This past winter term, the majority of the members of the Union chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) disaffiliated with the fraternity in protest of alleged discriminatory interior operations of the national organization. Students claim that the fraternity targeted non-Jewish students in the process of conducting interviews within the chapter to ensure all members acted in accordance with the fraternity’s mission. AEPi denies all accusations and defends its actions.
AEPi identifies as a nondiscriminatory fraternity founded upon Jewish principles whose mission is to strengthen the Jewish community by providing “opportunities for the Jewish college man,” helping each member “develop character, responsibility and a proper set of values through living together in brotherhood” and developing future leaders within the Jewish community. AEPi firmly claims to be “open to all who are willing to espouse its purpose and values.”
AEPi initiated an examination of Union’s chapter this past term by conducting interviews with all members of the chapter. Jenn Jerussi, Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, commented how representatives of AEPi asked the members questions because of several policy violations stretched over a prolonged period of time. She stated, “From this membership review, they placed brothers either on ‘bad standing’ or ‘good standing’” to only have members within the fraternity who fully endorse their mission. Many members placed in “bad standing” were considered by the national organization as “non-mission compliant.”
Jake Zipkin ’18, the president of Union’s chapter during this process who has since disaffiliated, explained, “AEPi nationals stated that we would undergo a membership audit where a representative from nationals would interview all the current members to see who was deemed worthy of being offered a place in the chapter. All of the non-Jewish brothers were placed in bad standing…”
Rob Harrington ’20, a previous Jewish member of AEPi placed in “bad standing,” shared a letter he received from Jason Kirschtel, AEPi Director of Chapter Services, during this process. It read, “With regards to your future fraternity status, you are suspended and considered an ‘Alumnus in Bad Standing.’ This means that you are no longer allowed to attend nor participate in any AEPi events as an undergraduate student. Such events include, but are not limited to: Rush, Pledge, Social, Athletic, and Philanthropic events.”
Several other past members have confirmed receiving similar letters.
Students feel that this process had a discriminatory undertone and claim that non- Jewish members of the Jewish fraternity were disproportionately targeted and forced out of the fraternity.
David Brown ’18, a past president of Union’s chapter, claimed that these question included, “Who are two members you would remove?”
Additionally, he claimed that certain members were referred to as a “guido” and “just another brown guy” by AEPi representatives, suggesting, he and other members argue, a bias against specific students during the interviewing process.
Before the interviews began, Zipkin explained how Union’s chapter contained 25 members in total and, “Of those, 15 were Jewish and 10 were not.”
The majority of the non- Jewish members were forcefully removed, motivating the remaining members of the chapter to resign in protest.
The remaining active member, Justin Cohen ’20, is the acting president of the fraternity.
Cohen declined to comment.
Cohen’s father, Union College Professor of Biology Brian Cohen, is also the chapter advisor at Union.
The chapter has around a year to recruit more members for the chapter to remain at Union.
However, past members feel Union’s chapter of AEPi does not have a place at Union because they claim the actions of the fraternity contradicted Union’s mission of a non-denominational academic environment.
Zipkin stated, “I believe that AEPi is in direct contradiction to Union College’s ideologies. As a campus that prides itself on a sense of community and inclusivity, while also maintaining a non-denominational focus, AEPi’s religion based exclusivity cannot exist in cohort with Union College.”
Brown added that the fraternity does not belong at Union “unless [AEPi] is willing to change the way they act towards non-Jewish members.”
AEPi has faced similar accusations in the past in other college campuses.
Zipkin commented, “The National Office of AEPi has done this sort of thing before at other campuses and been scrutinized heavily for it.”
Chapters with a history of accusations of discrimination against non-Jewish students include Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Virginia, among others.
AEPi denies these claims of discriminatory acts and states their actions were necessary because several members did not endorse the mission of the fraternity.
Jonathan M. Pierce, media spokesperson for AEPi, stated that members were forced out of the fraternity because of the chapter’s “continued non-compliance with the health and safety regulations of the national organization.”
He added how the “Chapter leadership ignored the rules of the fraternity and Union and continued to lie to the administration and AEPi volunteers and staff.”
Additionally, Pierce commented how “individuals’ own religious beliefs were never questioned nor taken into account” throughout the interview process.
Jerussi added that the “Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life will continue to support the chapter as it goes through its rebuilding process.”
Professor Cohen also voiced his support for Union’s chapter.
He stated, “I am looking forward to working with the International Fraternity, Alumni of Union College AEPi, the Office of Greek Life at Union College and the remaining active brother to reestablish AEPi at Union this coming fall term.”
The Concordiensis will proceed to observe activity within Union’s chapter as it further develops.
Interim EIC Talha Janjua contributed to this report.