Dyad Strategies review recommends new policies for Greek life

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

Katharine DeRosa, News Editor

Dyad Strategies released an independent review of Greek life at the beginning of August to provide VCU with recommendations for Greek life on campus. The university released its internal review a few days later.

Senior economics and statistics major Michael Portillo of Phi Gamma Delta said he thought the independent review was “surprisingly accurate.” Portillo previously served on the executive board of Phi Gamma Delta, known as “Fiji” on campus, and has been a member since his freshman year.

“I don’t think people were expecting them [Dyad Strategies] to be as real and as hard hitting with their findings,” Portillo said.

The independent review, while a response to Adam Oakes’ death, is not meant to be an investigation into his death, Dyad Strategies stated. Oakes died at a Delta Chi gathering on Feb. 27. The Richmond Police Department is leading the investigation. No arrests have been made, however Oakes’ death was ruled as a result of ethanol toxicity, which is a type of alcohol poisoning, on May 25.

Courtney White, Oakes’ cousin, wrote in an email on behalf of herself and Oakes’ parents that they have read the review and are grateful for the recommendations.

“We only wish this was done sooner so Adam would be alive today,” the family stated.

Dyad Strategies’ review recommended the university take either an “all in” or “all out” approach to Greek life, meaning VCU either needs to be completely invested in Greek life at the university or completely remove it. 

Dyad Strategies has 14 different recommendations for fraternities and sororities at the university. The recommendations are applicable if VCU decides to take an “all in” approach to Greek life on campus.

“VCU finds itself in the awkward position of being ‘half in’ in their relationship with campus fraternities and sororities,” Dyad Strategies stated. “VCU is invested in the fraternity and sorority community enough to make themselves aware of risk in the fraternity/sorority community, but not invested enough to fully manage the risk of campus fraternities and sororities, in particular the risks associated with unrecognized, off-campus housing.”

University President Michael Rao stated in a press release the university is dedicated to collaborating with Greek life students on creating a prosperous Greek environment.

“These reviews make important recommendations about how VCU can improve safety, oversight and accountability of our fraternity and sorority organizations,” Rao stated. “The Board of Visitors and I will ensure that we receive updates about the recommendations and implementation no later than December 1.”

VCU’s internal report states that recommendations from Dyad Strategies will either be implemented, declined or referred to a “workgroup” for further review. The report also includes which recommendations have already been taken. 

“If you’re leaving it up to a 20 year old or a 21 year old on how all this stuff is going to go, it doesn’t always have the best outcomes as we’ve unfortunately experienced,” said Senior economics and statistics major Michael Portillo.

For instance, VCU is actively searching for a Director of Greek life with five to seven years of experience, an initiative Dyad Strategies recommended.

The university stated in its report that Dyad Strategies’ recommendation on implementing a diversity, equity and inclusion plan for Greek life needs to be evaluated further before being “explored” in the fall of 2022.

VCU is an institution with a large minority population, according to 2020-2021 demographics. Less than half the students who attend VCU are white and the Black student population makes up the largest percentage of minorities, with 17.8%. However, Dyad Strategies found that members of color are “tokenized” among fraternities and sororities.

Portillo agreed with Dyad Strategies in saying that VCU needs to do more to address diversity in fraternities. He believes some fraternities are more inclusive, while others are “not as open minded.”

“You can’t force an organization to be more inclusive, but there’s not even any effort, I don’t think, that’s been made to try to make these organizations more inclusive or address things like implicit bias,” Portillo said.

Oakes’ family has stated they believe he died of hazing at a “Big Brother” event for Delta Chi. One of Dyad Strategies’ recommendations included revamping the Big Brother program to create more responsible Big Brothers by requiring mentor training.

Portillo said his fraternity has certain rules in place for the Big Brother program similar to those Dyad Strategies laid out. He said Big Brothers are at least two years older than their Little Brothers and people with similar majors are matched up. He also believes there should be some type of standardized training for Big Brothers in Greek life, as only certain members of his fraternity are picked to be Big Brothers.

“If you’re leaving it up to a 20 year old or a 21 year old on how all this stuff is going to go, it doesn’t always have the best outcomes as we’ve unfortunately experienced,” Portillo said.

Oakes’ family stated in an email they believe the university should eradicate the Big Brother program and traditional pledging as part of the recruitment process. 

These traditions are outdated, destructive, and make a tremendous impact on the safety and health of students,” the family stated. “They select people based on judging them by what is on the surface, not what’s in their heart.”

On top of Dyad Strategies’ recommendations, Oakes’ family stated VCU should create advisor training.

“They need to have adequate training to support the leadership development, ensure best practices during all fraternal events, and be present to supervise these events,” the family stated.

VCU’s internal report stated it would further review Dyad Strategies’ Big Brother recommendation. 

The university agreed with Dyad Strategies’ recommendations for the university hazing policy, which include hiring a hazing prevention coordinator and developing a campus-wide hazing prevention plan. The new policy is expected to be in place by Summer 2022 and VCU will begin the search for a hazing prevention coordinator this fall.

VCU registration data shows the majority of students recruited to fraternities and sororities are under 21, therefore, the university banned alcohol at all recognized student activities effective Aug. 2.

Dyad Strategies recommended VCU create an independent organizational misconduct policy. While VCU stated it needs to evaluate this point further, Portillo agreed with Dyad Strategies. He believes there need to be a clear set of guidelines and punishments for Greek organizations to follow to prevent situations such as Delta Chi coming off a suspension early.

“Delta Chi has always been a problem, since I was a freshman,” Portillo said. “They should have never been allowed to come back to this campus.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Michael Portillo is an economics and finance major. He is an economics and statistics major.

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