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“I’m keeping my cousin's memory alive”: Family of Adam Oakes Starts Nonprofit

Adam family
Adam Oakes' family is forming a nonprofit to educate incoming college students on the dangers of hazing. (Source: Love Like Adam website)

The family of Virginia Commonwealth University student Adam Oakes has launched a nonprofit to educate high school students on the dangers of hazing. This comes a day after learning Oakes died of alcohol poisoning. 

“I’m keeping my cousin's memory alive, but also his voice alive. Everything that happened, we can try our best to prevent it from happening to anybody else,” said Courtney White, Oakes’ cousin, after setting up the nonprofit’s website on Tuesday.

The new organization, Love Like Adam, aims to “support, educate and equip” students through their transition out of high school, according to the website’s mission statement. The group also plans to hold information sessions with parents, and bring awareness among fraternities, sororities and university leadership regarding new anti-hazing laws.

“We’re hoping to educate students — seniors in particular — about different aspects of college life, so for example, alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses, and fraternities and sororities. All those things that we don’t feel like Adam had in preparation for going to college,” White said.

Oakes’ family recently raised money for scholarships, which will continue through the nonprofit. White says they have already awarded three $1,000 scholarships for seniors at Potomac Falls High School in Loudon County. She says she hopes the scholarship can benefit students nationwide by next school year.

“It’s not just about college. If somebody is going to a trade school, they can still earn the $1,000 too,” White said. 

Oakes, a 19-year-old VCU freshman, died in late February after an alleged hazing incident by the university’s chapter of the Delta Chi fraternity, which has since been suspended from campus. On its website, Love Like Adam described how Oakes was “instructed” to drink liquor as part of his initiation into the fraternity.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner found that Oakes’ official cause of death was “ethanol toxicity,” and the death is being considered “an accident.” White says the family is not upset with that terminology, since hazing deaths are often ruled accidental: “It doesn’t mean he wasn’t hazed or pressured. All it means is that his death wasn’t caused by natural causes.”

White says she hopes the medical examiner’s report will prompt VCU to appropriately discipline groups on campus that contributed to her cousin's death. The university is currently holding an independent investigation of its fraternities and sororities, and a police investigation into the incident is also ongoing.

White says the Oakes family hopes Love Like Adam can help fraternities and sororities move away from their infamous initiation practices.

"We don’t want to completely eliminate Greek life, because there are positive aspects of it. What we want to do is transform it into a productive, positive organizational system,” White said.