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Virginia fraternity is suspended after death of student

  • NEW YORK TIMES
                                An undated photo shows Adam Oakes, who was found dead after a hazing event near the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.

    NEW YORK TIMES

    An undated photo shows Adam Oakes, who was found dead after a hazing event near the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.

Virginia Commonwealth University has suspended a fraternity after a freshman, Adam Oakes, 19, of Sterling, Virginia, was found dead over the weekend at an off-campus house where a family member said he had been blindfolded and given alcohol.

The university said in a statement Sunday that it had issued a cease-and-desist order to a chapter of the Delta Chi fraternity, suspending its operations on campus. The fraternity’s national organization also said it had suspended the chapter, one of 114 affiliates in the United States.

The university and the fraternity’s headquarters Monday declined to provide further details on the chapter’s connection with Oakes’ death. The university called his death a “tragic loss” and offered counseling to students. It said campus police and the Richmond Police Department were investigating. Few details were available Monday.

Oakes was found at 9:16 a.m. Saturday by the Richmond police, who were called to the residence at the 100 block of West Clay Street. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and the medical examiner will determine cause and manner of death, the department said. A spokesperson would not say if there had been any arrests.

Courtney White, a cousin of Oakes, told The Richmond Times-Dispatch and other local media that Oakes had attended a hazing party and been handed Jack Daniels to drink. She said he was blindfolded, as part of a ritual, and at one point hit his head. Oakes was placed on a couch on his side, and he was found dead Saturday morning, face down, she said. She said that she had spoken with people at the event and to the police investigating her cousin’s death.

“He ended up falling into a tree and hitting his head on a tree,” White told WTVR. “We don’t know if he passed out or was unconscious, we’re not sure how he ended up on the couch.” She did not respond to a message Monday.

Asked about White’s remarks about hazing, a spokesperson for Delta Chi cited the fraternity’s policy forbidding members from conducting, participating in and condoning hazing activities.

“Permission or approval by a person being hazed is not a defense,” the policy states.

Hazing as part of an initiation rite into a group or team can involve bullying, violence or humiliation. The VCU student code of conduct, which applies to behavior on the university’s premises, at sponsored activities and at off-campus locations, says hazing and the use of alcohol are both prohibited.

Hazing and occasional deaths at fraternities have been a problem on campuses for decades. In November, a member of a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at Louisiana State University was charged with a dozen misdemeanor counts and one felony count of criminal hazing, and one count of failure to seek assistance, in connection with hazing that left another student on life support.

More than 82% of deaths by hazing involve alcohol, according to a study by Dr. Elizabeth Allan, director of the StopHazing Research Lab. It is commonly associated with colleges and universities, but can occur in clubs, teams and organizations.

Eric Oakes, Adam’s father, who could not be reached for comment, told a local interviewer that his son chose to attend VCU to be closer to his family in Loudoun County in Northern Virginia.

“He was such a good kid,” Oakes told WTVR. “He only wanted to be accepted and he wanted to be friends with people.”

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