Despite the pandemic and social distancing restrictions, two U.S. college students died this semester in hazing-related incidents that have left the public with plenty of unanswered questions.
In Season 1, Episode 4 of Why Don’t We Know, we looked at how misconduct within Greek life is often handled secretly at universities, and just six months after that episode aired, yet another student lost his life. Just two weeks after him, there was another.
Adam Oakes, a 19-year-old pledge at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Delta Chi chapter, died on February 28, just hours after a fraternity gathering where he was to be given a ‘big brother’ – a mentoring-type of relationship common in the Greek system. His cousin told The Richmond Times-Dispatch that he was forced to drink alcohol and was blindfolded before running into a tree. He was found unconscious and pronounced dead on the scene. Less than a week later, on March 4, 20-year-old pledge, Stone Foltz, was put through a deadly hazing ritual at Bowling Green State University’s Pi Kappa Alpha chapter. He died of alcohol poisoning after three days in the hospital, where his family decided to stop life support. Both deaths garnered national media attention and are considered to be hazing-related. While details are still sparse, here’s what we do know: Neither university or fraternity has been forthcoming with information.
I tried to search for prior violations at both schools where the deaths occurred and in both cases, I encountered roadblocks. Neither the school nor national chapter of the fraternities have this information posted on their websites, or anywhere public.
At VCU – which announced a comprehensive investigation of Greek life as a result of Oakes death – my public records request for prior violations by that fraternity was denied because I am “not a resident of Virginia.”
This means if you’re an out-of-state student (or parent) seeking information about your own university, you might not be able to get that information – simply because of your permanent address. It’s a significant hurdle that impedes the ability of students to make informed decisions about safe student organizations.
I also reached out to BGSU, asking for the same violation history, and two weeks after my initial request, I received the prior incident reports on the Pi Kappa Alpha chapter, one in December 2018 and the other in November 2019. Both of the incidents were reported by anonymous students concerned of hazing within the fraternity. The reports stated that there was insufficient information for a code of student conduct investigation. But, the 2019 incident resulted in Pi Kappa Alpha’s international headquarters placing the BGSU chapter on probation, fining them, implementing a four-week new member education program, and requiring a certification of no hazing to be signed by all members.
Although BGSU provided these incident reports through a public records request, there is still no easy way to find them instantly online, forcing parents to go through layers of bureaucracy and FOIA requests to make an informed choice.