TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Florida A&M University students are being asked to combat hazing, but it's not clear how receptive students are to the message.
The university suspended classes on Thursday afternoon while it held a town hall meeting on hazing that featured a panel of experts, instant polling of attendees and questions taken from the audience and Twitter. It's just the latest step taken by the university in the wake of last year's hazing death of drum major Robert Champion.
But while FAMU has more than 12,000 students, there were probably fewer than 2,000 in attendance.
At the end, organizers polled roughly 300 attendees and asked if they would report hazing if they witnessed it. Only 68 percent of those students who responded said yes, while 32 percent said no.
Still there were students who showed up _ including members of the famed Marching 100 band _ and said they were getting the message. The university has suspended the band for the academic year. Twelve former members have pleaded not guilty to charges of felony hazing.
Brandon Cunningham, the band president, told FAMU officials that a group of 50 band members wearing orange shirts showed up at the town hall to demonstrate their commitment to ending hazing.
The senior from West Palm Beach warned students that the decision to suspend the band for the year proved how serious university leaders were.
“We have to remember, we have to put FAMU before anything else,'' said Cunningham, who was a trumpet player in the band.
Champion's death has rocked the school, not only leading to arrests and the band's suspension, but a probe into university finances and the resignation of the school's president.
The Champion family has sued the university while the State University System of Florida still has a pending probe into whether university officials had ignored past warnings about problems with hazing.
The university in the last several months has instituted a long list of new policies, including limiting the Marching 100 to just FAMU students and putting in new academic policies. Beginning in spring 2013, students will be required to sign an anti-hazing pledge before they're allowed to register for classes.
FAMU Interim President Larry Robinson said that the town hall meeting was part of an ongoing effort to get students to realize the downside of the hazing. Robinson earlier this semester suspended a university dance team after allegations of hazing surfaced against it.
“Part of us being successful will be not only having rules, regulations, policies and procedures but having students understand there's nothing about hazing that is beneficial to them,'' Robinson said.
The experts assembled by the university insisted that FAMU was not unique in battling hazing, but Na'im Akbar, a psychologist, did tell the crowd that the history and cultural experiences of blacks in America make them vulnerable to hazing and gives some blacks a “perverse concept of power.''
“We spent over 200 years as America's slaves, so we have been free much less time than we have truly been Americans,'' Akbar said. “ … We don't know what real power is, because we have been subjected to other people's power for so long … We do crazy things to prove our power and also demonstrate that we are powerful.''
The town hall meeting came the same day that the Champion family attended a news conference held by U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla. Wilson is working on legislation that would bar financial aid to students who take part in hazing activities.