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U.S. lawmaker: Even hazing victims should lose financial aid

December 30, 2011 | 12:08 pm

Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion

In the wake of a college drum major's death in Florida, a lawmaker from the state plans to introduce anti-hazing legislation when Congress returns in mid-January.

The bill would strip financial aid from anyone sanctioned by a university for hazing or witnessing hazing and failing to report it -- including the victim, said Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson.

 “Hazing is demeaning, dangerous and, sadly, deadly,” Wilson, a former school principal, told The Times, adding that the death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion warrants a federal response.

Florida has toughened the penalties against hazing, but Wilson said in an interview that, under her proposal, if anyone witnesses hazing, "including the victim, they will tell because they don’t want to lose their federal aid."

Florida officials have ruled Champion’s death in November a homicide. The incident has drawn national attention and generated soul-searching on college campuses throughout the country.

Wilson, who has yet to draft the legislation, said she also wants the U.S. attorney general to set up a commission to examine ways to stamp out hazing.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005 signed legislation making hazing that results in serious injury or death a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, even if the victim consents. The bill, the Chad Meredith Act, was named after a University of Miami freshman who drowned in a campus lake while trying to join a fraternity in 2001.

Wilson said that, notwithstanding the new law, "we have had a plethora of hazing incidents," but prosecutions have been difficult because "you can’t find any victims to talk."

"We’ve got to take a tougher stance," added Wilson, who said that she became known as the "haze buster" while serving as South Atlantic regional director for the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. "It’s time to stop it."

Congress has been considering legislation aimed at bullying, including requiring states to report bulling incidents and expanding programs for teachers, administrators and counselors on strategies to prevent bullying and harassment.

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 -- Richard Simon in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Robert Champion performs during halftime of a football game Nov. 19 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: Joseph Brown III / The Tampa Tribune

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