Rob’s Report: AEPi Continues to Lead

Last week AEPi closed our chapter at Northwestern University. Although chapters occasionally close, this one hit particularly close to home and inspired me to write this “Rob’s Report” explaining a bit about why and giving you some insight into how AEPi approaches some of the most difficult issues facing our students.

Our Northwestern chapter was a model chapter for more than 20 years. It had a fantastic and engaged adviser, alumni support, and deep communal ties. Of note, there are currently three Northwestern alumni serving on AEPi’s international board. It is also a group that I have personally worked with for several years, through the pandemic, since I live in close proximity.

In the fall of 2021, the chapter made newspaper headlines when a young woman claimed that she was drugged during a party at the chapter house. Following an investigation by the Evanston police and the Northwestern University administration, it was determined that AEPi was not involved in such activity. Our Brothers did their best to work with the proper officials throughout those investigations. They conducted themselves in a way in which we could be proud of: placing the wellbeing of a victim above their own and looking internally at their processes to ensure that AEPi would be a safe organization.

During those inquiries, it was found that that the chapter held a party in their on-campus facility where they failed to adhere to university and AEPi policies. Specifically, they served alcohol — including hard alcohol — to minors and did not utilize any security protocols. They were given sanctions and probation in relation to their violation of university and fraternity policies. Subsequently, the chapter has repeatedly violated their probation by holding social events on and off campus, some of which have led to headlines in the Northwestern Daily newspaper. That media outlet is particularly biased against fraternities and, unfortunately, those slanted stories have sometimes been picked up and parroted by other local media.

Universities and Alpha Epsilon Pi Headquarters sometimes disagree on methods of handling chapter misconduct but in this case we both felt that the chapter’s repeated violations and unwillingness to be held accountable became a chronic and untenable situation. When cultures arise that we believe could put future students in harm’s way, we proactively close AEPi. This was a very difficult decision to make but one which allows us to return to campus in the future with a group of men in whom we can all be proud.

I want to assure you that Alpha Epsilon Pi International does not tolerate behavior that fails to represent our Jewish values and we rapidly intervene to prevent behavior which puts others at risk. In October of 2022, we closed our Phi chapter at University of Massachusetts when their behavior led to our inability to trust in their judgement that they would uphold our values. Chapter closures are, unfortunately, a part of our organization that we grapple with but are one tactic that we use to ensure that AEPi operates within the boundaries of our values. We also regularly intervene when chapters exhibit bad behaviors to educate and rehabilitate the groups.

Importantly, 18-22-year-old young men are at a critical stage of physical and emotional development that sometimes yields poor decision making. This demographic is also one which is most in need of mentorship, structure, and experiences which build them into strong Jewish leaders.

The Jewish community sends a substantial percentage of our children to college. As such, the community can be envisioned like an hourglass where tremendous diversity of programs, organizations, and movements exist both pre and post college. AEPi exists at the narrow neck of the hourglass providing an immersive program for this demographic. Our work requires us to engage with students in all facets of their lives; even parts that are difficult and uncomfortable. We know that this approach puts the organization at risk for occasional bad headlines, but we have to engage with these students in this way because if we do not, nobody would.

We take a proactive approach in these areas of personal development by delivering resources to our students who, like all students on campus, face difficult societal issues such as hazing, sexual assault, and drug & alcohol abuse. AEPi delivers and mandates completion of a baseline e-learning program focusing on prevention training for alcohol, drugs, sexual assault, hazing, and violence. The program also includes premises safety and mental health awareness resources for every single one of our students. We also provide antisemitism preparedness and situational awareness resources to proactively help students face issues specific to our Jewish community.

Not only do we deliver resources via e-learning, staff and volunteers also engage students to continue the conversations openly and candidly at conventions, regional retreats, our Leven Leadership Academy, and every day via zoom and in-person consultations and meetings. Chapters maintain conduct boards, just as they have always done, which help to promote excellence by ensuring accountability between brothers and their chapters is maintained.

