Op-eds

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

By and
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. 

Please send reponses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

10 Comments

  1. #establishment

  2. “Orkand is a regional governor for AEPi for Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Cohen-Millstein sits on the AEPi board of directors.”

    • Brown AEPi Alum says:

      I can assure you there are a large number of other alumni of the chapter without such connection to the national org who feel exactly the same way. In fact the only reason the byline is the two of them and it is signed by “The founding membersof Alpha Epsilon Pi at Brown” is because the BDH’s op-ed policy forbids us from laundry listing all the alumni who share these exact sentiments.

      • Do you not think there is a laundry list of alumni who support them too? I’m genuinely curious? From this op-Ed it seems like you believe most alumni are on your side. Or at least the oldest, most out of touch alumni.

        • Brown AEPi Alum says:

          Never meant to imply they didn’t have any alumni support (although any alumni support they have is sort of post hoc since they deliberately excluded alumni from the conversation and process), but my impression was that Anonymous was implying that these two only felt this way because of their positions within the international organization. That statement is simply not true. If that wasn’t the intended message, I apologize. I think the most fair depiction of the alumni is that a majority did not want them to disaffiliate but now that it’s happened, the majority of alumni are going to remain supportive of the new org for the sake of continuity, at least temporarily, and a very large minority will not have anything to do with them.

          The chapter definitely has more support amongst the younger alumni but there are still alumni from the most recent classes who do not support this move – in fact the decision to leave was not even unanimous and so there is a sizeable minority of current members on campus who don’t support this move. I actually think that speaks to the fact that this isn’t really about sexual assault or inclusivity. Remember, as stated in this op-ed, the international org responded to their initial complaint about sexual assault programming about a year ago soliciting input on better programs to use and the chapter never responded. When the chapter did tell them they were going to disaffiliate, the #2 in command came to Providence and basically promised to do everything the chapter wanted. Less than 25% of the chapter showed up to that meeting though. As stated in the BRPi op-ed, the chapter didn’t want to contribute dues any more to the international organization (the vast majority of which goes to paying for liability insurance which is absolutely critical if you’re off campus which is not the case at Brown) and from my own experience as an alumnus, they had been slowly withdrawing further and further away from both the international org and the alumni community over the years. The chapter slowly enriched itself with people who probably never really wanted to be in AEPi (or probably any national fraternity) in the first place.

          Where things get tricky is that at least some of the people that didn’t want to be affiliated with AEPi didn’t want to give up all the perks that came with being part of AEPi at Brown (e.g. the housing and recognition as a social org on campus with the ability to do things that a random group of students cannot) such that when realizing that quitting AEPi would cost them those things they decided to go the disaffiliation route. These people certainly aren’t the first people to ever leave AEPi at Brown, they are just the only ones to do so while taking everything AEPi had built up with them. They then made sure to hide any evidence that they were thinking about this from alumni because they worried that if alumni knew, the international organization would find out, and would potentially respond in a way that would cost them all those perks. That’s why they actually alerted Brown of their plans before anyone else because they needed to verify that Brown would continue to provide them with Marcy House as well as provide them with liability insurance before moving forward. Of course Brown supported them, an independent fraternity that alienated some of its alumni is easier to bully around and control than one with a national backing and a strong alumni network. Maintaining the house and the social spaces was always priority #1, and you can see that in their unwillingness to actually engage with the international organization (even when it was seeking their input) or the alumni in the issues or feel any differently when substantive changes are proposed in light of their threat to leave. This was all very well orchestrated. They maintain everything tangible they had before, they’ve essentially doubled their operating budget without having to increase dues or fundraise from alumni, and they did it in a way that on the surface looks incredibly noble to anyone. In a few years we’ll know if it was truly as successful an operation as it initially seems.

          Are you a current student? Does anyone on campus actually care about any of this?

          • I’ve seen the brothers of BRPi personally stop sexual assault…please do not paint it otherwise. They are a positive force on campus, and to frame as naive personal gain is to discredit yourself

          • Brown AEPi Alum says:

            Please don’t misunderstand my point Nickie. I’m sure the brothers have prevented sexual assaults and I never meant to imply that they would behave any differently when presented with such a situation.

            Their behavior is anything but naive. It was very well done and they were almost able to accomplish it without any pushback whatsoever given the secrecy with which they went about it over the course of nearly 2 years. Anti-AEPi feelings had been brewing though well before any comments regarding sexual assault were made by any awful sexual assault prevention/education program selected by AEPi. In fact, I would argue that they started brewing before any of these kids were even on campus. (I realize now that my “theys” may have been confusing – sometimes referring to the specific 60 undergrads currently on campus vs. referring to the chapter more generically)

            My point is that when confronted with the opportunity to make substantive changes with regard to sexual assault prevention and education they chose to ignore it. Rather than use the resources available to them to affect change (e.g. alumni, other chapters, visibility on campus) they chose to alienate everyone around them and quit – but not without first making sure they wouldn’t lose their housing or ability to throw parties. They made everyone promise to stay united prior to the vote being cast, but then when the vote turned out to be against leaving, several threatened to quit unless a new vote was taken. To me this shows where the priorities really lie (again, that doesn’t mean they don’t deeply care about sexual assault prevention and education, just that it wasn’t the #1 priority in this process). The way they handled it is certainly not how I would have handled things if I were still an undergraduate (and I never heard anything like what was said to them at the regional and national meetings I went to – in fact, I don’t think there even was sexual assault prevention and education at them), and not how I’ll be handling things going forward as an alumnus.

    • Brown AEPi Alum says:

      This should also show you how stupid it was that the undergraduates deliberately circumvented alumni and how unfounded the idea that the national organization wouldn’t listen to them (even after they failed to respond to AEPi International’s letter to them soliciting input on the sexual assault prevention program months prior to any talk of disaffiliation). You don’t think a board member and a regional governor could throw some weight around if asked?

  3. It appears the culture the BRPi brothers have exposed is not just a “few members” situation: http://www.buzzfeed.com/tasneemnashrulla/leaked-racist-emails-reveal-toxic-culture-at-university-of-c

  4. Misha Cayne says:

    first they take our fried chicken, next comes our souls

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*