Saturday, April 13, 2024

Virginia High Schoolers Will Receive Hazing Prevention Instruction

The Oakes family held Adam’s Day of Remembrance, a workshop on hazing prevention at Virginia Commonwealth University on Feb. 27, the third anniversary of his death. Oakes was a freshman rushing the Delta Chi fraternity at VCU when he died after he was told to drink an entire bottle of whiskey, according to his family. (Photo by Alyssa Hutton/VCU Capital News Service)

RICHMOND — Bills that will provide high schoolers with hazing prevention instruction have passed the General Assembly.

Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, introduced Senate Bill 379 to require that research-based hazing instruction be taught to students in ninth or 10th grade. Del. Atoosa Reaser, D-Loudoun, introduced the companion House Bill 719.

The bills had unanimous support in the Senate, but over 40 House Republicans voted against the bills.

The instruction will include examples of hazing and its dangers, consequences of alcohol intoxication and laws regarding hazing, such as bystander intervention.

The Board of Education will make the standards of learning a part of school curriculum. Students will receive instruction in their physical or health education class, similar to the family life education.

Neither lawmaker responded to interview requests.

“There are many things that our students need to learn and our Virginia code already requires that hazing be addressed, this just provides guidelines from the [education department] on how to do that,” Reaser said at an education subcommittee meeting.

Senate lawmakers voted to pass the House bill on the third anniversary of college freshman Adam Oakes’ hazing death. Both bills will head to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk.

Boysko introduced a similar bill during the last legislative session to evaluate ways this type of instruction could be taught in both middle and high schools. It did not advance.

Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, a high school teacher, thinks the instruction should start in middle school, he said at an education subcommittee meeting.

The Love Like Adam Foundation worked with legislators on the bills. The foundation educates and supports students, families and law enforcement on hazing prevention.

The foundation started after the death of Oakes, who was rushing the Delta Chi fraternity at Virginia Commonwealth University when he died. Oakes was told to drink an entire bottle of whiskey, according to his family. He died of alcohol poisoning on Feb. 27, 2021.

Boysko worked with the foundation in 2022, to pass legislation known as Adam’s Law.

The law requires that current, new and potential members of student organizations at public and private colleges and universities receive hazing education. Reports of hazing made in “good faith” before or during a hazing incident provide immunity to the reporter.

Courtney White is Oakes’ cousin and president of Love Like Adam. The bills passed this session are ways to be more proactive about hazing awareness, she said.

“There are so many other ways you can make connections without hurting one another,” White said.

The foundation gives presentations and hosts workshops to educate a range of groups about hazing, including Greek life, law enforcement and parents.

Approximately 70 VCU students attended a recent event the foundation held on the anniversary of Oakes’ death. The family screened a documentary that includes details of pledge night and police body camera footage from the morning of Oakes’ death. Text messages were also shown of exchanges between fraternity members as the pledge night unfolded.

“What hits them hard is what’s going to impact them,” White said. “That’s why I think Adam’s story in our presentation is so impactful.”

The foundation did a handful of presentations in its first year, and the amount doubled in its second year, according to White. The foundation crossed state lines to present to a Greek life organization at the University of South Carolina.

“Hazing is what killed my son and the tool that Delta Chi, VCU fraternity, used was alcohol,” said Eric Oakes, Adam’s father. He is the director and treasurer of Love Like Adam.

The work the foundation is doing is what Adam would have wanted, Eric Oakes said.

“He would’ve wanted to get the word out, what happened to him, and make sure that no kid loses their life so senselessly just wanting to join a club or team or fraternity,” Eric Oakes said.

VCU, Washington and Lee University and William & Mary are currently a part of the Hazing Prevention Consortium. The consortium works with higher education partners over a three-year period as they develop a plan to examine and prevent hazing. William & Mary and VCU joined the initiative in 2023.

The first Virginia Hazing Prevention Summit will be held June 4 at VCU. All Virginia schools are invited to send three people to the summit to learn about hazing prevention strategies, according to White.

White hopes to be able to hold the summit on a national level in the future.

“We’ve created this foundation in his honor, the law in his name,” White said. “Just keeping his memory alive, I feel like it’s therapeutic for all of us.”

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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