Student dies in VCU frat, triggering Greek life investigation

Image+via+The+Commonwealth+Times

Image via The Commonwealth Times

Helen Ehrlich, Editor-In-Chief

Adam Oakes was a 19-year-old Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) student from Loudoun County, Virginia. On Saturday, February 27, 2021 Oakes passed away near campus at a Delta Chi Fraternity event. Now VCU is not only indefinitely suspending Delta Chi, but the university is being forced to assess the culture of Greek life on campus.

 

Oakes had rushed the frat and on February 26, he was attending what would be the reveal of his “big” for the duration of his time in Delta Chi. Police were called to the frat house around 9 AM on the morning of February 27, where he was pronounced dead at the scene. While investigators have remained quiet on the matter, family members say he was given an excessive amount of whiskey and was blindfolded. At some point in the night he hit his head on a tree, though investigators told the family there was no head trauma. Partygoers confirmed he was seen drinking. He fell asleep on the side of a couch in the frat house and friends claimed to have checked in and found him to simply be asleep at midnight. He was left that way until frat members found him, unresponsive, the next morning.

VCU Fraternity is Suspended After Death of Student - The New York Times
Adam Oakes – Image via The New York Times

Delta Chi was suspended by the school from August of 2018 to August of 2019 for failure to comply with university policy. In 2018 all of the chapters in the governing Interfraternity Council on VCU’s campus had agreed on a ban on alcohol products above 15%, as well as an anti-hazing policy. Jack Daniels, of which Oakes was reportedly pressured into drinking a handle, has an alcohol content of 47%. 

 

VCU has suspended Delta Chi, as has the national headquarters of the frat. The chapter was served a cease and desist order. VCU is no longer expanding Greek life on campus at this time, shutting down recruitment for all fraternities and sororities. Students are calling for the abolition of Greek life on campus, with over 16,000 people signing a student-made petition. VCU’s Student Government Association called for the removal of Delta Chi and the expulsion of all students who were involved, but made it clear the issue expands beyond this single chapter.

 

Greek life plays a large role in the social environment of VCU, with over 1,500 students taking part in the 40 sororities and frats offered.

VCU Suspends Delta Chi Fraternity After Death of Student
Image via the Daily Beast

An independent investigation into Greek life at VCU has been launched by the university’s Division of Student Affairs. This is separate from the criminal one being handled by the Richmond Police Department. “While eager for answers, we must allow time for the investigation to proceed,” Senior Vice Provost Charles Klink said in response to calls for suspensions.

 

“We want justice for Adam, and that’s solely our purpose for this. It’s not to get anybody in trouble. We just want to know what happened and put an end to it,” Oakes’ family said. They are not working with the university’s investigation or calling for the removal of Greek life on campus. They say they would like to see removal of alcohol from the equation.

 

Calls to ban Greek life from campuses have been loud across the country. In the summer of 2020 many pointed to origins of white supremacy and the present culture of sexual abuse and racial division, demanding Greek life be abolished. However, many colleges have a financial dependence on Greek life for things like campus social scenes and housing. VCU is not immune to a reliance on their Frat Row on Cary Street as a provider of student housing. Though it was only established a decade ago, it has become especially valuable real estate as the school is already struggling to face the housing repercussions of mass evictions, overcrowding and gentrification in Richmond.

 

Over 82% of deaths related to hazing incidents involve alcohol. There has been at least one death related to fraternities each year since 1969.

 

About a week after Oake’s death, a Bowling Green student in Ohio died, allegedly due to alcohol and hazing. Duke University is removing nine of their frats after a series of incidents and Louisiana State University (LSU) has their Greek life chapters under investigation for hazing and alcohol-fueled abuses, signaling challenges to Southern fraternity culture. One of the most famous cases of hazing being brought to an international stage was Penn State’s removal of their Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) Fraternity after the death of Timothy Piazza, though they have since suspended other fraternities (DKE has also faced legal action at LSU and Rutgers due to abuse and deaths). The pandemic exacerbated concerns regarding fraternities, as chapters around the country got in trouble for holding parties and causing  COVID spikes. It also made the culture surrounding drinking even more complicated. 

 

The Oakes family is reportedly devastated at the loss. They continue to comment on his “big heart,” as they are forced to mourn the tragedy in the public eye. Oakes’ father told local news reporters, “It’s a hole in my heart that will never be healed…He was such a good kid. He only wanted to be accepted and he wanted to be friends with people.”