Virginia Legislature Passes Bills Mandating Hazing Prevention Training on College Campuses | Education
On Sunday afternoon, the anniversary of Adam Oakes’ death, 10 members of his family stood on West Clay Street outside the red brick duplex where he died. Adam’s father, Eric Oakes, hung a picture of Adam on a dogwood tree.
The next day, the Oakes family sat in the galleries of the Virginia Capitol, watching the legislature overwhelmingly pass “Adam’s Law,” which would require college student organizations to undergo hazing prevention training.
The bill now goes to Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who said he supports tougher hazing laws.
Oakes was a 19-year-old freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University when he died of alcohol poisoning following a “big little” Delta Chi party on February 27, 2021.
“I think he would be proud of all that we were able to accomplish last year,” said his cousin, Courtney White.
The Senate was the first wing of the General Assembly to pass the bill on Monday, voting 40-0. A few minutes later, the House adopted an identical version 98-1. Of the. Will Wampler III of R-Washington County was the sole opposition.
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“Your son did not die in vain,” Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears told the Oakes family before the Senate passed the bill. “Adam is leaving his mark on this world by passing a law that will help someone else’s child, and for that we thank Adam that he was born and that you gave him to us.”
The bill requires counselors from each student organization to conduct extensive in-person training and education on hazing and alcohol intoxication. It also requires colleges to grant immunity to bystanders who report hazing if they are guilty of alcohol or drug-related offenses.
It applies to public and private colleges.
Under the bill, colleges would be required to post violations of their student organizations on their websites. Oakes had no idea that Delta Chi had a history of sexual assault, underage drinking and illegal parties and that the fraternity had recently received a four-year suspension – a sentence later reduced to one year .
Cornell University already publishes its fraternity and sorority violations, and VCU said last fall that it intended to do so.
Adam’s Law requires colleges to report hazing violations to Pennsylvania State University’s Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform, which studies hazing nationally.
Two other bills dealing with the degree of punishment for hazing are still before the General Assembly. The House has approved a bill that raises the penalty from a misdemeanor to a Class 5 felony punishable by one to 10 years in prison.
The Senate passed a version that leaves hazing as a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of one year in prison. But the Senate version allows a prosecutor to charge a student with manslaughter and hazing without risking double jeopardy.
The House and the Senate will rectify their differences in conference. The Oakes family supports increasing the felony sentence.
“You’re going to be held accountable for your actions from now on,” White said.
The legislature’s approval of Adam’s Law came a year and a day after Oakes died in the 100 block of West Clay Street, less than a mile from the VCU campus.
For more than an hour, family and friends of Oakes stood outside the house where members of Delta Chi threw a raucous party.
“We are making changes now,” said Eric Oakes, fighting back tears. “We will save the next child and the next family from having to go through what we are going through.”