Become a Patron! 


Gregory S. Parks, Shayne E. Jones and Matthew W. Hughey

Abstracted from: Gregory S. Parks, Shayne E. Jones and Matthew W. Hughey, Belief, Truth, and Positive Organizational Deviance, 56 Howard Law Journal 399 (Winter, 2013) (330 Footnotes Omitted).


On November 19, 2011, Robert Champion, a drum major in Florida A&M University's (FAMU) “Marching 100” band, collapsed on a bus following a band performance at the Florida Classic football game between FAMU and Bethune-Cookman. Champion had complained about shortness of breath and failed eye-sight, and had apparently been vomiting before ultimately becoming unconscious. He was non-responsive when authorities arrived and was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. An initial emergency caller told the dispatcher that Champion had been vomiting and that “His eyes [[were] open but he [wasn't] responding.” A second caller told the dispatcher that Champion was “cold.” Other details pertaining to Champion's death were not immediately released.

By Tuesday, November 22, rumors had circulated on the FAMU campus and via social media that hazing had played a part in Champion's death. Law enforcement officials stated that they also believed some form of hazing to have occurred before the 911 emergency call was placed. Ultimately, suspicions that hazing had played a role in Champion's death were confirmed when Champion's death was ruled a homicide by the State Medical Examiner's Office in Orlando. According to that office, Champion's death was resultant of blunt-force trauma suffered during a hazing incident involving some members of FAMU's Marching 100. Champion endured such severe blows during the incident that he bled out into his soft tissue, particularly in his back, chest, shoulders, and arms. The autopsy further revealed that Champion had been vomiting profusely and had died within an hour from the time he suffered the injuries. Toxicology tests revealed no traces of drugs or alcohol in Champion's system.

Champion's death prompted a number of criminal and administrative inquiries. The initial investigation into the incident was led by the Orange County Sheriff's Office where, according to spokeswoman Deputy Ginette Rodriguez, more than forty people were interviewed and more than 1,000 man hours were logged by investigators during the course of the inquiry that began in November. FAMU cooperated completely in the investigation and appointed its own independent task force discussed at length above. Ultimately, the investigation into Champion's death was handed over to the state of Florida. Less than two months later, thirteen people were charged with hazing crimes related to Champion's death. State Attorney Lawson Lamar said that eleven people were accused of death by hazing, a third-degree felony that can carry up to six years for defendants with no criminal record. Two others were charged with misdemeanor hazing. According to hazing expert Richard Sigal, an attorney and expert on hazing, to his knowledge, there are no other hazing cases that have resulted in that number of people being charged.

Robert Champion's death merely reflects what has taken place within the very organizations that historically black college and university bands--as well as some other black student organizations--have mimicked, that being African American fraternities and sororities or black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs).

Consider the following stories:

Story 1: Karen Mills is a forty-eight year-old state trial court judge. She is in the third year of her four-year term as the National Head of Black Sorority. The sorority has 35,000 financially active members. Approximately sixty-five percent of that membership is alumnae members who attend monthly chapter meetings, volunteer for service projects, and engage in philanthropic endeavors within their communities. During Black Sorority's annual, National Convention, while in her hotel suite, Judge Mills calls the hotel room of the chapter president--Maureen Student--from Southern College and asks her to report to the judge's suite. When Ms. Student arrives, Judge Mills informs her that Kim Mills, the judge's daughter, intends to seek membership in Black Sorority through the Southern College chapter. Judge Mills instructs Ms. Student, “Make sure my daughter is made right--the old fashioned way. I want to make sure that she shares with me the same stories of overcoming adversity and bonding as I was able to share with my mother, who is also a member of Black Sorority.”In short, Judge Mills instructed Ms. Student to make sure that Kim Mills was hazed and that the Southern College Black Sorority chapter members violate the anti-hazing statute in the state where their university is located.

