Op-eds

Orkand ’99 and Cohen-Millstein ’98: BRPi should not have disaffiliated from AEPi

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Op-Ed Contributors
Friday, January 29, 2016

Updated Jan. 29 at 12:25 p.m.

Fellow Brunonians,

As alums and founding members of the Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter at Brown, we write to correct some of the mischaracterizations of AEPi in the Jan. 27 opinion column signed by Ben Owens ’17 and the members of the newly established Beta Rho Pi. Though the relationship between the fraternity and its alums may be of little interest to the broader Brown community, we feel a responsibility to correct the column’s misleading and false statements about AEPi.

We want to make two points at the outset. First, every Greek organization must take sexual assault very seriously, and we believe that AEPi is a leader in this regard. Second, AEPi is open to any student who identifies as male — regardless of religion — who wishes to join a Jewish fraternity.

The signatories to this letter founded the Brown chapter of AEPi in 1995. We faced several challenges, including anti-Semitic comments by a member of Residential Council. But we were steadfast in our commitment to build an organization that we hoped would provide enduring value to the membership and the Brown community long after we graduated and one that reflected the values that we shared with AEPi. And throughout its 20-year history at Brown, AEPi has been a leader among its peer fraternities in promoting inclusion of students regardless of race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation and gender identity.

AEPi is unapologetically a Jewish fraternity. As a mission-driven organization, it cares deeply about the quality of the Jewish experience at each of its chapters and the campuses and communities that it calls home. To that end, AEPi seeks out brothers who wish to join the organization because of, rather than despite, its Jewish character. But that has not prevented the organization from rushing, welcoming and electing to leadership positions, brothers of any religion.

The fraternity’s Jewish values inform its zero-tolerance policy concerning sexual assault. Let us be clear: It is indisputable that incidents of sexual assault are vastly underreported — not falsely reported — on college campuses. That one in four female undergraduates and nearly 7 percent of male undergraduates at Brown report having been victims of sexual assault during their time on campus is deplorable and must be addressed. The AEPi chapter at Brown has been a leader in preventing sexual assault on campus, as has the international fraternity within the larger Greek community.

The international fraternity, along with many of the chapter’s alums, has taken quite seriously the chapter’s concerns and has taken steps to address them. Immediately upon learning of their vote to disaffiliate — which came as a surprise to alums, who were deliberately excluded from the conversation — a group of chapter alums attempted to facilitate conversation between the members at Brown and the international organization. We understand that the international fraternity made several significant commitments to the chapter, including to solicit the chapter’s input to improve AEPi’s sexual assault prevention training and to investigate the unacceptable comments allegedly made by some AEPi staff members that do not reflect the fraternity’s policies or culture. It is unfortunate that the chapter has chosen to disengage rather than be an agent of change to ensure that the international fraternity addresses the important, substantive issues facing college students across the country.

The current undergraduates claim that any attempt at dialogue would have been futile since AEPi “takes stances so contrary to (the Brown chapter’s) values.” They further imply that AEPi is too morally compromised to engage with on these important issues. Based on our 20-year history of working with the international fraternity, we disagree. As one concrete example, immediately upon learning that the chapter had suggestions on how to improve the fraternity’s sexual assault prevention education, the international fraternity offered to work with the chapter to implement changes. The chapter at Brown never responded.

To say that we are disappointed by the chapter’s decision would be a vast understatement. We are especially saddened that this organization has gone dormant because of misguided and ill-conceived reasons. Given the positive impact that AEPi has had on campus for over 20 years, we urge the University and student body to welcome and support any student who wishes to join AEPi in the future so that the fraternity may continue its positive contributions to the Brown community. We express our full support for any student who wishes to do so.

Sincerely,

The founding members of Alpha Epsilon Pi at Brown

Seth Orkand ’99 and Peter Cohen-Millstein ’98 are two of the founding members of the Brown chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi. Orkand is a regional governor for AEPi for Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Cohen-Millstein sits on the AEPi board of directors. 

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