Virginia Legislature Passes Bills to Require Hazing Prevention Training on College Campuses

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On Sunday afternoon, the anniversary of the death of Adam Oakes, 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 photo of Adam on a dogwood tree.

The next day, the Oakes family sat in galleries of the Virginia Capitol, watching as the legislature overwhelmingly passed “Adam’s Law,” which would require student organizations at colleges to undergo hazing prevention training.

The bill now goes to Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has said he supports stronger hazing laws.

Oakes was a 19-year-old freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University when he died of alcohol intoxication following a Delta Chi “big-little” party on Feb. 27, 2021.

“I think he would be proud of everything we’ve been able to accomplish the past year,” said his cousin, Courtney White.

The Senate was the first wing of the General Assembly to pass the bill Monday, voting 40-0.

Minutes later, the House passed an identical version 98-1. Del. Will Wampler III, R-Washington County, was the lone opposition.

“Your son did not die in vain,” Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears told the Oakes family before the Senate passed the bill. “Adam is making his mark on this world by having a law passed 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 advisers for each student organization to conduct extensive, in-person training and education about hazing and alcohol intoxication. It also requires that colleges give immunity to bystanders who report hazing if they are guilty of alcohol or drug violations.

The bill applies to public and private colleges.

Under the bill, colleges would be required to post on their websites the violations of their student organizations. 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 punishment later reduced to one year.

Cornell University already posts its fraternity and sorority violations, and VCU said last fall that it intends to do so.

Adam’s Law requires colleges to report hazing violations to the Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform at Pennsylvania State University, which studies hazing at a national level.

Two more bills that address 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 no more than 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 Senate will rectify their differences in conference.

The Oakes family supports upping the punishment to a felony.

“You’re going to be held accountable for your actions from here on out,” White said.

For more than an hour, on Sunday, Oakes’ family and friends stood in front of the house, less than a mile from VCU’s campus, where members of Delta Chi held a raucous party.

“We’re making changes now,” said Eric Oakes, fighting off tears. “We’ll save the next kid and the next family from having to go through what we’re going through.”

Richmond Times – Dispatch Story Here.

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