Combating Hazing: The Oakes Family’s Crusade to Protect Students Across Virginia

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Hazing, a dangerous and unethical practice that has long plagued college campuses, continues to claim the lives of young students nationwide. In a tragic turn of events, the family of Adam Oakes, a 19-year-old freshman who passed away in 2021 due to alcohol intoxication during a fraternity initiation, is now spearheading a statewide effort to raise awareness and put an end to this pervasive problem.

The Oakes family, determined to honor Adam’s memory and prevent similar tragedies, is hosting a groundbreaking anti-hazing summit at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) next month. This first-of-its-kind event will bring together educators, anti-hazing foundations, and representatives from colleges, universities, and even K-12 schools, all united in their mission to eradicate hazing in the Commonwealth.

Addressing the Hazing Crisis in Virginia

Instances of hazing continue to plague VCU and other academic institutions across Virginia. In the aftermath of Adam Oakes’ death, several student organizations have faced suspensions for misconduct, underscoring the urgent need for comprehensive prevention strategies. The Oakes family’s summit aims to address this crisis head-on, providing a platform for open dialogue, the exchange of best practices, and the development of innovative solutions.

Collaborative Efforts for Effective Prevention

Courtney White, Adam Oakes’ cousin and a doctoral student in education, has been the driving force behind the upcoming summit. She emphasizes the importance of collaboration, stating, “When it comes to prevention efforts and strategies, we are stronger together.” This sentiment is echoed by the diverse array of participants, including representatives from VCU, the University of Richmond, Randolph-Macon College, Hampden-Sydney College, and the Kappa Alpha fraternity.

Restorative Justice and Bystander Intervention

The summit’s agenda covers a range of critical topics, including restorative justice – a program used by Richmond prosecutors in the aftermath of Adam Oakes’ death. This approach encourages open dialogue between offenders and victims, fostering understanding and accountability. Additionally, the event will address the crucial role of bystander intervention, equipping attendees with the knowledge and tools to recognize and respond to hazing incidents.

Addressing Alcohol and Student Conduct

The summit will also delve into the factors that contributed to Adam Oakes’ tragic passing, such as the role of alcohol and the university’s struggles to discipline the Delta Chi fraternity. Participants will explore strategies to mitigate the influence of alcohol and strengthen student conduct policies to better protect vulnerable individuals.

Empowering High School and College Students

The Oakes family’s outreach efforts extend beyond the summit, as they have been visiting colleges across the mid-Atlantic region, sharing Adam’s story, and providing hazing prevention seminars to students. These presentations offer an unvarnished account of the events leading to Adam’s death, using police body-cam footage and text messages to convey the harsh realities of hazing.

Promoting Informed Decision-Making

When addressing high school students, the Oakes family focuses on educating them about the nature of Greek organizations, the rushing and pledging processes, and the importance of conducting thorough research before joining any student group. They emphasize the need for prospective members to be aware of an organization’s history and any past instances of misconduct.

Fostering a Culture of Safety

For college students, the Oakes family’s presentations shift towards preventing hazing. They suggest ways for fraternities and sororities to modify dangerous traditions, such as “big brother night,” and encourage students to take a stand against members who refuse to adopt a safe and ethical culture. The family also advises students on responsible alcohol consumption, urging them to avoid secrecy and to have a trusted friend nearby in case of emergencies.

Overcoming Barriers to Reporting

One of the key challenges the Oakes family aims to address is the reluctance of fraternity members to call for help during hazing incidents, fearing the potential consequences of being implicated for providing alcohol to minors. The family encourages students to prioritize safety and well-being over such concerns, emphasizing the importance of seeking immediate medical assistance when necessary.

Legislative Efforts and Policy Changes

The Oakes family’s advocacy has also led to significant policy changes in Virginia. A new law, inspired by Adam’s death, now requires ninth- or tenth-grade students to learn about hazing prevention in their health and physical education classes. Additionally, universities in the state are now required to publish instances of misconduct committed by student organizations, providing greater transparency and accountability.

Honoring Adam’s Legacy

Throughout their efforts, the Oakes family remains steadfast in their commitment to honoring Adam’s memory and ensuring that his tragic passing catalyzes meaningful change. By sharing his story, they aim to inspire others to take action, challenge the status quo, and work towards a future where no student has to endure the devastating consequences of hazing.

Overcoming Institutional Inertia

The Oakes family’s mission, however, has not been without its challenges. Despite numerous invitations, some colleges and universities have yet to respond to the summit’s call for participation, highlighting the need for greater institutional engagement and a collective commitment to addressing the hazing crisis.

As the anti-hazing summit at VCU approaches, the Oakes family’s unwavering dedication and the support of their growing network of allies offer a glimmer of hope in the fight against hazing. This landmark event serves as a testament to the power of collective action and the transformative impact that can be achieved when individuals come together to protect the well-being of students across the Commonwealth.

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