“Unless FAMU comes to the settlement table, we’ll absolutely amend that complaint and sue the school,” said Chris Chestnut, the Gainesville, Fla., attorney hired by Robert and Pamela Champion, who live near Atlanta.
The lawsuit against Fabulous Coach Lines claims that, for several years, the company was complicit in the hazing ritual of FAMU’s band — that the driver of the bus transporting the Marching 100 last November blocked entry and exits to the vehicle while Champion was beaten and forced him back onto the bus after he got off to vomit. “They’re a significant factor … with one of their agents participating in this,” said Chestnut, adding that this and any future lawsuit is about far more than money.
Champion’s parents want to attack hazing and have launched their own anti-hazing initiative, Chestnut said. “This has been really tough for them, and it’s tough because they can’t get answers,” Chestnut said. “They know their son is dead, but they don’t even know what led to it.”
That tragedy notwithstanding, the Florida ACLU is concerned that FAMU’s ban on student organizations “applies to everyone, people who may not be connected to that action whatsoever,” said ACLU spokesman Derek Newton. It has requested documents detailing how FAMU decided to impose that temporary ban.
“We sent a letter to the president of the university expressing some concerns that this action may restrict the rights of students to freely associate and assemble,” Newton said. “We outline clearly that hazing is a problem and that the university is certainly right to take steps to deal with it, address it specifically and administer consequences.”
In a written response to The Root, FAMU President James Ammons said that the temporary ban “was not intended to prevent students from associating with one another or attending meetings or gathering. It simply suspended the intake process … to ensure that no hazing took place. The action was taken because FAMU is very serious about protecting the health, safety and well-being of all students.”
Other members of the FAMU anti-hazing committee are Mary Madden, Allan’s University of Maine teaching colleague and co-director of the hazing research-and-prevention project; Tallahassee-born Florida State University psychologist and author-activist Na’im Akbar, also a prominent member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity; former U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Craig Robinson; Michael Bowie, executive director of the Florida Fund for Minority Teachers and a former national president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council of black Greek organizations; former U.S. Navy Vice Adm. David Brewer, also a former Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent; and David Starnes, West Carolina University band director and music professor.
Katti Gray is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based freelance writer.