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VCU shares findings of Greek life review after student death

The university’s recommendations include a permanent ban on alcohol at fraternity and sorority events

Adam Oakes with his mother, Linda Oakes. Adam Oakes died of alcohol poisoning in February following a fraternity event at Virginia Commonwealth University. (Family photo)

Virginia Commonwealth University has released the results of two months-long reviews of Greek life on campus, initiated after a first-year student died following a fraternity event in February.

Adam Oakes, 19, died of alcohol poisoning following an event hosted by Delta Chi fraternity, the state medical examiner said in June. His death, under ongoing investigation by Richmond police, triggered an investigation into Delta Chi that resulted in the group’s expulsion from campus.

Amid heightened scrutiny of Greek life on campus, the university after Oakes’s death also moved to conduct a review of all Greek life on campus, and contracted an outside firm to perform a similar audit. The results were made public Monday.

VCU freshman found dead after fraternity event, his family says, and they are seeking answers

“These reviews make important recommendations about how VCU can improve safety, oversight and accountability of our fraternity and sorority organizations,” Michael Rao, the university’s president, said in a statement. “It’s clear that change will be beneficial, and we are committed to making that change happen.”

The university hired Dyad Strategies LLC to conduct an external review. The firm concluded VCU’s Greek life community “has a healthy culture and is providing members with an experience that is largely positive and meaningful.”

But there are persistent concerns around hazing, the firm found, and the campus’s organizations are dealing with many of the same challenges felt by groups at other schools, particularly around sexual assault and alcohol abuse.

Virginia Commonwealth University expels Delta Chi fraternity after student’s death

The firm made 14 recommendations, including expanding the school’s hazing policy, naming a hazing prevention coordinator, developing a campuswide plan to prevent hazing and working with fraternities to reevaluate “Big Brother” mentorship programs.

Oakes attended a Delta Chi “Big Little Reveal” — an event in which he would be introduced to his “big brother” in the fraternity — the night he died, according to his family. His family in June said the school’s Greek organizations need stronger anti-hazing policies.

The family did not immediately respond to a new request for comment Monday.

The university’s report on the campus’s 20 fraternities and 17 sororities made several recommendations that will be considered by five working groups, including calls to address party and alcohol culture, and improve health and safety for the 1,200 students involved in Greek life.

While alcohol is banned at recruitment events, the Dyad Strategies report found the substance has become more prominent in those settings. VCU is prohibiting alcohol at all Greek events this school year but is recommending that policy become permanent.

VCU launches review of Greek life after student dies

Richard O. Bunce Jr., senior adviser to the university’s provost, said in the report that some recommendations have either already taken effect or are in the process of being implemented. Others are being referred to working groups charged with examining health and safety, recruitment, hazing, university and community relations, and the responsibilities of the staff members who monitor Greek life.

University officials will provide an update on the school’s progress by Dec. 1.

“This work builds on important actions the university took following Adam’s tragic death,” Rao said. “VCU is committed to working with our fraternity and sorority students, alumni and national organizations to build a healthy and prosperous culture for our fraternity and sorority organizations.”