STERLING, Va. (DC News Now) — A Virginia family is using a tragedy to teach.
Adam Oakes was a 19-year-old freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University when he died after a hazing incident in February 2021.
Now, his family in Loudoun County is pushing for his hometown to lead the way in teaching about the dangers of hazing — and being a bystander.
Even though they lost Adam nearly two years ago, the pain felt by Adam’s father Eric Oakes, and cousin Courtney White is evident in speaking with them. They tell DC News Now that hurt is what’s driving them to take action to ensure no family ever has to go through what they went through.
“I miss him so much,” Eric Oakes said. “Everything he did. I mean, even if we were arguing, I miss that. What I wouldn’t give to have that.”
Adam Oakes was pledging VCU’s Delta Chi fraternity when he was forced to drink. He passed out and later passed away, after drinking more than five times the legal driving limit.
“We just really care about making changes and making sure everybody’s aware of what’s going on,” Eric Oakes said.
Oakes and White are pushing for change, starting in Adam’s hometown school district. They’re calling on Loudoun County Public Schools to become the first in Virginia to teach about the dangers of hazing to students before they go to college.
“Our job is to teach kids the various degrees of hazing,” White said. “It’s also to teach them how to identify it.”
Their advocacy has worked. Earlier this week, the county’s school board officially asked the legislature for funding for a pilot program to provide instruction about hazing.
“It’s really just so commendable that out of this tragedy, something good can come from it,” said Atoosa Reaser, a school board member. “Clearly this is something our kids have not had and will benefit from.”
Adam’s family said this is a crucial step. They’ve taught college students and have upcoming workshops at schools including Adam’s alma mater Potomac Falls High School. But they want as many people to learn the lessons — starting with middle and high schoolers.
“Giving them tools to try and deal with it, or to not even get in that situation beforehand, is important,” Eric Oakes said. “Knowledge is power.
“[Adam] always helped people when he was alive,” White said. “But now we’re allowing him to even help people in death.”
White said these efforts are even more important because several of those involved in the hazing death were from either Loudoun County or neighboring Fairfax County. She hopes teaching students in those districts now can prevent families from grieving later.