Staff Editorial | Adam Oakes’ death left a void in our community. VCU, Delta Chi share blame

Illustration by Carleigh Ross

For most VCU students, moving to Richmond is a lasting memory, marked by excitement and hopefulness. Opportunities seem endless — new places to explore, communities on campus to join, new friends to make.

Our university naturally promotes the advantages of living in an urban environment, boasting a “campus with no boundaries” on its website.

“The city is our campus,” the website states. “You can’t tell where one ends and the other begins, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

VCU welcomes incoming students with messages like this to encourage movement across its undergraduate campus, from the University Student Commons to the Institute for Contemporary Art. 

However, when freshman Adam Oakes died at a house on West Clay Street — just six blocks away from the ICA — the university was quick to tweet that he was out of range.

“VCU mourns the death of student Adam Oakes, who was identified by authorities at an off-campus residence early Saturday,” the Feb. 28 release stated.

It seems VCU can tell where one campus ends and the other begins, especially when it could be held accountable for a student’s untimely death. 

Also, the release made no mention of any fraternity involvement. Let’s explore the events leading up to a VCU spokesperson choosing that careful language.

Adam entered our community with the same hope and expectation that we all remember feeling during our first days here. He was seeking friendship, acceptance and a spark of light in a series of dark days spent in isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Adam arrived at the former Delta Chi fraternity house near Jackson Ward, he found something else — a malignant, shallow growth that had been spreading across VCU’s underbelly long before he left his family’s home in Sterling. 

The feeling hangs in the air. At parties like the one Adam attended, new fraternity additions are constantly competing. From games to alcohol tolerance, one way or another, to be a “brother,” you have to earn it. 

Someone handed Adam a bottle of whiskey and told him to drink, his family said. Next morning, he was found dead on a couch.

The university won’t say Adam was hazed to death. There will be no comment on how or if Delta Chi members were involved. At least, not while its independent review of Greek life, announced the week after Adam’s death by senior vice provost Charles Klink, is still ongoing.

“We don’t know any more than we are saying,” President Michael Rao said Friday during a board of visitors meeting. “For a national model, we have to do this. For the sake of all the young people involved in these organizations.”

But there’s a chance that even after VCU wraps up its investigation — with no clear end date — those responsible for Adam’s death will evade major consequences. After all, Klink stated the review will only “make recommendations about how Greek organizations meet the high expectations we have for them.”

The local Delta Chi chapter received cease-and-desist letters from both VCU and its national parent organization. These orders suspend the fraternity until the investigation concludes, according to the university.

The staff of The Commonwealth Times wants VCU to take stronger action against hazing, and soon. Expel Delta Chi. There’s no coming back from this. As Klink himself stated, “Simply put, this cannot happen again.”

If the university allows a reckless group of insecure young men to resume their dangerous activities anywhere near VCU’s campus, it will happen again — simply put.

We urge the university officials and our peers to respect Adam’s family and their wishes. Courtney White, Adam’s cousin, said suspending Delta Chi isn’t sufficient.

“They’re still drinking, they’re still having a good time, while my cousin is dead,” White said. “He will never get that experience back.” 

This isn’t about university admissions, this isn’t about social media statements. This is a void in our community. 

Adam’s death sent waves of grief to everyone at VCU, even those who never got the chance to know him. 

We all feel this loss. Now, the university must act.

Andrew Ringle, executive editor
Iman Mekonen, managing editor
Rachel Rivenbark, copy editor
Katharine DeRosa, news editor
Noah Fleischman, sports editor
Ebonique Little, spectrum editor
Tagwa Shammet, opinions editor
Enza Marcy, photo editor
Sarah Elson, audience editor
Andy Caress, design editor

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