New information in the Florida A&M University hazing investigation this week shows that Robert Champion Jr., the victim who had died in an act of hazing last November, was in fact, gay. A drum major at FAMU and a member of the school’s distinguished marching band, Champion was initially thought to have fallen victim to extreme band hazing, although this now increasingly looks like a hate crime.
In cases where crimes like this one may or may not be bias-motivated, one’s view on homosexuality fails to become a relevant issue, as the violation of basic constitutional and human rights are at stake.
Since FAMU’s failure to take action — combined with the fact that many other institutions choose non-partisanship over being pro-gay — seemingly promotes discrimination, endangers our youth, and sends a negative message to students about the principles of tolerance and equality, schools should take a stronger pro-LGBT stance to fight intolerance and hate crimes.
The first step towards this responsibility is acknowledging the widespread existence of LGBT hate crimes. Most institutions need to realize their roles in the prevalence of this problem in order to educate students more on LGBT tolerance and reduce LGBT-oriented hate crimes.
Schools should further generate awareness of hate crimes by creating opportunities and giving voice to LGBT youth to promote equality and integration. High schools and universities can do this by partnering with other organizations and establishments to better serve these purposes.
An important step in hate crime deterrence is to provide hate prevention training to all teachers, adjuncts, professors, administration, residential advisors, security, and support staff both at high school and college levels. A proactive faculty and staff experienced in handling wrongdoings of this nature would aid students dealing with the physical and emotional trauma left by hate crimes.
Institutions must create an environment for students where discrimination and hate crimes are unacceptable. Fostering campus clubs, awareness groups, counseling, and support hotlines should be a priority in college campuses for undergraduates who have to deal with hate crimes in addition to being away from home.
Schools should also have strong hate-prevention policies and promote them via school websites, pamphlets, and introduction packets. More importantly, institutions should develop clear corrective measures for violators of these policies. Only by making examples of offenders will institutions show their currently severely lacking capability to take action.
Regardless of whether Champion's tragic death was due to mere hazing or a hate crime, the significant rise of LGBT hate crimes among our youth warrants the need for more to be done at high schools and universities to curb these hate crimes. Providing safe environments, tolerance training, corrective measures, and general awareness must be the first steps in fighting this injustice.