RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) announced plans to join a national hazing prevention initiative, but some close to the cause are worried it’s more of a distraction than a solution.
When VCU Freshman Adam Oakes died from alcohol poisoning in a fraternity hazing incident in early 2021, shock waves and devastation rippled across the VCU community and Virginia. Since his tragic death, Oakes’ loved ones — like cousin Courtney White — have advocated extensively for systemic change in Greek life operations while working closely with VCU.
There was the production of a documentary to raise awareness, anti-hazing legislation signed and new Greek life initiation policies put in place. However, a recent announcement that VCU would be joining the “StopHazing” initiative prompted some questions.
“StopHazing’s” hazing prevention consortium is an effort that began in 2013 and uses a “data-driven approach” to educate about safety and intervention, but some fear it’s just smoke and mirrors — distracting from actual ways to make an impact.
“They’re trying to put a band-aid over a severe wound,” White said. “There’s research to back-up that this is not, you know, this is not an effective practice.”
Oakes’ cousin is a prominent advocate against hazing. She travels the country speaking at schools about its danger and impact. In her research, she noted the aforementioned program has been historically unsuccessful.
“I actually specifically said, ‘Please don’t do it’,” White said in reference to VCU joining the national “StopHazing” initiative.
One might recall the devastating story of University of Missouri student Danny Santulli who remains unable to speak, walk or see after a fraternity hazing incident his freshman year in 2021. White highlighted that the University of Missouri took part in this national program for a total of six years. Community members have asked whether the StopHazing initiative creates tangible progress in the movement against hazing or if it’s just about optics.
White and VCU have worked together since 2021 to honor Adam Oakes and improve the Greek life system on campus. VCU said it is dedicated to creating a safe campus, which is what this “StopHazing” program is designed to do. White just hopes to continue to propel the movement against hazing forward by turning to the students in the most impactful way possible without distractions.
“The kids have the power and the control to change the culture on the campus,” White said. “We need to be doing more to listen to them and to listen and hear what they’re telling us the issues are. The kids at VCU are advocates. They know change is needed.”