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Another FAMU Hazing Report

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(Photo credit should read ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo credit should read ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

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Here is another report of hazing at Florida A and M University as reported in the AJC.

Doretha Smith learned of Robert Champion’s death just hours after it happened. Her 21-year-old daughter woke her at 3 a.m. to relay the news she had received via text message. Both mother and daughter immediately suspected that the Florida A&M University drum major had been hazed.

Smith’s daughter –- who asked not to be named in this story for fear of reprisals — was repeatedly beaten three years ago as a freshman member of FAMU’s famed Marching 100, Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She said the freshman clarinet player was slapped and punched in the stomach and chest, beatings she only admitted to her mother after calling in tears and asking to withdraw from the university.

Smith said she was especially disturbed when her daughter told her that one of those who hit her was a student who had played with her in the Southwest DeKalb High School band: Sean Hobson.  Earlier this month, Tallahassee police charged Hobson, 23, with battery after another FAMU clarinet player and Southwest DeKalb graduate, Bria Shante Hunter, was hospitalized with injuries she said were inflicted during hazing.

The Tallahassee lawyer who represents Hobson in that case, Gary Roberts, said Friday via email: “we have no comment at this time.” Several phone calls to relatives of Hobson in the Atlanta area were not returned.

Smith said she did not inform authorities about her daughter’s experience because the young woman decided to withdraw from school rather than endure possible retaliation. Her daughter also said that she was beaten by so many people, she couldn’t name all of them.

Now, however, Smith said, she can no longer remain silent about what  she believes is a pervasive culture of abuse that begins even before students arrive at FAMU’s marching fields.

“I have been angry for three years now, so angry about what happened to my daughter,” she said.

In part, she blames herself.

“I know that was the worst mistake I ever made in allowing her to go [FAMU],” said Smith, who said she wanted her daughter to attend a community college and focus on her grades instead of music. “I tried to discourage her … but all of her friends wanted to go to FAMU because of the band. [Band director] Dr. [Julian] White had such an influence in recruiting these students.”

Afterward, she sought counseling for her daughter, but the experience took a toll on her family, she said, resulting in a divorce from her husband of 24 years. She moved away from DeKalb County and now lives in Augusta. Her daughter ultimately enrolled at a much smaller college and hasn’t picked up the clarinet since, she said.

“Our whole lives were devastated,” she said.

Other students and parents have similar stories but are scared to come forward, she said. People are especially wary of speaking of the Red Dawg Order, a fraternal order of Atlantans in the marching bands of historically black colleges and universities. The order was implicated in the Hunter case.

“People will not talk about the Red Dawgs,” she said. “There are adults in this. This chapter is brutal.”

She believes students endure the hazing for a variety of reasons. There is a sense of pride in being part of the band, she said, but they also are afraid of retaliation or losing their college scholarships.

In her daughter’s case, she said, the girl was dazzled by the prospect of being able to say: “‘I was a Marching 100 player at FAMU. I was going to a school that had the best band, noted in the whole United States for its musicianship.’” But that glow quickly faded, she said. “When she actually got there, she became disillusioned.”

Staff writer Craig Schneider contributed to this report.

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