“Adam’s Law”: Anti-hazing legislation prefiled for 2022 Virginia General Assembly Session

Adam Oakes' family worked with legislators to write two anti-hazing bills that will be proposed at the 2022 Virginia General Assembly session. House Bill 525 will be referred to as “Adam’s Law” in honor of Adam Oakes. Photos courtesy of the Oakes Family

Valentéa Lopez, Contributing Writer

Two anti-hazing bills are pre-filed for the 2022 Virginia General Assembly session after Adam Oakes’ family has worked with legislators since February to make statewide changes regarding hazing on college campuses.

The two bills proposed are House Bill 525 and House Bill 993. HB 525 will be known as “Adam’s Law,” named after Adam Oakes. Adam Oakes, who was a freshman at time, died of alcohol poisoning on Feb. 27 at a Delta Chi Fraternity house on West Clay Street, according to a statement made by VCU.

Adams Oakes’ cousin, Courtney White, has been working on anti-hazing legislation alongside legislators. She is hoping to use his story to make a change about the nature of hazing on college campuses.

“We have been able to utilize Adam’s story for every single part of both bills, everything that we have modified in terms of education and punishment, we have used Adams’ story as the ‘why,’” White said. “This is why this is important. This is why this is crucial.” 

Adam’s Law passed the Virginia Delegates Education Committee in a 14-0 vote on Jan. 20, according to an email from White. 

White said she hopes that the preventative measures set in place by the bills will help protect other students and families from hazing. 

HB 525, if passed, beginning at the start of the 2022-2023 academic school year, will require universities to publicly report hazing and other misconduct.

“Every university will have to put founded incidents of hazing, of misconduct, of all these things that we wished as Adam’s family we had known about Delta Chi,” White said. “They would have to publish all of this on a website so other students can see.” 

The bill requires an advisor present at all official organization events, with some exceptions. Advisors will be required to educate Greek life members and new members about hazing.

HB 525 will allow amnesty if an individual reports hazing during or after another individual has endured serious bodily harm. 

“When you look at that amnesty clause in this bill, that is to say when you see something you say something, you get someone help,” said White.

The bill will also allow students who report an act of hazing amnesty from “disciplinary action based on hazing or personal consumption of drugs or alcohol.” 

HB 993 makes hazing a Class 5 felony if it results in death or serious bodily injury to any person. Hazing that does not result in a death or injury is still a Class 1 misdemeanor. HB 993 also contains an amnesty clause to encourage students to speak up without fear of being arrested or prosecuted for hazing.

“The bill provides immunity for arrest and prosecution for hazing if a person in good faith seeks or obtains emergency medical attention for a person who has received a bodily injury by hazing or renders emergency care or assistance,” according to the bill.

Eric Oakes, Adam Oakes’ father, has been working on the bills with White. He felt it was important to hold the larger organizations responsible if the organization is aware of hazing. 

VCU’s Delta Chi chapter had been suspended for four years in 2018 due to multiple infractions. The University ended up lifting the suspension after only one year, despite their patterns of rule breaking, according to an article by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“Had they not rescinded that four year suspension that other members would be alive and Adam would be alive today,” Eric Oakes said. 

The bill states organizations which are aware of hazing and do not intervene will receive civil penalties. 

VCU spokesperson Matt Lovisa did not comment on the two anti-hazing bills due to the university’s policy of not commenting on pending legislation, he stated in an email.

One of the 11 accused suspects, Andrew White, pleaded guilty in December to two misdemeanor charges of unlawful hazing of a student and buying alcohol for a minor. Andrew White’s sentencing is scheduled for March 1, 2022, at 9 a.m., according to the Virginia Judiciary Court Systems website. The other suspects have not yet pleaded guilty. Andrew White is not related to Adam Oakes’ cousin, Courtney White.

The other 10 suspects who have been charged are awaiting future court dates and jury trials according to the Virginia Judiciary Court Systems website. 

White has worked closely with legislators such as Del. Kathleen Murphy, D – McLean and Virginia Sen. Jennifer Boysko D – Herndon. to push for the bills.

“In the senate, Jennifer Boysko who is really patroning, she has been crucial in pioneering this and really getting it to fruition for us. And then Kathleen Murphy of course in the house of delegates has too and even Senator Jennifer McClellan has played a big part,” White said.

White extended her thanks to the students of VCU for helping the Oakes family during this difficult time.

“The students at VCU have been instrumental in ways they don’t even understand. That vigil, creating that vigil for Adam meant so much to our family,” White said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that White wanted to thank VCU. She wanted to thank the students of VCU.

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