Virginia lawmakers are considering proposed legislation to update and strengthen anti-hazing policies at colleges and universities nearly a year after a Loudoun County teen died during a college pledge event.
On Monday and Thursday Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-33rd), who is carrying SB 439, otherwise known as “Adams Law,” brought the proposal forward to Senate committee that reviews higher education bills in Richmond.
The bill, named for Adam Oakes, a graduate of Potomac Falls High School, was passed by both the subcommittee on education and health in higher education and Senate Committee on Education and Health, sending it to the full Senate for a full vote.
“The stakeholders that I’ve been working with, and I believe that we must increase the specificity of the policy in order to effectively eliminate this tragedy,” Boysko said on Monday.
As previously reported, 19-year-old Adam Oakes died on the night of Feb. 26, 2021, at an off-campus house operated by Virginia Commonwealth University’s chapter of the Delta Chi fraternity. Courtney White, Adam Oakes’ cousin, told the Times-Mirror he was pledging to the fraternity at the time, and was urged to drink more than 20 shots of liquor during the night.
At the end of September, 11 members of the Delta Chi fraternity at the university were arrested and charged with hazing in connection to Oakes’ death.
“When Adam passed out, they left him lying there on the cold hard floor of the fraternity house," White said. "No one intervened to help. Adam never woke up again. And, his first night as a pledge ended up being his last”.
Virginia Code classifies unlawful hazing as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Under the proposed legislation, Boysko said the law requires that an advisor must be present at all official events for new and potential new members.
Additionally, she said the advisors shall undergo hazing prevention training, provide all members and new members with extensive current and in-person education about hazing, the dangers of hazing including alcohol intoxication, and hazing laws and institutional policies with information explaining the institution’s disciplinary process is not to be considered a substitute for the criminal legal process.
The institutions would provide this education to potential new members as well, she said. Boysko said Adam Oakes was a potential new member and he did not undergo any training.
The Senator said beginning with the 2022-2023 academic year, the bill would require each institution to maintain and publicly report actual findings of violations of the institution’s code of conduct, or a federal or state law enforcement, and post these on each institution’s homepage, the Greek Life homepage or its equivalent in prominent locations and make a hard copy available for all attendees at the new student orientations.
Reports would be maintained for a minimum of 10 years from the date of disclosure, she said.
White, who shared similar stories of other college students within the past 10 years. She said some of which are not directly through fraternities and sororities, but also through other interest groups such as marching bands.
“Hazing isn’t just a state issue, it’s a national danger to our children, our grandchildren, our nieces, our nephews and our cousins and our future,” White said.
She said further that part of the reason why hazing has remained and has intensified is because alumni are still involved in teaching these practices with “the mentality of, ‘I went through it and you’re going to go through it.’”
No one has spoke in opposition.
The bill is scheduled to be heard by the full Senate Friday for a first read.
If the Senate passes the proposed legislation, it would move to the House of Delegates for a vote. The House must approve the legislation before it goes to Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) for final approval.