Tea Time with Tagwa: Justice is on the way for Adam Oakes

Illustration by Karly Andersen

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

Tea timers, when I think of justice, I think of accountability. My mind immediately jumps to the concept of holding someone accountable for their misdoings. For the longest time, justice has felt more like a fantasy than a reality. I’ve seen countless of innocent people’s lives be ruined and justice never be served; nobody is ever held accountable. 

It felt like justice had finally been served to the family of VCU freshman Adam Oakes. Eleven people were indicted on Sept. 24 in relation to Oakes’ death, which occurred seven months prior, on Feb. 27.

Oakes was pledging to join the Delta Chi fraternity chapter on campus, when he was found dead on Feb. 27 after attending a Delta Chi event. He died of ethanol toxicity — which is a type of alcohol poisoning — according to the Richmond Medical Examiner.

The Oakes family says that he was forced to drink a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey as an act of hazing from the fraternity. Since then, they have been pushing to make hazing a felony.

This hazing incident created an uproar on campus and across the nation. Oakes’ extremely avoidable death brought forward discussion regarding hazing, Greek life, peer pressure and so much more. Most importantly, Oakes’ story forced us all to reevaluate our kindness with one another. 

Eight people were arrested on Sept. 24; seven of them were being held in VCU Police custody, while one was held by the Virginia State Police but was eventually released on bond. The remaining three individuals turned themselves in on Sept. 27; the 11 have not yet been convicted of any crimes.

My initial reaction to the news that 11 people had been indicted was disgust. I felt my stomach churn as I saw the mug shots, displaying faces of the people that were connected to the death of an innocent boy.

My disgust quickly turned to anger. I looked at their faces and envisioned them hazing Oakes, forcing him to drink his life away. And for what? For some distorted belief that by drowning Oakes in alcohol, it will somehow make them closer — make them brothers?

“Well, at least they did the right thing and turned themselves in,” I overheard from two girls behind me in line at the Cabell Library Starbucks as they were discussing the indictments on that same Sept. 27 night. 

I’ve always been fascinated by our society’s ability to praise the absolute bare minimum. First of all, the right thing to do would have been to not haze Oakes. His family will never be able to hold their son again, so please spare them from this narrative that these three boys did them a favor by turning themselves in.

Furthermore, turning yourself in after you’ve already been indicted is not an act of bravery — it is inevitable. The least these people could have done was treat Oakes with decency and kindness. 

Those individuals did not encourage a brotherhood; instead, they defaced the integrity of their organization and ruined the lives of an entire family and community. Worse than all, their actions could be the cause of Oakes’ death.

All 11 people indicted were charged with “unlawful hazing of a student,” and six of them were also charged with “purchase, giving alcohol to a minor.”

Hazing is considered a class one misdemeanor in Virginia that can bring about 12 months in jail or a $2,500 fine — in some cases, both.

Neither one of those options seems like a fair punishment for killing Oakes.

Quite frankly, these charges are disrespectful. Oakes’ death was a direct result of his overdrinking. The same overdrinking that only happened because these 11 people forced it onto him. So, excuse me if I don’t find these charges to be harsh enough.

I can honestly say that I don’t think these 11 people had the intention to kill Oakes that night. However, they did. Their actions resulted in his death. And the repercussions for their actions must be adequate enough to fit their actions. 

They took that innocent boy away from his family and ruined the family’s life forever. $2,500 does not even begin to make up for that. No amount of money will ever compensate for such a tragedy. 

Additionally, no amount of jail time will bring Oakes back. No amount of jail time will give him the opportunity to live his life again. No amount of jail time will reverse this injustice. However, this accountability will have to serve as justice for now.

We need to be more intentional with the way we treat one another. The toxic ideology of hazing and aggression linked with pledging fraternities must cease. The desired brotherhood Oakes was looking for must be less of a fantasy and more of a continued reality.

 Sometimes, even that inkling of comfortability goes a long way. And that’s the tea.

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