Safety and security of students on campus has always been a priority but these days it certainly takes on a new sense of urgency. In many ways, we have been working for many years on the issues that have become acute on college campuses this semester.
AEPi is the Jewish community’s expert on student codes of conduct and other university policy as well as how these interfaces with the law. There are many safety issues on campuses, some of which I have discussed in prior articles but AEPi has been a consistent advocate for safe campuses year in and year out. For example, each summer, Alpha Epsilon Pi issues an advocacy letter to hundreds of university administrators, college presidents, deans of students, DEI offices, Greek life offices, and campus police or security forces. This letter covers a wide variety of topics related to student safety, but it includes a discussion on the special needs of Jewish students due to antisemitic and anti-Zionist activity on campus. The letter urges universities to take their role to ensure a safe campus seriously and to be conscientious of these specific issues for Jewish students. On this topic we asked seven things:
- 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.
- Encourage your DEI offices and officers to include Jewish narratives and voices in their initiatives and training.
- Monitor rhetoric in student newspapers and on social media. Antisemitic or racist rhetoric need not be printed in student media which utilize university resources. Your publications and your students are subject to your code of conduct.
- Get engaged with Jewish students on campus by coming to their events and publicly showing your allyship.
- Ensure that your professors do not discriminate against their students based on their Jewish or Zionist identities.
- Ensure that the policies of Greek Counsels support Jewish Community building and Jewish spaces commensurate with those of other minority groups.
- If you maintain a campus police or security force, ensure that they are prepared to liaison with federal agencies on matters of antisemitism and domestic terrorism.
Knowing that the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas could potentially spike these issues, we issued a second letter in early October urging campuses to use their security forces and police forces appropriately to guard Jewish organizations and facilities. In mid-October, we issued a third letter to universities demanding that they remove dangerous students from their campuses and take responsibility for the safety of all students seriously. In mid-November we released a new letter highlighting the efforts of Brandeis and Columbia after our last letter with the message to administrators that they are making a choice. We hope to launch a platform in the next few weeks which allows our students, parents, and alumni a chance to sign on to our messages and to those more specific to individual campuses.
Today we continue to advocate for the same seven actions and have redoubled our efforts in advocacy and made it clear to our university administrators that we are available to serve as a resource for them as they struggle to implement elements of these seven requests. Two weeks ago, we were proud to host a zoom panel discussion which was attended by over 150 campus administrators. The panel shed light on what constitutes Jewish identity and how that identity can be intrinsically tied into Zionism. We discussed Title Six as well as gave a pragmatic viewpoint on the prevailing symptoms of antisemitism on campuses. Again, we made it clear that AEPi is a community stakeholder on these campuses and within higher education and that we are here to help them create positive and safe campus spaces.
Although advocacy is critical, we know that advocacy alone will not keep members safe. Security efforts from AEPi focus primarily around training our members to address their own personal security. As we have seen in the past few months, incidents on campus are aimed at individual students just as much as at Jewish communal buildings. Several years ago, Alpha Epsilon Pi developed a custom new member education program that is delivered through an e-learning platform. Our members are mandated to take this course within their first semester of membership. The course also remains available to them via their MyAEPi platform throughout their time as an undergraduate Brother.
AEPi invested in developing this custom course — rather than repurchasing an off-the-shelf solution – to enable us to include information relevant to the Jewish college student experience. Our course offers information on antisemitism and provides very basic situational awareness training, and training in the concept of run/hide/fight. Although it is not a deep dive, we are very proud that our members are being trained with information that helps them to maintain their own personal security. We believe we are the only Jewish or collegiate organization that ensures all our members have some level of training. We are working to rapidly develop a specific e-learning course that covers these topics more in depth, so that we can deliver it to our students at this critical time.
We also have resources for parents, including discussion guides on antisemitism and safety, on our website. Resources | AEPi We alert parents about these via a letter that we send them upon their student joining our fraternity and we urge them to have discussions with their students proactively. Parents can play an enormous role in helping to reinforce what AEPi is teaching their students.
About 1,000 of our 8,900 members currently live in facilities that are owned or operated by entities associated with the fraternity. Unfortunately, these facilities are not eligible to receive the Department of Homeland Security grants that have enabled many Jewish communal buildings to rapidly upgrade their security infrastructure. Despite the funding challenge, we have ensured that these facilities can maintain secure access with doors and windows in good working condition and upgraded with sturdy locks. We have begun to install security cameras on the exterior of our facilities. All remaining facilities that have not had this will in the next few weeks thanks to the recent generosity of one of our alumni donors. We will continue to upgrade security features at these properties as finances allow us to do so and we appreciate the support given to help us in expediting that process. If you wish to contribute to this effort, please contact me and I will be happy to discuss our needs with you!
It is vitally important for all chapters and members to maintain vigilance and adopt appropriate operating protocols. Some of these are simple and pragmatic but we know that others stretch already limited resources for chapters with limited budgets. In the days after October 7, AEPi communicated expectations for each chapter and our staff followed up with individualized support.
Many parents and students have asked if AEPi could provide security guards for chapters. Unfortunately, we have very limited funding for such an ongoing security presence. We are only able to deploy that resource in instances where we have identified specific and credible physical threats. We work with SCN, the FBI, and local law enforcement to identify and mitigate those threats.
For example, we had an instance at a campus in the northeast where a social media post online called for physical violence against a specific member who lived at our facility. The post got traction and we deployed law enforcement and security until the threat was neutralized by law enforcement. Most instances that we are seeing, like this one, are not persistent threats. They are specific incidents whose timing and targets cannot be predicted. We have been advised that the best way to tackle rising instances with limited resources is to work closely with law enforcement and community resources to make them aware of increased environmental threat assessment levels.
Adding to the complexity of protecting Jewish students is that AEPi members (and other Jewish students) live at multiple locations and that incidents have occurred beyond the confines of students’ fraternity houses or homes. In fact, we have seen threats and assaults while students are on their way to and from classes or social events far more often than at facilities or known Jewish gathering places.
I thought that is important that I use this space to communicate some of the work that AEPi is doing but refuse to end with doom and gloom. In Parsha Pekudei the assembled cry out “hazak, hazak, ve-nithazek” (be strong, be strong and may we be strengthened)! Well…AEPi and the Jewish community has challenges, but we are strong, we are leaders, and we are strengthened.
A year ago, we started tracking the good work that our chapters do on campus. We tracked more than 5,878 programs in the first year but just during this fall term, AEPi tracked more than 5,739 individual programs that were coordinated by our chapters ranging from Shabbat dinners to parties and tailgates to formal dances. These programs have had a positive impact on over 275,000 individuals on campus and create cross-communal connections that combat the scourge of antisemitism. Notably, we had 81 chapters participate in a Day of Strength (in the week after October 7) showing support for Israel and 125 participate in Shabbat across AEPi. Chapters also have raised over $300,000 for philanthropy during this fall term.
Oh, and we initiated over 1,500 new Brothers and will have a record attendance at our Leven Leadership Academy in a few days. I have a feeling we will be even further strengthened when our students come back to campus.
Our community needs their strength! My best wishes to all our Brothers, parents, friends and supporters for a happy, healthy and peaceful 2024!