Band Suspension Reaction

I got an email today through the DC FAMU NAA email address I monitor as its corresponding secretary.  Since he sent it out to so many people, I guess there should be no problem posting it here.  Basically, it was saying that it was not right that the Marching 100 is suspended for the upcoming school year.  I have no problem with him thinking that; we live in America and he is entitled to his opinion.  He also is trying to get people to agree with him and sign some kind of petition to put the Marching 100 back on the field.  I don't have a problem with that either.  He talks about himself a lot (how he's a big donor and how he goes back wth FAMU all the way to Dr. J.R.E. Lee) and I kind of have a problem with that, but I'll live.  I do have a problem with his insensitive arguments that show he's primarily interested in seeing the band perform and does not care much about anything else that may negatively impact the school as a whole. 

First of all, he's trying to compare what happened with the Marching 100 to the Penn State incident and the off-campus murder of former FAMU women's basketball player Shannon Washington in 2004.  The comparison of the Robert Chapman murder to the Shannon Washington murder is disingenuous and smacks of insensitivity.  She was murdered by a person that has nothing to do with FAMU.  Comparing the Robert Chapman murder to the Penn State incident is comparing apples and oranges in my opinion because no one died at Penn State.  I know that's a mean thing to say, but everyone involved with the Penn State incident is alive right now.  Robert Chapman is dead.  I feel I need to say this again:  Robert Chapman is DEAD.  He was killed on essentially a school field trip by fellow FAMU students.  The practice that killed him was customary of the student organization he was participating in.  If this had happened with any other on campus organization, the punishment would have been far more severe than suspension for a year.

When are we going to stop asking why is the punishment so severe and start asking why did we do the thing that earned us the punishment?  If there was no hazing, there would be no suspension.  If there was no hazing, Robert Chapman would be here today and there would be no threat of litigation from the Chapman family against FAMU.  So, it seems logical to start with the source instead of nibbling on the edges by only suspending those that confessed, the fall guys if you will.  It takes courage to deal with the root of the problem.  There is no way you can get me to believe that less than 20 people in the Marching 100 participated in hazing at Florida A&M during the last football season.  There is no way that no one on the band staff or in the higher administration didn't know there was hazing happening.  Everyone involved with the band that knew something was going on and didn't speak up against hazing or any other crimes committed by the band (including band students, alumni, staff, and associated persons) are guilty and the penalty is suspension.  It is no different from any other organization on campus.

The biggest problem I have with his letter is that he makes it seem like it's a right to be in the Marching 100.  He feels that Dr. Ammons is denying those students their right to be in the band and opening himself and the school up to litigation for denying these students this right.  Participating in the Marching 100 is not a right, it's a privilege.  Going to college and graduating is a privilege.  With privileges come responsibilities.  When people abuse their privileges by not taking care of their responsibilities, they lose their privileges.  We all know this when it comes to driving cars for example, but some people feel that idea of losing privileges when they are abused should be not applied to the Marching 100.  The music department at FAMU does not have to have a marching band to offer a music education.  Many fine music departments don't have marching bands.  There is no marching band at the Juilliard School, the Peabody Conservatory, the Berklee College of Music, and a large number of world class music programs that a number of FAMU students would love to go to after they finish their undergraduate studies in music at FAMU.  So why are we making it seem that we are somehow denying students their music education if there is no marching band?  It's a hollow argument that cannot mask the selfish interest of some people to simply be entertained by the students in the band. 

The person in this letter acts like Dr. Ammons is only punishing the members of the Marching 100.  This is simply not true.  By suspending the Marching 100, Dr. Ammons is punishing everyone that loves the Marching 100, including himself.  How empty will halftime be at Bragg without the Marching 100?  How much abuse will we take around the country from other HBCU bands because when the band is not able to make appearances this year?  Morgan Freeman said it best in "Lean on Me" as Joe Clark, the principal of Eastside High.  He said, "we sink, we swim, we rise, we fall, we meet our fate together."  We have all felt pain and embarrassment because of Robert Chapman's murder at the hand of this fellow band members.  I have complete strangers coming up to me asking about the band when I wear my FAMU hat or shirt.  It reflects badly on us all and the band suspension is a strong message from the FAMU administration that they want to deal with the situation in a serious way as opposed to all these quick fix punishments that we've seen throughout the years.

As an alumnus, I'm embarrassed by this whole situation and I want answers.  I don't like the suspension selfishly, but I understand it from the point of view of the University.  I also understand it as a person who would hope to hire a Marching 100 alumnus not because he or she was in the band, but because he or she was a true leader that would enhance my organization.  I would want that person to be someone who was taught to do the right thing at all times during his tenure in the Marching 100 and right now, I couldn't say that for certain. 

©  Stephen D. Roberson, 2016