Anna Chen, Contributing Writer
Family members of freshman Adam Oakes and a Virginia senator are backing an adoption of stronger anti-hazing legislation more than a month after Oakes’ death at an off-campus Delta Chi fraternity event.
Both Courtney White, Adam Oakes’ cousin, and Eric Oakes, Adam Oakes’ father, are pushing to make hazing a felony. They aim to advocate for other states to amend similar laws in the future.
“We can’t bring Adam back and we understand that, but we can protect another life from being lost by modifying the law,” White said.
The family called upon the help of Virginia senators Jennifer Boysko and Jennifer McClellan on Twitter to co-sponsor anti-hazing legislation in the General Assembly.
Boysko said she intends on working with Adam Oakes’ family along with schools and stakeholders to “actually do something that will make a difference” within anti-hazing legislation.
Adam Oakes was found dead Feb. 27 at a residence on West Clay Street after attending a Delta Chi rush event. His family said hazing and alcohol played a role in his death.
“The pain that his family is in is worthy of us to review the current policy to increase the ability for us to eliminate hazing and prevent another senseless death like this,” Boysko said.
Boysko said she hopes to start working on anti-hazing legislation later this spring in preparation for the next General Assembly session.
In the meantime, she plans to raise awareness about the dangers of hazing by making sure high school and college students understand the “comprehensive policy” which clarifies the definition of hazing.
“The biggest thing we can do is make sure this doesn’t happen to another kid the way it happened to Adam,” said Eric Oakes.
In Virginia, any action that results in bodily injury or puts lives in danger for the purpose of an initiation or entry into an organization is considered hazing and is punishable by a Class 1 misdemeanor.
“Nobody goes to college or joins an organization thinking they’re going to die,” Boysko said. “It’s a tragedy.”
McClellan did not provide a statement on the matter.
White and Eric Oakes said having an anti-hazing bill in Virginia “means everything to them.”
“It’s not just changing the law but it’s also about educating kids and everybody that goes to college about the law,” White said.
In light of Adam Oakes’ death, White and Eric Oakes said they’ve become more wary of Greek life. They aim to start a nonprofit organization to educate high school seniors transitioning to college about anti-hazing.
“He had a bright future ahead of him,” Eric Oakes said of his son. “There’s so many things that he didn’t get to experience in his short lifetime.”
More than 30 states in the U.S. have anti-hazing laws punishable as a misdemeanor, and at least 10 states have made it a felony upon death or serious injury as of 2019.
Only six states — Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana — have zero laws prohibiting hazing.
Eric Oakes said if the hazing law in Virginia is amended to be a felony, it could help change fraternity and sorority behavior and make members of Greek life think twice about their actions.
“Hazing is just a misdemeanor in Virginia, and I don’t get that,” Eric Oakes said. “The biggest thing we can do is make sure this doesn’t happen to another kid the way it happened to Adam.”