RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill known as “Adam’s Law” that will require student organizations at Virginia colleges to go through hazing prevention training.
A push for change in the way fraternities and sororities prevent hazing came in the wake of the death of Adam Oakes, a 19-year-old Virginia Commonwealth University freshman who died of alcoholic intoxication last year and whose death inspired the legislation.
“Adam’s Law” would compel student organizations at every public and private college and university to give each of its members, prospective members and their advisors “extensive, current, and in-person education about hazing, the dangers of hazing, including alcohol intoxication, and hazing laws and institution policies.”
“Your son did not die in vain,” Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears told Oakes’ family before the Virginia Senate passed the bill.
But state legislators still need to agree on whether to toughen the penalties for those found guilty of hazing when it leads to a death or serious injury.
While the 2022 General Assembly session is over, there are two different bills still being discussed between lawmakers ahead of an expected special session.
One introduced in the House of Delegates would make hazing a Class 5 felony, which could come with a 10-year sentence, if it results in death or “serious bodily injury.” The proposal would let students who try to help a hazing victim to present their actions in court as a part of their defense.
A measure proposed in the Senate would keep hazing a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by no more than a year, and grant people immunity from involuntary manslaughter if they took steps to help the victim, including seeking medical attention and cooperating with authorities.
The offices of Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) and Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-Fairfax), the sponsors of both bills and “Adam’s Law,” did not respond to interview requests. Both lawmakers are in the conference committees debating whether to toughen hazing penalties.
Oakes was found dead at an off-campus house on West Clay Street after a “big-little” Delta Chi fraternity party. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined the cause of death to be “ethanol toxicity,” a type of alcohol poisoning, and ruled it “an accident.”
Eleven members of the fraternity were charged with hazing in connection to the death and Delta Chi, which had been suspended before Oakes’ time at the university, was banned by VCU.
Andrew White, Oakes’ big brother in Delta Chi, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor hazing and serving alcohol to a minor in December but received no jail time. White has to perform community service, speak at five anti-hazing events and serve probation.
Under “Adam’s Law,” student organizations would also need to inform their members that the school’s disciplinary process in regards to hazing will not be “a substitute for the criminal legal process.” The measure grants those who report hazing immunity if they violate drug and alcohol rules.
The bill still needs to be signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has said he backs stronger hazing prevention laws, to go into effect.