RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A bill championed as “Adam’s Law” has moved forward in the General Assembly. It’s one of two anti-hazing bills honoring Virginia Commonwealth University freshman Adam Oakes, who died at a fraternity event last year.
Adam’s family has been working on the bills alongside state lawmakers for months before getting to this point. “Adam’s Law” is now headed to the full Senate after a stamp of approval from a Senate committee last week. It’s a sign that the measure has a good chance of becoming law.
“It’s not just us that sees the need for change,” Courtney White, Adam’s cousin, told WFXR’s sister station, WRIC, on Monday, Jan. 24.
Last week, in emotional testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education, Eric Oakes, Adam’s father, told the senators, “We’re here today to support Adam’s Law.”
Adam’s father choked back tears as he described how his son had touched the lives of students around him, but said he still struggles to come to grips with his death.
“I think about what happened to Adam,” Eric said. “And I can’t understand why no one got him help.”
Adam died from alcohol poisoning while pledging to become a member of VCU’s Delta Chi fraternity last year.
White said for the bill to move forward, a part of the language requiring an advisor to be present at official events with new Greek life members was taken out after schools she spoke with said they don’t have enough volunteer advisors.
The version of the bill that passed to reach the full Senate requires that schools publicly post founded instances of hazing on the college or university’s websites.
“This is huge. You’re basically saying ‘here’s the incidents that have occurred’ and you’re letting people make better decisions,” White said.
It also requires students to get more anti-hazing training.
“You’re giving kids the tools and the education they need to say ‘No. No, I’m not gonna engage in this. No, I’m not going to let you do that to my friend,'” Adam’s cousin added.
Another bill set to be considered this week would give immunity to bystanders who ask for help when hazing is happening. It also toughens the criminal charge if a victim is seriously injured or dies.
“The idea is to deter the bad behavior and when you see something happen, say something. Step up,” Eric told WRIC on Monday.
The criminal charge would shift from a misdemeanor to a felony, which can carry a 10-year sentence.
According to White, the family is expecting to testify before lawmakers again on Wednesday, Jan. 26, saying, “I feel very hopeful, very hopeful that we are going to make permanent change in the state of Virginia.”
WFXR’s sister station asked the family if they believe Adam would still be alive if the measures were in place before he died.
“I 100 percent think that. Yes,” White said.
They said that someone would have gone to grab help if they knew they wouldn’t get in trouble.
White added, “my aunt and uncle could have gone online and seen the long history of VCU’s Delta Chi and the detrimental behavior that they’ve been engaging in for years and they would have seen that and they would have deterred him from joining.”
The Oakes family said the bill will save lives in the Commonwealth if it’s passed.
The measures would not apply to the 11 young men charged in Adam’s case, who are still in and out of court hearings this winter. One of the men charged, Andrew White, has pled guilty and is set to be sentenced in March.