Despite New Director, FAMU Marching 100 Struggles to Shed Hazing Legacy

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The famed Marching 100 band at Florida A&M University (FAMU) has a new director, alumnus Sylvester Young. But when the group's percussive precision steps will be featured again on a playing field is still up in the air.

It depends, Mr. Young and FAMU interim president Larry Robinson implied Tuesday, on how long it takes to change the culture of hazing that led to a student's death and the band's suspension in the fall of 2011. The fallout included the resignation of the band director and the university's president, criminal charges, and civil lawsuits.

"We can't just put them back on the field as if nothing has happened," said Young after the announcement Tuesday. He said that the death of drum major Robert Champion has opened the eyes of band leaders around the country to the need to address hazing, a practice he said probably was going on back in the 1960s when he marched in the band.

FAMU's new policies include more academic requirements for joining the band, as well as campuswide zero tolerance for hazing. People with knowledge of hazing activity are required to report it within 24 hours, and retaliation against someone who makes such a report is prohibited.

At least 15 students have been dismissed this year so far over hazing allegations, and some students have complained the policies have gone overboard.

The school also announced this week that Deirdre McRoy would fill a new position to ensure the music department was complying with anti-hazing policies.

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Changing the culture, anti-hazing advocates say, will take more than a change in policies and leadership.

What it's really all about is a change in the "culture of organizational membership" - which in this band and in many similar groups, such as Greek letter organizations, has long been based on the idea that one qualifies by overcoming the adversity of a hazing ritual, says John Williams, executive director of the Center for the Study of Pan-Hellenic Issues in Tuskegee, Ala.

It may be necessary for FAMU to suspend the band until there's been a sufficient reflection period for "students, administrators, and alumni of the band to realize they have to revisit their entire value system - that what they have believed in for so many years does not have validity," says Mr. Williams, who has studied hazing in African-American organizations for more than 25 years. "Bonding naturally occurs when there's a supportive environment, not a challenging environment."

Marching 100 members such as Joshua Dandridge are eager to get started with their new leader. "I'm definitely ready. I'm a music major so I'm always practicing and I'm always encouraging other people to practice. The spirit of the 100 never went away just because we were suspended," he told the Associated Press.

Young has directed bands at several universities, including Ohio University, where he also taught in the music department. …