FAMU Denies Responsibility for Hazing Death

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Florida A&M University has asked a judge to drop the wrongful death suit filed by the parents of Robert Champion, the drum major who died in a hazing incident last November. The university asserts that Champion was responsible for his own involvement in the events, having signed a "Hazing and Harassment Agreement" with the school saying he would not participate in such activities. Moreover, he was aware of the potential dangers of hazing rituals, had witnessed others go through the experience, and had the opportunity to opt out. The documents go so far as to allege Champion himself was guilty of criminal activity for his participation.

According to the court documents filed by FAMU, "It is undisputed that Mr. Champion knew that existence of the danger (hazing) of which Plaintiff now complains, he realized and appreciated the possibility of injuries as a result of such danger, and notwithstanding the opportunity to avoid the danger simply by not showing up at the designated place and time, he deliberately exposed himself to the danger," the motion said.

Still, the family argues, despite asking students to sign a pledge, the university was aware of the continuing hazing culture and should have taken steps to end it, ignoring a recommendation to suspend the band three days before Champion's death occurred. "The Champion family is shocked at the defense FAMU has chosen in the brutal hazing death of Robert Champion," the family's attorney said. "We simply cannot ignore the audacity of an institution that blames students for their own deaths, yet for decades ignored the hazing epidemic occurring within its own walls."

The outcome of the civil case will likely set a precedent in determining to what extent a school is responsible for overseeing the actions and safety of its students, or whether students, as adults, should be held responsible for their own decisions.

"Respectfully, as a 26-year-old adult and leader in FAMU's band, Mr. Champion should have refused to participate in the planned hazing event and reported it to law enforcement or University administrators," the court documents say. "Under these circumstances, Florida's taxpayers should not be held financially liable to Mr. Champion's Estate for the ultimate result of his own imprudent, avoidable and tragic decision and death."

Meanwhile, the university is taking further steps to quell the ongoing hazing culture at FAMU, including launching a website, StopHazingatFAMU.com, creating a panel to investigate allegations of hazing, and creating two new jobs to oversee compliance and hazing issues.

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