Virginia university faces blowback over school-branded beer after nearly $1M hazing-related death settlement


Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is facing backlash after it allowed university branding to be used on a local beer. 

This comes after the university had to pay nearly $1 million to the family of a student who died in 2021 after a fraternity hazing incident.

VCU has long banned its branding on alcoholic beverages as part of university policy, but in May, President Michael Rao changed the rules to allow an interim policy to allow branded beer.

VCU has since signed a beer contract with local brewery, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

Hardywood and the VCU alumni association are planning on selling a VCU-branded beer starting Oct. 26.

The beer will be a pale ale called “Ram Bam,” made by the Richmond brewery. 

Since the announcement, there has been mixed reactions about the VCU-branded beverage.

Everett Carpenter, president of the VCU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, expressed the organization’s concerns about the venture by writing an open letter to the school’s president.

“The proposed changes were voted down unanimously,” Carpenter wrote in an open letter to Rao. “This action violates the spirit of shared governance with your VCU colleagues.”

Carpenter wrote that the decision to push through this branding “seems incredibly insensitive and disrespectful considering recent alcohol-related tragedies.”

Last year, freshman Adam Oakes died due to hazing at a VCU fraternity.

In February 2021, Oakes had received a bid to the Delta Chi fraternity and was told to drink a large bottle of whiskey. The freshman was found dead the next morning.

The chief medical examiner ruled that the student’s death was caused by alcohol poisoning. The coroner found that Oakes’ blood alcohol content was 0.419, which is five times the legal limit.

In a press release, the university stated that VCU and the family of 19-year-old Adam Oakes reached an agreement that will make changes to fraternity and sorority life on campus in hopes of becoming a “national model” for other universities. The deal was approved Friday by the Fairfax County Circuit Court.

“This is a blueprint to foster a safer and healthier community for students who are part of fraternities and sororities and to create a climate of respect and inclusion that is needed for academic success,” a joint statement from the family and university said.

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“Adam was a beloved son, grandson, nephew, cousin, student and friend. He had a tremendous future ahead of him and his senseless death brought unspeakable pain and tragedy to all who knew him,” the statement said.

VCU and the Oakes family reached a $995,000 monetary settlement and will require VCU students to complete 12 credit hours and other eligibility requirements before joining a fraternity or sorority. 

It will also prohibit alcohol at any activity of any fraternity or sorority attended by new members, and tighten the rules for alcohol served or consumed at student organization functions.

VCU will begin the process of creating a physical memorial to Oakes on campus, and will designate Feb. 27 as an annual hazing prevention day and day of remembrance for Oakes. 

The settlement also contains a reporting requirement for information about student organizations found to be in violation of the code of conduct.

Delta Chi faced discipline each of its last seven years on campus, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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The university suspended Delta Chi in March 2021, as did the fraternity’s national chapter. The fraternity was expelled from the school in June 2021.

Eight students were each charged with criminal hazing. Four of them were also charged with providing alcohol to a minor, officials said.

Seven were held without bond, while the eighth was arrested and released on bond. None of the students received jail time.

The Associated Press contributed to this post.

Virginia Commonwealth University is facing criticism after it partnered with a brewery on a branded beer, months after a student died of alcohol poisoning.

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