott wants to help, he needs to fund us appropriately.”
Hazing: A nationwide problem
Mitchell says he represents FAMU alumni numbering over 70,000. They all agree that while hazing is clearly a problem that they are determined to resolve, that the tradition is one that extends far beyond the borders of the FAMU campus.
“Name me one university president who was ever suspended or fired because of hazing on their campus,” he said. “You won’t find one. I have 40 pages of research dating back to 1838. This is not something new. There have been 15 cases alone this year and another student died in December from hazing activities. This practice has run its course. We will see an end to it and are joining forces with all of the other Black colleges. We must and will do what no one else has been able to achieve — we will end the ritual or custom of hazing at FAMU.”
Mitchell adds that it will take student support to stop hazing.
“We cannot afford to continue with hazing but we need student leaders to get behind this initiative,” he said. “I believe we can use this tragedy for good. FAMU has much to be proud of but right now we have become famous for the wrong reason. Our pharmacy students are the most highly sought after graduates in the country. We have more Black engineers than any college in the U.S. In 2008 we had the first Black female graduate with a Ph.D. in physics. And we have the largest enrollment of students among any HBCU with 13,000-plus. We don’t need agitators like Rick Scott to mess with that or our accreditation.”
Alums need to speak out and get involved
Mitchell leads 60 chapters of FAMU alumni across the U.S. He says they need to come forward now.
“FAMU will live forever and we will make it through this difficult time,” he said. “But we need more alumni to get involved, to make donations so that we can offer more scholarships to young people who want to attend our university. As for the suggestion made by our governor, I can’t get inside his mind. What I can say is that we can ill-afford to let the agendas of others get in the way of our long history and achievements. Students who participated in hazing will have to face consequences. But we will not yield to knee-jerk suggestions to get rid of the marching band. They are part of FAMU and many students attend this University with music scholarships. We intend on getting our students’ attention. Every organization, including the band, must vow to stop hazing immediately. And it will end.”
By D. Kevin McNeir