Story 2: Ulysses Manigold was a 2L at a Top-Fifteen Law School. He heard that a friend of his, Peter Summers, was pledging a Black Fraternity, Manigold's fraternity. One evening, Manigold and the members of his undergraduate chapter visited the pledge session of Summers and his pledge (line) brothers. When Manigold entered the room, he instructed Summers to step out of the lined-up formation in which the pledges were ordered. Manigold asked Summers if he knew the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. In typical fashion, Summers responded, “We know the poem.” Manigold then instructed Summers to remove his sweatshirt and T-Shirt; he further instructed Summers to recite the poem with intensity. As Summers proceeded, Manigold repeatedly struck him across the back with slaps, using as much force as he could muster. Manigold never stammered, and recited the poem flawlessly. Manigold demanded that Summers recite the poem again, only this time backwards. As he proceeded, Manigold again struck him across the back while another fraternity brother struck him across the chest. Summers proceeded more slowly this time, as not to make a mistake. By the time he was done, Summers chest was completely black and blue. The following year, while a 3L at a Top-Fifteen Law School, Manigold served as assistant dean of pledges for his undergraduate chapter. That semester, of the six members of the pledge line, five suffered injuries--one a broken jaw, one a broken hand, one a broken leg, one a hernia, and the final one a sprained back. The sole pledge who remained relatively healthy found himself paddled nightly with a cricket bat, swung often by Manigold.

Story 3: Neil Bryson graduated from a Top University and then a Top-Five Law School. By twenty-nine, he was a mid-level associate at an Elite Law Firm in a Big City. One day, he received a telephone call, informing him that his Black Fraternity chapter at a Top University had a pledge line. Bryson went back to the Top University for the weekend to “see” the pledges. What happened that weekend remains a mystery, but his chapter's moniker is “Merciless,” and it is widely known within the fraternity for its brutal pledge sessions. When Bryson returned to the law firm on Monday morning, he had a message waiting for him from Bartholomew Neugent--a partner at the firm and also a fraternity brother of Mr. Bryson's who also pledged at the Top University. Mr. Neugent asked that Mr. Bryson stop by his office, noting that the matter was urgent. Mr. Bryson hastened to Mr. Neugent's office, entered, closed the door, and sat down. Mr. Neugent asked if Mr. Bryson had gone to see the pledge line that past weekend, to which he answered in the affirmative. In response, Mr. Neugent did not suggest that anything was wrong with hazing the pledges. Instead, he encouraged Mr. Bryson to be more mindful of the fact that he has much more at risk now that he's a professional than he did as an undergraduate if a pledge were to be injured or report the hazing.

Each of these stories highlights a particular element of the culture within certain, elite black organizations--i.e., violent hazing. It is an element that puts lives at risk and yet persists and has persisted for generations. This is so despite the possibility of civil and criminal sanctions. As such, it raises the question: why does the law not constrain certain types of behavior, especially within organizations?

This Article extends the research on organizational behavior, organizational deviance, and more specifically, positive organizational deviance to non-corporate entities--i.e., BGLOs. Emotionally, financially, and physically active BGLO alumni make BGLOs particularly salient subjects of inquiry. In addition, BGLO membership has long-defined contemporaneous membership in the black middle- and upper-class. What makes these organizations appealing as an area of legal scholarship, aside from the crucial role that they and their collegiate and alumni members played in African Americans' quest for civil rights and social justice, is violent hazing within their ranks. We explore the issue of hazing within the framework of positive organizational deviance--positive intentional deviations from the behavior of a referent group at the organizational level-- with two overarching questions in mind: what are the beliefs among BGLO members that undergird violent hazing within these groups, despite the constraint that the law seeks to place on such behaviors? And, to what extent are these beliefs well-founded? The latter question raises a broader inquiry about the complexity of prophylactic measures needed to minimize, if not eradicate, hazing within BGLOs.

In Section I, we examine the methods by which societies and organizations seek to control the behavior of their members. In Section II, we explore how the law has sought to constrain hazing, focusing on BGLO hazing as an exemplar. In Section III, we analyze the relationship between belief-systems about BGLO hazing among BGLO members and how those beliefs serve to perpetuate violent hazing within these organizations. In Section IV, we explore the various theories and research that explain the beliefs of BGLO hazing proponents as well as empirical tests of those theories. In Section V, we provide the results of our empirical research that explores (1) the beliefs that BGLO members have about the utility of hazing within their ranks and (2) the extent to which those beliefs are warranted. We close by trying to reconcile our empirical findings with BGLOs' organizational needs and the law.

