In Tallahassee, Florida A & M University board members accepted the resignation of university President James Ammons July 11 as they ponder how to quell a scandal that has tarnished the school’s reputation in the aftermath of the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion, allegedly by other band members.
The Auburn ( Ala.) University campus community is still reeling from the shooting deaths of three men, including two former Auburn football players, and the wounding of three more, including a current Auburn player, at a pool party near campus in June. A judge on July 11 ruled that the case against Desmonte Leonard, 22, who faces three counts of capital murder in the case, can be presented to a grand jury.
In Bowie, Md. Alexis Simpson, 19, is scheduled to stand trial in August in the September 2011 stabbing death of her Bowie State University roommate Dominque Frazier, 18, who was killed during homecoming week. Simpson was jailed for seven months, but was released from jail on bond in April.
Many African American parents fear that the same violence they worry will affect their young adult children on the streets at home will find them in their quest for higher education. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 93 percent of the 9,000 blacks murdered in 2007, were killed by other blacks. Blacks are six times more likely to be victims of violent crimes than whites and eight times more likely to be the perpetrator, the report said.
Though college campuses don’t have the same level of violence as urban streets, some of the same kinds of crimes occur there, experts said—shootings, stabbings and assaults as a result of senseless disagreements and perceived slights. Even some students who are high academic achievers resort to street behavior when faced with a conflict at college, experts said.
Simpson, whose Facebook page displayed her love of stylish hairdos, allegedly stabbed Frazier inside their dorm after the two disagreed about music Simpson was playing while she was getting ready to go to a homecoming event. A Tennessee jury found Shanterrica Madden, who had no history of violence, guilty of second-degree murder and a judge on July 17 sentenced her to 29 years in prison for the May 2011 stabbing death of Tina Stewart. Stewart, Madden’s roommate, was a Middle Tennessee State basketball player. The two did not get along and after an argument escalated to a fight, Madden picked up a knife, authorities said.
Auburn authorities believe Leonard, 22, of Montgomery, Ala., opened fire at a pool party after he and Auburn player DeAngelo Benton got into an argument when each thought the other was staring at him. Friends of Benton pulled him away to cool off, but Leonard pulled out a handgun and shots were fired, authorities said. Former Auburn football players Edward Christian, who had left the team because of an injured back, LeDarious Phillips, who was moving to Jackson State University in Mississippi and DeMario Pitts of Opelika, who was not a student, were fatally struck. Player Eric Mack and Xavier Moss and John Robertson, who were not students, were injured.
“The case has ruined so many people’s lives.” Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said.
Greenbelt, Md. clinical social worker therapist Ellen Livingston, who has worked for more than 15 years counseling young people and families, said the combination of pressures like being away from home and a lack of conflict resolution skills and impulse control can be volatile on college campuses.
“There really isn’t one thing that you can point to,” she said. “It’s a tragedy waiting to happen for some students who are more prone to violence than others.”
A counselor at a historically Black college campus counselor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the university does not want it known that violence is a problem there, said she has noticed an uptick in violence among her students. “I know in the past year, we’ve experienced a lot of violence among our college students,” she said. “I know some students have family issues…They’ve been dealing with a lot of anger. They’re easily pushed into arguments and fights.”
Black parents often fear for the safety of their offspring on college campuses. A Lane College mother, Dorothea, posted on a Black college website: “My son is a student at Lane and I pray ever night that he makes it back home safe and in one piece. It is a shame that there is so much violence and gangs and drug use around our HBCUs. He should not have to worry about his losing his life while he is trying to get a education. He is scared to go out of his dorm after dark in fear of being shot or stabbed.”
Dawson said that Auburn residents still feel safe and that “this one incident is not going to stop us from ensuring that our kids are protected.” Police did not initiate additional security measures after the shooting, but campus officials said they are urging students to provide adequate security when they throw parties.
Livingston said that campus violence needs to be addressed by school officials and those same officials should be held accountable for ensuring safety. Champion’s parents have filed a wrongful death suit against FAMU. He died in November 2011 after being beaten, allegedly by fellow Marching 100 band members, in a hazing ritual. He was found unconscious on a band bus outside an Orlando hotel after a football game, according to news reports. The suit does not specify damages, but takes the university to task for failing to enforce anti-hazing policies.
“Universities need to work on character education, conflict resolution, teaching civility and acceptance of differences,” said Livingston. “They have a responsibility.”