We have and continue to invest heavily in increasing the quantity and quality of our regional staff who engage in these efforts. I am very proud that AEPi is a leader in this space within both Greek and Jewish campus organizations. We believe that our safety and success outcomes best those of the overall campus environment.

That said, we are deeply engaged in working to make our campus communities safer and better. It is clear to us that colleges have a lot of work to do to before their efforts are commensurate with ours. Over the summer, we sent an advocacy letter to over 500 campus presidents and key administrators which included the following language:

“It is the responsibility of each university to foster a safe campus environment and to combat prevalent issues common amidst their student populations. Among the most common issues that we see are substance abuse, sexual assault, hazing, physical safety and security, and poor mental wellness. Alpha Epsilon Pi feels that strong systems of individual accountability are the only way to make positive impact on campus culture. By contrast, failure to hold individual students accountable for violation of university policy has a negative impact on campus safety…We are not abdicating our role in student accountability. In fact, our chapters maintain their own peer conduct procedures and our headquarters staff provides training and guidance in this area on a consistent basis. To our knowledge, few other types of student organizations maintain systems for peer accountability –something we are very proud of. If there is concern over the conduct of our chapter or its members, we encourage you to proactively contact our headquarters staff…

There are some simple steps that we ask you to take to exhibit strong partnership:

    1. Ensure that all of your departments and your university police or security force operate with full transparency. This includes timely compliance with open records requests.
    2. Compile and share statistics on campus safety incidents. If possible, share with each community of organizations (Greeks, athletic teams, clubs, student government, religious organizations, etc.) statistics on safety incidents attributable to their events compared to the university community as a whole.
    3. Require all university administrators to copy fraternity headquarters staff and advisors on correspondence with student leaders related to operations and conduct issues.
    4. Allow volunteer advisors and/or fraternity staff to advise or serve as advocates for students or chapters within student conduct proceedings.

Protecting the Jewish Community

We are witnessing an alarming increase in antisemitism in the United States and Canada.  The Antidefamation League reports a 34% increase in antisemitic incidents over the last year. In a study performed by the Louis D. Brandeis Center it was found that 65% of openly Jewish students on campus have felt unsafe and that 50% actively hide their Jewish identity. We ask for your partnership in creating a safe campus for Jewish students. Following are some simple steps that you can take to combat antisemitism:

    1. If you have not already done so, please adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of Antisemitism so that it is clearly identifiable on your campus.
    2. Encourage your DEI offices and officers to include Jewish narratives and voices in their initiatives and trainings.
    3. Monitor rhetoric in student newspapers and on social media. Antisemitic or racist rhetoric need not be printed in student media which utilize university resources as these are subject to your code of conduct.
    4. Get engaged with Jewish students on campus by coming to their events and publicly showing your allyship.

AEPi’s International Office, along with our campus partners at organizations such as Chabad on Campus and Hillel International, is available to provide support in this area of programming and sensitivity.

I’m happy to tell you that, despite the temporary setbacks that occur, Alpha Epsilon Pi is thriving. We have opened new chapters this year in North Central Philadelphia, Chicago Metro, Emory, Tulane, George Washington, and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Our initiation numbers are trending upwards towards pre-Covid levels, and our undergrads are programming and raising philanthropic dollars.

To that end, I hope you saw the news we reported yesterday that our Brothers raised more than $40,000 in our annual Mensch Madness competition to benefit our Repair the World fund which supports Jewish and Israeli causes. This year’s bracket challenge was our most successful ever!

Last month, our 19-year partnership with Gift of Life Marrow Registry generated our 613th match. The number 613 is very important to Jews as the Torah lists 613 mitzvot. Those 613 matches have saved 80 lives! Check out this amazing article about this achievement! Many thanks to the hundreds of our Brothers who participate in this partnership and make a difference in our world.

We believe strongly that AEPi is achieving our mission of developing the future leaders of the Jewish community and we will continue to emphasize the positives of our experience.