The family of a VCU student, who was found dead in an off-campus house on Feb. 27, is pushing for change to Virginia’s law against hazing.
Adam Oakes’ family believes he was hazed as part of his initiation into the Delta Chi chapter at VCU. The Richmond Police Department has not confirmed these reports of hazing as they continue their investigation into his death.
On June 3, VCU announced Delta Chi was permanently banned from the school. This came as a result of the disciplinary proceedings initiated by the Division of Student Affairs. The fraternity chapter was found responsible for charges related to hazing, COVID-19 protocols and recruitment activities on Feb. 26-27 in the hours before Adam Oakes’s death.
Under current Virginia law, any person found guilty of hazing would be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.
“Just for recklessly endangering the health or safety of a student as a condition of membership in an organization and causing any degree of bodily injury,” said Steve Benjamin, a legal analyst. “That can range from a bruise or soreness to death or serious injury. The law makes no distinction.”
Courtney White, Adam Oakes’ cousin, started a petition to rally support for Adam’s law, which would make hazing a felony.
“If you commit hazing and you cause bodily harm, death, a physical or mental injury or impact, instead of it being a Class 1 misdemeanor, it would be a felony,” White said.
The petition has rallied more than 2,000 signatures, a support White hopes will continue with Virginia lawmakers.
“There’s power in numbers,” she said. “The more people that were on board with this change and push this change, the better off when we take it to the House and when we take it to the Senate.”
Benjamin said a Class 1 misdemeanor is the most serious misdemeanor in Virginia.
“If convicted, it carries a penalty of up to 12 months in jail and up to a $2,500 fine,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin said the punishments would increase under a felony.
“Not only would it increase the punishment to at least a sentence of potentially five years or more but it would also add the stigma and barrier of a felony conviction,” he said.
White hopes they can draft and pass this law through General Assembly in memory of Adam.
“Our hope is with this law, a better understanding of what hazing is for all students and their families, but also realize if they haze, there’s accountability towards it too,” White said.
White said she will meet with more lawmakers next month and hopes this bill will be introduced later this year.