Katrina Lee, News Editor
“Adam’s Law,” named after VCU freshman Adam Oakes, who died from hazing, was one of the 700 bills Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed into law since taking office in January.
Oakes’ died at a Delta Chi fraternity event in February 2021. His cause of death was ruled as alcohol poisoning by the Medical Examiner’s Office.
Adam’s Law will take effect on July 1 and will require universities to provide hazing prevention training and education training, according to the Virginia Legislation System. Virginia Sen. Jennifer Boysko worked with the Oakes family to create this legislation and sponsored it in the Virginia Senate.
“We [Oakes’s family] started talking about a year ago and they made it clear to me that it was their hope that we would be able to pass some meaningful legislation. Courtney White is doing her Ph.D. in this area. She came up with a bill draft,” Boysko said. “I then took it and made sure that it worked in the Virginia system, and so we worked with our legislative attorneys.”
The law now requires universities to provide to each current member, new member and potential member of each student organization to complete hazing prevention training that includes extensive in-person education about the dangers of hazing, according to the Virginia Legislation System.
Boysko said Adam Oakes was not required to attend hazing prevention training because he was technically a prospective member. The law will also require advisors to the student organization to also receive training.
“It’s also really important that the advisors will have training as well, and that it’s going to be in person so that students understand and can ask questions and can work together to make sure that they are helping one another to identify where hazing is,” Boysko said. “This level of tragedy is rare, but it is preventable.”
Starting next semester for the 2022-2023 school year, the law will also require universities to “maintain and publicly report actual findings of violations of the institution’s code of conduct” or law violations pertaining to hazing that are reported.
Boysko said she and the Oakes’s family worked with many different stakeholders, including Virginia colleges, fraternity and sorority organizations, families who have lost loved ones because of hazing and others in order to “reduce harm” through this legislation.
“For students, nobody goes to college or sends their student to college, to have them be killed, to die in a preventable accident,” Boysko said. “We believe that knowledge is power, and making sure that students have the information that they need to have can help them.”
The Oakes family and Boysko worked together on a different piece of legislation called Senate Bill 440 or House Bill 993, which would make hazing a Class 5 felony if it results in death or serious bodily injury to any person. The Senate and the House have yet to come to an agreement about the bill, and has yet to pass through either, according to Boysko.
The Oakes family created an Instagram page called “lovelikeadam,” to memorize Adam Oakes. The family posted a picture of the final vote in the senate on Feb. 21, where 8 out of the 15 senators voted “nay” on the bill.
“HB993 was watered down to award immunity to the hazer. We aren’t done yet. Our family has fought hard to get where we are and make much needed change! On to conference!” the post stated.
Boysko said she doesn’t believe Senate Bill 440 is going to pass through the House and Senate soon, but she and the Oakes family will continue to work for it to become law.
“In getting a piece of legislation this comprehensive and really, very much changing policy, it’s not unusual to have to work on something for several years,” Boysko said.
Director of Fraternity and Sorority life at VCU Joe Wheeless stated VCU will be implementing the changes required by Adam’s Law starting the 2022-2023 academic year.
“We will be creating a training schedule, building curriculum, and implementing accountability measures this summer. The details will be released to chapters in August, before the start of the fall semester,” Wheeless stated.
Wheeless stated one of the biggest changes the law is requiring will be the training for students who want to join any student organization and all current members.
“Another big change is that this law applies to student organizations with new members which goes beyond the Fraternity & Sorority Life Office and could include service and academic organizations,” Wheeless stated.
Wheeless also stated Adam’s Law will benefit a large population of students by providing the knowledge on what hazing is, how to report it and provide strategies to intervene.
“The more people know about it, the more we are able to effect positive change in the community,” Wheeless stated.