Thursday, December 15, 2011

Unpopular things that need to be said about the hazing incident at FAMU

First of all I have to say I am truly saddened by the loss the family of Robert Champion has endured. It is truly tragic when I young life is prematurely ended for any reason. I think many are finding solace in that it is shinning the light on a tradition that has being going on for years and definitely needs to be addressed.

That being said I think there are important parts of the discussion that are being left unsaid.

First off there is a difference between a victim and a participant. If a person is walking down the street and some nefarious character jumps out of the shadows and beats you, then you are a victim of assault. On the other hand if you sneak out in the black of the night to go to a secret meeting where you know you will be beat, and you submit yourself to dangerous activities then you are a participant in that activity. Both end in injury, but only one scenario has a victim.

Some have suggested that Mr. Champion and other participants in hazing rituals, though willing participants, aren't responsible for their actions because of the intense peer pressure they face trying to gain acceptance by those already in the organization. Some have even gone as far as to liken the drive to belong to these organizations to a woman who is an a abusive relationship. It has been said that a woman in an abusive relationship is so endeared to the abuser that she submits to and even defends her attacker. And so will people desperately trying to gain social acceptance to various organizations

However the analogy lacks validity for two reasons. One dating is not an illegal activity you don't enter into a relationship knowing that you are doing something you shouldn't be doing. However the same cannot be said about hazing. All participants, the hazer and hazed, know they are doing something illegal. In most cases they have signed documents acknowledging not only will they not participate in hazing, but also that they would report it if they encounter it. I don't think any rational woman would date a man if he handed her a paper saying "Warning I may beat you"

The second reason dovetails from the first. Since the activity is illegal how is peer pressure a justifiable excuse for breaking the law? What other crime can you commit and blame peer pressure: burglary, drug trafficking, prostitution? Could a person who is found with a stolen TV in his car stand in front of a jury and say he stole these things to fit in with his friends expect leniency for his crimes? That was rhetorical, ignorance of the law isn't even a justifiable defense in a court of law in America; so peer pressure definitely can't be.

Speaking of peer pressure, Mr. Champion was a 26 year old man, and a drummajor. That is important for two reasons. As a 26 year old he was not a child. The 19 year olds he allowed to haze him are children. He was an adult (at 26 I was in residency responsible for lives of my patients). As an adult he should have been setting the example for the youth other parents assumed a leader of the band would set. The responsibility goes even farther in that he was a drummajor, a designated leader of the band.

Another issue I would like to address is the school's culpability in this manner. Again it depends on the details of what happened, and I admit what I say here maybe later not the case. But if the case is that Mr. Champion allowed himself to be hazed is the school responsible?

I have heard the argument that the school knew about the culture of hazing on its campus therefore it was negligent in protecting the students from hazing. I agree that the school has a responsibility to protect its students, and I fully understand America's outrage at the perception that the school should have done more to ensure Mr. Champion's safety. And if it turns out the school was negligent in anyway to protect that safety they should be held accountable.

But what if the school provided anti-hazing workshops to educate the students on what hazing is and what to do if you encounter it, and all members of the band sign documents acknowledging they understand these rules; and what if the school appropriately disciplines all students found to be participating in any of these activities--if all this is true what else could have been done?

Would we be having this same conversation if Mr. Champion had overdosed on heroin, even if a fellow student had sold it to him? Of course we would still be saddened by the loss of life. And yes, we would still want justice brought to those who supplied the illegal drugs. But we would be openly acknowledging the bad decisions that also contributed to his untimely death and we would be only holding those directly involved in the transaction responsible.

Suing a school because you got hurt by the hazing you chose to participate in, is like suing your drug dealer because your crack made your teeth fall out. If you decide to smoke crack and you overdose you don't get to sue your drug dealer. So how come you can if you choose to submit yourself to hazing and you get hurt?

I am not trying to vilify Mr. Champion. His death is a tragedy that should not have occurred. Nor I am in anyway trying to justify the practices that ultimately led to his death. However, I do not believe we can begin to have an honest discussion about how to end hazing with out addressing all of the issues in the problem.

Educating the public against the dangers of breaking a law and punishing those who break it are about the only two things a society can do to protect its citizens. You can't punish with out educating, nor can just punish some involved and not others; and expect your solutions to work. And despite doing both of those well, there will be times a society still breaks those rules.

Just make sense to me