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VCU community calling for justice after student found dead

"It’s been a death that’s affected a lot of us very harshly."
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Posted at 6:13 PM, Mar 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-01 18:38:38-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- VCU sophomore Haley Caldwell left a sorority for personal reasons, but she said she saw the social and emotional benefits Greek life on campus can bring to students, even though the organizations comprise a small percentage of the student body.

“When you come to campus, you don’t have anyone. Maybe your roommate and some friends you made before you got here, but you don’t know anyone,” Caldwell said. “If you don’t want to be around it, you won’t be. If you do want to be around it, it surrounds you.”

Caldwell and other VCU students are now calling for answers following the death of 19-year-old Adam Oakes this weekend.

Family members were told Oakes died after excessive drinking at a fraternity event at a house off-campus and the organization in question has been suspended.

Adam Oakes
Adam Oakes

“It’s been a death that’s affected a lot of us very harshly because Adam was a very sweet person from everything I hear,” Caldwell said. “There’s a lot of people very sad about his death; a lot of people very angry.”

Oakes, whose family is from Sterling, was found unresponsive and pronounced dead by emergency crews when they found him Saturday morning at a house on W Clay Street near downtown, according to Richmond Police.

“He just had such a big heart, you know,” Oakes father Eric told CBS 6 in an interview Sunday. “He was such a good kid. He only wanted to be accepted and be friends with people.”

The VCU freshman had been extended a bid to join the Delta Chi chapter at VCU, according to his family. Family members said they were told that Oakes was given a dangerous amount of alcohol at a fraternity event Friday night and, at some point, was blind-folded and hit his head on a tree.

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Clay Street

“This is just what the boys there said. He passed out on the couch on his side,” said Courtney White, Oakes’ cousin. “They checked on him at midnight, he was breathing. The next morning they checked on him and he was face down on the couch and when they rolled him over half of his face was purple.”

VCU and Richmond police are investigating, but officials have not confirmed specific details of how Oakes died.

The VCU and Delta Chi national headquarters issued the VCU chapter cease-and-desist orders following Oakes death. Delta Chi released a statement Monday:

“We were devastated to learn of the death of a student at Virginia Commonwealth University and extend our condolence to the family, friends, and everyone touched by this heart-breaking news,” the statement said. “We encourage all members to cooperate with law enforcement investigative efforts and all directives of the University Administration.”

Oakes family said despite efforts made nationally following several high publicized deaths at fraternities in the mid-2010’s, more oversight of Greek organizations is needed.

“Just because in 2018, they put a ban on hazing, fraternities and sororities are manipulating the system,” White said.

An online petition calling on VCU to expel the Delta Chi chapter garnered nearly 8,000 signatures by Monday evening. A Go FundMe page set up to help Oakes family raised more than $33k by Monday night.

Caldwell echoed calls for more supervision and openness surrounding Greek organizations on campus.

“There was a situation where a freshman died at a party. How do we know that won’t happen again?” she asked. Her main focus now is honoring a fellow Ram she never got to meet.

“He does not deserve to have lost the chance of knowing VCU for the love that we can give,” Caldwell said.

A virtual memorial service is scheduled for Wednesday night at 6 p.m. via Zoom. Organizers are also planning a physical memorial so students can leave flowers and other items at Monroe Park, but they ask that anyone who stops by wear a mask.