A photo of a woman speaking in a microphone to a room full of people sitting at tables.
Courtney White, Ed.D., Adam Oakes’ cousin and president of the Love Like Adam Foundation, speaks to VCU students at the second annual “Adam’s Day of Remembrance.” (Photo by Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

In memory of Adam Oakes, VCU and Oakes family host hazing prevention workshop for VCU students

‘Adam’s Day of Remembrance’ is part of ongoing efforts by VCU and the Oakes family to foster a safer and healthier community for all students.

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At the second annual “Adam’s Day of Remembrance” at Virginia Commonwealth University on Tuesday, approximately 70 student leaders participated in a workshop focused on understanding the root causes of hazing and reducing the likelihood of hazing occurring in their organizations.

The hazing prevention event is hosted by VCU and the family of Adam Oakes, a 19-year-old freshman at VCU who died on Feb. 27, 2021, due to an alcohol-related hazing incident at an off-campus fraternity event. VCU subsequently permanently banned the fraternity as a registered student organization.

VCU and the Oakes family are committed to fostering a safer and healthier community for all students, and Tuesday’s workshop is part of the ongoing efforts.

“Today is about developing the students’ prevention measures,” said Courtney White, Ed.D., Adam’s cousin and president of the Love Like Adam Foundation. “Adam cared about other people, and I know he would want us to be benefiting the students … Everything we do, we’re doing in honor of him and making him proud.”

In 2022, the Virginia General Assembly passed Adam’s Law, which was supported by VCU and is designed to reduce hazing in student organizations at Virginia colleges and universities. On Tuesday, the Virginia Senate unanimously approved a bill, which had previously passed the House of Delegates, that would require research-based hazing prevention instruction in public high schools as part of physical or health education for students in grades nine or 10.

As part of the 2022 law, VCU and other Virginia universities provide hazing prevention and bystander intervention training to students who are current members, new members or students seeking to become members of fraternities, sororities and other student organizations that have a new-member process. As of last week, VCU has provided anti-hazing training to 1,823 students, and 99% of students who are active members of organizations with new-member processes.

Tuesday’s day of remembrance at VCU builds on that training by encouraging student organization leaders to consider the causes of hazing and develop an action plan to reduce the likelihood of hazing in their organization and in the wider VCU community, said Rachael Tully, hazing prevention coordinator in the VCU Dean of Student Advocacy Office.

“Adam’s Law training focuses on: what is hazing by definition, how to be a good bystander and the risks associated with hazing, particularly when alcohol is incorporated,” Tully said. “The [day of remembrance] workshop is diving into: what are the causes that allow hazing to be perpetuated within organizations.”

A photo of a man speaking and holding a microphone.
Eric Oakes, Adam’s father, speaks to VCU students as part of “Adam’s Day of Remembrance” on Tuesday. (Photo by Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Also on Tuesday, students watched the video “Death of a Pledge: The Adam Oakes Story” and participated in a Q&A with the Oakes family.

An agreement in September 2022 between the Oakes family, VCU and the commonwealth of Virginia established Feb. 27 as an annual hazing prevention day and a day of remembrance of Adam Oakes and the causes and circumstances of his tragic death.

It also included measures such as:

  • Requiring students to have successfully completed 12 credit hours at VCU and to meet all other eligibility requirements before joining a fraternity or sorority; changing the length of new-member education to 28 days; and prohibiting alcohol at any activity of any fraternity or sorority that is attended by new members.
  • Requiring that any alcohol served or consumed at an event sponsored, endorsed or organized by a student organization be provided by a licensed third-party vendor following advance notification with VCU.
  • Including a link to the Love Like Adam Foundation website on VCU’s Fraternity and Sorority Life page and creating a webpage, linked through the Fraternity and Sorority Life page, that celebrates the life of Adam Oakes and includes the circumstances of his death.
  • Incorporating bystander intervention instruction in the hazing prevention training required by Va. Code §23.1-820 (Adam’s Law) that focuses on assisting individuals who are being subjected to hazing, intoxicated, at risk of sexual violence, bodily injury or otherwise in need of help. 
  • Posting on the VCU website a report that provides summary information for all matters in which a student organization was found responsible for a violation of the Student Code of Conduct. This report will include details that inform students and parents of the nature of the incident, including whether any individuals were injured.

At the 2023 inaugural day of remembrance, VCU installed a bench and plaque in Oakes’ memory outside the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life inside University Student Commons. A QR code on the plaque connects to a website with more information about Oakes and how to honor his memory by being a part of the solution to prevent hazing.

Looking ahead, the Love Like Adam Foundation and the VCU Division of Student Affairs are partnering to host the inaugural Virginia Hazing Prevention Summit on June 4.

The daylong event will be the first gathering of professionals across Virginia who are dedicated to hazing prevention. It will include college and university professionals, as well as professionals who partner with universities in the area of hazing prevention. Participants will have the opportunity to hear from others about their work to reduce hazing on campuses and to be in community with one another for discussion of best practices to address hazing.

“It will be one of the first times that all higher ed institutions will be able to come together and tackle this issue together and learn from one another,” White said.

For more information about the summit, visit hazing.vcu.edu.