Family of Adam Oakes reacts to fraternity expulsion, calling for more change

Adam Oakes with his mom, Linda Oakes. Photo courtesy of the Oakes family

Katharine DeRosa, News Editor

Adam Oakes always said hello and goodbye with a hug, played basketball with his little cousins and competed in family-style fantasy football every fall, his family said.

Adam Oakes was a freshman at VCU when he pledged the Delta Chi fraternity. He was found dead on Feb. 27 after a Delta Chi event the night before, where his family says he was hazed. The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office determined on May 25 that Oakes’ death was caused by ethanol toxicity, which is a type of alcohol poisoning, and the manner of death was accidental. Nine days later, VCU announced it permanently banned Delta Chi from campus.

Courtney White, Oakes’ cousin, said the family was at the bank working on their new nonprofit, the Love Like Adam Foundation, when they received a call from Associate Vice Provost and Dean of Students Reuban Rodriguez who told them Delta Chi was permanently expelled from campus.

“First we cried, because it was a step in the right direction, but then that sadness became anger,” White said. “It was a feeling of this is something we asked for two months ago.”

Members of the VCU and Richmond communities flooded social media with messages of support for the family when Oakes died, White said. They called for Delta Chi to be held accountable for what had happened. A petition to expel the fraternity garnered over 16,000 signatures. 

Delta Chi was suspended by both the university and the fraternity’s national headquarters the day after Oakes’ death. The VCU chapter was removed from the national website after it was suspended.

Neither the VCU chapter of Delta Chi or Delta Chi’s national office has reached out to the family to offer condolences for the loss of Oakes, White said. She has only seen “blanket statements” on each organization’s social media accounts. University President Michael Rao reached out to the family after Oakes died, White said.

White said she’s disappointed with how the brothers of VCU’s Delta Chi have acted following Oakes’ death. None of them have taken accountability for their actions, she said.

“They’re off on boats, summer vacation, you know, doing things with their families,” White said. “It’s like a smack in the face that they don’t even think that what they did is wrong.”

White said that while she is appreciative of the Delta Chi’s expulsion, she thinks it came at a time that will gain less attention from students since many are home for the summer.

“I highly doubt their fraternity is kicked off campus at this point, because what does that mean to them? It’s the individual accountability that is going to make them think twice about what occurred that evening on the twenty-sixth,” White said.

White said the family hopes that the members of Delta Chi will be “held accountable” for their actions by the legal system. 

“I don’t mean to sound harsh, it’s just the way that they treated my cousin like garbage, it really irks me,” White said.

No one has been charged involving the death of Oakes, according to Richmond Police Department spokesperson James Mercante. He stated the investigation is ongoing as of June 11.

Eric Oakes, Adam Oakes’ father, said he is pushing for hazing to become a felony in Virginia. He has reached out to Delegate Kathleen Murphy, from Loudoun County, where the family is located. 

Adam Oakes’ senior portrait. Photo courtesy of the Oakes family

Making hazing a felony would prevent tragedies similar to Adam Oakes’ death, his father said. 

“And if it does happen, there’s going to be severe consequences,” Eric Oakes said. “So people have to understand that they’re responsible for their bad behavior.” 

Hazing someone in Virginia is considered a class one misdemeanor, which is punishable by a maximum of 12 months in jail, a $2,500 fine or both. The family believes hazing led to Adam Oakes’ death.

Eric Oakes said he wants VCU to create a more open system of accountability for Greek life and for fraternity and sorority transgressions to be listed on VCU’s website for parents and students to view. 

“My son would have never gone in there had he known all the infractions that this fraternity had had,” Eric Oakes said.

Eric Oakes referred to Freedom of Information Act documents gathered by the Richmond Times-Dispatch which showed earlier transgressions of Delta Chi that lead to a four-year suspension — which was shortened to one year. 

The fraternity was found guilty of not maintaining a 2.5 grade-point average, using alcohol during recruitment and holding illegal recruitment ceremonies, according to the RTD. Delta Chi was suspended in 2018 and reinstated in 2019.

“If they just came off a suspension, why weren’t they being looked at?” Eric Oakes said.

The university announced a halt to Greek life on March 18. New member intake stopped and students were encouraged to host community spaces to talk about community issues. In addition, students involved in fraternities or sororities were required to complete bystander, hazing and alcohol training.

The university announced it would conduct an independent review of Greek life. It hired Dyad Strategies, a consulting firm which specializes in fraternities and sororities, to conduct the review. Findings are expected to be released this summer. 

The first part of the review consisted of surveying all members of Greek life. Dyad Strategies came to campus on April 27 and 28 to meet with various groups including students, VCU Police, Greek life alumni, Social and Risk Management Chairs, chapter advisors and the Dean of Students.

Dyad Strategies began accepting feedback from the entire VCU community through a survey that was open from April 26 and closed on Friday. The survey, which was on the university’s student affairs website, asked for anyone affiliated with VCU to share suggestions for improvement on Greek life. Five people have answered the survey as of Thursday, according to VCU spokesperson Michael Porter.

White said the family’s views of Greek life changed initially after the death of Adam Oakes, but they’ve come to understand Delta Chi doesn’t represent all fraternities.

“We need to either transform them or get them out of there so that the good ones can do the good work that they’re supposed to do,” White said. “It’s meant to develop leaders to take these leadership skills on for their careers and networks, but I feel like we have forgotten what the purpose of fraternities and sororities are.”

Adam Oakes’ death is currently being investigated by the Richmond Police Department. Anyone with information should contact Richmond Police Detective Michael Gouldman at 804-646-3915.

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