* * *

Black Greek-letter organizations are unique entities with both a particular identity and set of needs. Scholars have argued that the BGLO identity is defined as personal excellence (largely defined in terms of high academic achievement), the development and sustaining of fictive-kinship ties (i.e., brotherhood and sisterhood), and dedication to uplifting African American communities. Accordingly, these organizations need members who are not only committed to these ideals but also committed, in practical ways, to the organizations themselves via dues payment, meeting attendance, and the like. These organizations require that such commitment be long-term if they are to measure-up to their identity-ideal. Their organizational needs, the beliefs among members about how these needs can best be actualized, the factual basis of these beliefs, and the growing constraints of the civil and criminal law, have created a conundrum for BGLOs.

The process by which BGLO members come into their organizations is a complicated matter. Ultimately, it appears that “pledging” has a negative relationship with academic performance among newly initiated BGLO members. Those who define the process by which they were brought into their organization as consisting of both MIP and pledging are more connected to those with whom they were initiated than those who simply pledged or went through MIP. Those who define the process by which they were brought into their organization as having some element of pledging are more financially active with their organization. The opposite must be said for those initiated with respondents. Having some “pledge” experience was also related to greater affective commitment to one's BGLO than having, simply, gone through MIP. When focusing more specifically on what experiences individuals were subjected to in their pursuit of BGLO members--as opposed to, simply, what they labeled their “process”--those who experienced more hazing were slightly more likely to be financially active as well as be more affectively and normatively committed. Those who experienced more hazing were slightly more likely to stay in contact with those whom they were initiated. Being hazed, however, made those initiated with respondents less likely to be financially active. Importantly, being hazed had no relationship to recent participation in the community uplift activities that BGLOs are known for or for being engaged in the decision-making processes of the organizations. Finally, over fifty percent of BGLO members do not believe that the very process implemented by BGLOs to supplant hazing actualizes the needs of BGLOs, generally, and does not facilitate commitment to the organization or to other members.

In short, these findings contradict the arguments of “pledging” proponents--i.e., that it is a panacea for BGLO ills and is necessary to actualize BGLOs' ultimate identity. These findings also eschew the arguments that MIP advocates embrace--i.e., that “pledging” is an evil that, in total, must be abolished in order to preserve BGLOs. The reality, from this data, is that the story is much more complex. In order to realize BGLO founders' intentions related to personal excellence, fictive-kinship ties, and African American uplift, some elements of the old process are needed to identify, attract, select, and train new members. But they are insufficient to address a wider range of needs that BGLOs have. For example, if BGLOs wish to amplify their role in the areas of civil rights and public policy, they will need several things from their members: intelligence to identify and devise novel solutions to the problems facing African Americans as those problems evolve from decade to decade; dedication to each other that is meaningful and supports systematic cooperation toward problem-solving; a true desire to engage in uplifting activities; and a commitment to ensuring the longevity of the organization(s) that make all of this possible.

The crux of the challenge to BGLOs is that the law places constraints on the ways in which organizations like BGLOs initiate new members. Beliefs can be powerful motivating factors, shaping and driving people's behavior, even in regard to violating the law. This is particularly so when, within organizational contexts, people believe their behavior serves the highest ideals of the organization. An understandable response to such behavior is for an organization to internalize law and seek to regulate such behavior, often quite harshly. However, such an approach may be highly ineffective for BGLOs. What may prove a more effective tactic is a focus on what BGLO members claim to hold dear--i.e., their respective organizations. The passing reference, at an organization's national convention, about vague lawsuits pending against the organization does not suffice to curtail hazing within these groups. Rather, a deep education about both civil and criminal law governing these organizations, how they initiate members, and the impact of violations on the organizations, may prove more effective. This is particularly so if facts about the limits of “pledging” are articulated to BGLO members. This deep education, however, necessitates that BGLOs honestly embrace the hard facts as they pertain to what activities help shape the types of members they need. To the extent that these activities violate the law, the organizations must abolish them and find a cogent way to articulate this need for abolishment to its members. But they must also be creative in developing processes that are mindful of both the ceiling that the law (and other factors) place on what types of process they can craft as well as the interstices that are pregnant with possibilities between that ceiling and the conceptual floor.



Gregory S. Parks, Assistant Professor of Law, Wake Forest University School of Law.
Shayne E. Jones, Associate Professor of Criminology, University of South Florida.
Matthew W. Hughey, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Connecticut.