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Hazing Deaths—More Common at Black Colleges? Not Quite

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Florida A&M University marching band and its members are under investigation for hazing practices that may have resulted in the death of the band's drum major.

CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRES

As officials at Florida’s A&M University work to investigate two recent incidents on hazing, including the death of a black marching band member, mainstream media pundits are trying to spin out trend stories on the prevalence of hazing at black colleges and universities.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper recently aired a segment on his AC360 news program titled “Hazing and Black Colleges,” in which let academic Ricky Jones, the author of Black Haze: Violence, Sacrifice and Manhood in Black Greek Letter Fraternities, duke it out with CNN journalist Roland Martin on whether violent hazing is especially prevalent among Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The segment comes after Florida A&M band-major Robert Champion, Jr. was killed following a hazing incident in late 2011.

Cooper asks during the segment: “Do you believe hazing is worse in African American colleges and fraternities than it is in non-predominantly African-American ones?”

Jones tells Cooper several times throughout the clip that it’s certainly a bigger issue at HBCUs, calling it “a particular black problem.”

But the problem is that it’s not a black problem.

Aside from anecdotes from some current and former members of black Greek life and several books that delve into the history of the “Divine Nine” black fraternities and sororities, there’s little hard evidence that hazing is more of an issue at HBCUs.

A national study (“Hazing in View: College Students at Risk) on hazing released in 2008 by researchers at the University of Maine broken down hazing incidents by race and found that the overwhelming majority of hazing reports—86 percent—were by white students. The most common hazing practices reported in the study involved alcohol consumption, sexual acts, sleep deprivation, and humiliation. However, brutal acts of violence like those seen in the recent Florida A&M incident were not common.

Still, like CNN’s Martin retorts, there are countless examples of deadly hazing in the news in various organizations of collegiate life, particularly in sports and across color lines.

Twenty-year-old Samuel Harris Mason, a white Radford University student, died after being forced to drink an entire bottle of liquor in one hour by Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity members, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Ryan Clifford, a recent graduate of the University of California—Davis, is suing school administrators for ignoring a complaint again a Jewish fraternity, the Chi Delta chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi. Clifford alleges that he was punched, stripped naked, molested, and forced to consume alcohol by fellow members, according to SFGate.

Treating the hazing and killing of Champion as a case study on the hazing culture in the black community might seem like an attractive way to engage cable TV viewers, but it easily perpetuates stereotypical perceptions of black men as being predisposed to violence and aggression.

Naima Ramos-Chapman is an associate editor at Campus Progress.

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