Oakes family, VCU reach agreement that will change fraternity, sorority life

Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 3:33 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 16, 2022 at 10:31 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The Adam Oakes family and Virginia Commonwealth University have reached an agreement that identifies changes to fraternity and sorority life. Both sides hope that the changes will become a “national model” for colleges across the U.S.

“Approved today by the Fairfax County Circuit Court, the agreement also provides for the family to receive a monetary settlement of $995,000 from VCU and the Commonwealth of Virginia,” according to a VCU news release on Friday.

Oakes died from alcohol poisoning while he went through an underground pledging process for the Delta Chi chapter at Virginia Commonwealth University in February 2021.

The Oakes family and VCU released a joint statement on Friday:

Adam was a beloved son, grandson, nephew, cousin, student, and friend. He had a tremendous future ahead of him and his senseless death brought unspeakable pain and tragedy to all who knew him.

Adam is missed every day. His family and friends, in partnership with VCU, are dedicated to making a difference for others in his memory.

This is a blueprint to foster a safer and healthier community for students who are part of fraternities and sororities and to create a climate of respect and inclusion that is needed for academic success.

By working to honor Adam’s life and legacy, we are dedicated to creating a national model for universities and colleges across the country. Some of these changes are already complete or underway.

Adam died on Feb. 27, 2021, and nothing can take away the pain of losing someone so loved. Our agreement honors his memory, and our goal is that it will help save lives in the future.”

Elements of the agreement include:

  • Requiring students to have successfully completed 12 credit hours at VCU and to meet all other eligibility requirements before joining a fraternity or sorority. New member education is changing to 28 days. Alcohol is prohibited at any activity of any fraternity or sorority that is attended by new members.
  • Designating Feb. 27 as an annual hazing prevention day and a day of remembrance of Adam Oakes.
  • Requiring that any alcohol served or consumed at an event sponsored, endorsed, or organized by a student organization shall be provided by a licensed third-party vendor following advance notification with VCU.
  • Including a link to the Love Like Adam Foundation website on VCU’s Fraternity and Sorority Life page and creating a webpage, linked through the Fraternity and Sorority Life page, that celebrates the life of Adam Oakes and includes the circumstances of his death.
  • Incorporating bystander intervention instruction in the hazing prevention training required by the Virginia Code that focuses on assisting individuals who are being subjected to hazing, intoxicated, at risk of sexual violence, bodily injury, or otherwise in need of help.
  • Posting on the VCU website a report that provides summary information for all matters in which a student organization was found responsible for a violation of the Student Code of Conduct. This report will include details that inform students and parents of the nature of the incident, including whether any individuals were injured.
  • Following the university process to create a physical memorial to Adam on campus.

“I definitely think that allows for a more precautionary measure and not anybody can just do something like that,” Evan Reed, a student at VCU, said. “It’s basically just preventative measures to not allow something to happen like that so I think it’s good.”

In a statement to NBC12, Adam’s family said no amount of money is going to bring back Adam, but they feel VCU is making changes to prevent what happened to Adam from happening to anyone else in the future.

No amount of money is going to bring Adam back. As much as we pray to wake up from the nightmare, it just isn’t going to happen.

The light in all of this is that Virginia Commonwealth University is now making changes to prevent what happened to Adam, from happening to anyone else in the future. That has been our mission from the moment Adam passed.

We want to ensure that this never happens to another student or family again in the state of Virginia. We made that promise to Adam, to Virginia students, future students, and their families. We will continue to educate and protect students like Adam in our higher education institutions and in our high schools, to hopefully produce systemic changes in greek life, athletics, and in other student organizations at all levels of education.

VCU has agreed to make monumental changes to its greek system that will hopefully set a precedent for other universities to follow. They will honor Adam, share his story, and ensure that students always know and understand the dangers of hazing and what happens when students take things too far. Hazing is a destructive culture that is so deeply embedded in our school systems that many schools don’t even want the Love Like Adam Foundation to come and present, for fear that it will draw attention to their campuses.

Those schools that have allowed our Foundation to present, see that change is needed and know they want to be a part of the solution. They see that the system is broken. They recognize that what has historically been done to dismantle hazing (webinars, powerpoints, etc) is not working. If we truly want change, we need to invite innovation, invite student voices, and engage together in this hard work. Thankfully VCU sees that and is willing to engage and work with us to make positive change.

Settlement Statement From the Oakes Family

“As sad as this sounds, I feel like we should use this as an example to set the tone for things that shouldn’t go on here,” Reed said. “Not just here, but anywhere. So I feel like that represents something our schools in America should never let go down again.”