Kaine, Warner Back Federal Anti-Hazing Bill Following Death of VCU Student, Adam Oakes

Richmond Times – Dispatch | August 4, 2022

Virginia’s U.S. senators have added their names to a federal bill to address hazing on college campuses following the death of a Virginia Commonwealth University student last year.

The bill, the Report and Educate About Campus Hazing, or REACH, Act, would require similar provisions to a law Virginia legislators passed this year. The Virginia statute is nicknamed Adam’s Law for Adam Oakes, a 19-year-old freshman who died after a fraternity party in February 2021.

Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., said too many families have lost loved ones because of hazing.

“Parents who send their kids off to college never imagine that their child may be injured, seriously impaired or killed by the actions of their friends or peers,” the senators said in a statement.

The REACH Act would require colleges to report hazing incidents as part of their annual crime report. It would establish a definition for hazing — not all states have one — and it would require colleges to establish an educational program about the dangers of hazing.

Virginia’s law, which Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed, requires schools to report instances of hazing in a separate document each September. Colleges nationwide are already required to report the number of sexual assaults and other campus crimes each October as part of the Clery Act.

Adam’s Law also requires student organizations in Virginia to undergo hazing prevention training. Virginia already has a definition for hazing — to recklessly endanger the health or safety of a student or to inflict bodily injury in connection with the initiation to a student organization, regardless of whether the student participates voluntarily.

Hazing is a Class 5 misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. Oakes’ family urged the General Assembly to pass a bill upgrading the crime to a felony, but the bill failed to gain consensus.

Since 2000, there have been more than 100 deaths associated with hazing, according to Hank Nuwer, a former University of Richmond professor who tracks hazing deaths across the country.

The REACH Act got its first push from Julie and Gary Devercelly. Their son, Gary Devercelly Jr., died at Rider University in 2007 following an alcohol-infused party for the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity.

Federal lawmakers introduced bills in 2017 and 2019, but they failed to reach the House or Senate floors for voting.

Eric and Linda Oakes, Adam Oakes’ parents, met with Warner and Kaine last week in hopes of gaining their support. Eric Oakes said Rep. Don McEachin, D-4th, and Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, have indicated they will vote in favor, too.

“Right now, we’ve got a lot of momentum,” Eric Oakes said. “I’d love to see all Virginia reps get behind this.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., reintroduced the Senate version of the bill last year, and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., has introduced similar legislation.

“We owe it to parents and students to pass this legislation to provide transparency and accountability around these incidents, as well as education on the dangers and life-long consequences of hazing,” Warner and Kaine said.

Let Us Help. Contact Us Today.