Anna Chen, Contributing Writer
Family members of Adam Oakes launched the Love Like Adam nonprofit organization on May 26, the day after his cause of death was determined.
Oakes, a freshman at VCU, was found dead on Feb. 27 at a West Clay Street residence after attending an event hosted by a university chapter of the Delta Chi fraternity. His family said alcohol and hazing played a part in his death.
The nonprofit was created by Eric Oakes, Adam Oakes’ father, and Courtney White, Adam Oakes’ cousin. It seeks to educate upcoming college students and parents about the dangers of hazing, alcohol poisoning, drugs and peer pressure, according to White.
“We want to help save other people’s lives and to make sure that Adam’s story stays alive so that people learn from what happened and learn what not to do and what to do,” White said.
His death was ruled as an accident due to ethanol toxicity, a type of alcohol poisoning, on May 25, according to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office.
White said the vision is to reach high school students before they get to college to educate them about making “the right decisions” when it comes to drugs, alcohol and on which fraternities and sororities to join, as well as how to research each one.
“We got the initial idea to start the foundation from a reporter with Good Morning America back in the beginning of March,” White said in an email.
The family said they hope to hold information sessions with parents and students about the signs of alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses.
An average of six people die from alcohol poisoning every day in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol poisoning is caused by drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time.
From 2015 to 2017, more than 11 people died from alcohol poisoning in Richmond, according to the Virginia Social Indicator Dashboard. In Virginia, during 2017 more than 160 people died from alcohol poisoning.
Hazing is explicitly banned by VCU, and any act of hazing is prohibited and is “not tolerated,” according to the VCU Office of Fraternity and Sorority life website.
The Richmond Police Department is leading the investigation of Adam Oakes’ death and the VCU Police Department is providing assistance, according to VCU spokesperson Dedrain Davis.
“Fortunately, student members of fraternities and sororities recognize that hazing has no place in their organizations and have eliminated it,” the office stated.
Eric Oakes said that Adam Oakes’ death was preventable because if somebody had gotten him help, he’d still be alive today.
“We definitely don’t want that to happen to any other student, any other child, or any other family,” Eric Oakes said. “It’s ruined our lives and we felt that this is the best way to try and get his story out.”
White said she hopes that VCU will take the initiative to make the necessary improvements towards reforming its Greek life organizations from the inside out.
“I have read the responses from the students on Instagram and how much they’re pushing to reform Greek life at VCU and I think that speaks volumes about the community and the need there,” White said.
VCU and the national Delta Chi organization suspended the university chapter of the fraternity on Feb. 28, a day after Adam Oakes’ death.
Dyad Strategies, a consulting firm which specializes in sororities and fraternities, was hired by the university to conduct a review of VCU Greek life on March 22. Dyad Strategies standard campus review includes an assessment of hazing, alcohol use and ethical behaviors, according to its website.
All fraternities and sororities on campus were required to complete mandatory trainings during a temporary halt to Greek life during the spring 2021 semester.
“VCU has the chance now to step up and be a leader and make the change,” Eric Oakes said. “They should have some kind of standards to own up to the infractions of their Greek life.”
Eric Oakes said VCU should put the infractions of fraternities and sororities on its website to create transparency about wrongdoings in Greek life.
The Oakes family have also created the Live Like Adam Scholarship as a way to honor Adam Oakes’ legacy, according to White. The scholarship will be funded by a GoFundMe page which was started and shared on social media at the time of his death.
The GoFundMe originally garnered over $47,000 in donations for funeral costs. The family plans to put the leftover money towards the scholarship fund in hopes to financially help students with tuition, not only in higher education, but in trade schools as well.
The scholarship is open to graduating high school seniors at Potomac Falls High School in Loudoun County and awards three students with $1,000 each year. The family hopes the scholarship will eventually open to other parts of Virginia.
Teachers are asked to nominate one student that best exemplifies similar traits to Adam Oakes, such as kindness and compassion. The student is then asked to submit a short essay for the family to read over for consideration.
“It’s not about who has the higher grade average, it’s about being a kind person and telling us what kind thing you did for another person,” Eric Oakes said.
The Richmond Police Department is currently investigating the death of Adam Oakes. Anyone with information should contact Richmond Police Detective M. Gouldman at 804-646-3915.