I write to address the unscrupulous and untrue accusations made by Ben Owens ’17, a former member of Alpha Epsilon Pi, regarding the decision made by the chapter to turn its back on membership in AEPi and start a “local” fraternity.
Saying that AEPi International does not “understand the issue of sexual assault on college campuses” is a bold-faced lie. When I met with the chapter’s leaders last fall, I explained the International Fraternity’s position on sexual assault and sexual harassment. Simply put, we have a zero-tolerance policy for non-consensual or coercive conduct. On an international level, AEPi is working with a number of organizations and college campuses to establish programs that protect all college students, educate all of our 10,000 undergraduate members about proper and responsible behavior and ensure that they understand the fraternal and criminal consequences that perpetrators of sexual assault may face. AEPi is also working with our International Board of Rabbis to develop sexual assault prevention programs that are based on our Jewish values.
When I met with the undergraduates last fall and heard their concerns, I asked them to help us develop even better programs. Instead of helping, they chose to quit. This fits a pattern of accusation followed by inaction. After our 2013 international convention, some undergraduates from the Brown chapter expressed concerns about our programs, and a member of our staff asked the Brown chapter to work with the International Fraternity to develop better programs. We never received a response.
We take great pride in the fact that AEPi is the largest Jewish, non-discriminatory fraternity in the world. With about 185 chapters spread across the United States, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom, France and Austria, our members should all know what our mission is: to develop leaders for the Jewish community. Please note that our mission statement does not say, “Develop Jewish leaders for the Jewish community” and, in fact, never has. Every brother of our fraternity — no matter the race, religion, sexual orientation, creed or beliefs — is equal to every other brother. Obviously, as a fraternity with a distinctively Jewish mission (I’m pretty certain that we’re the only fraternity with an International Board of Rabbis, and we are the only fraternity that has chapters in Israel), it is important that we look to continue to recruit Jewish members. But any student identifying as male who wants to join a Jewish fraternity is welcome, and over the years we’ve had many non-Jewish brothers, many of whom have become volunteers, staff members and board members.
We explained that policy to the Brown undergraduates last fall and, instead of working with us to ensure that this is explained to all current and potential members, they chose to quit. It is also interesting to note that Owens alleges that non-Jewish brothers were told they were somehow less of a brother when, under his leadership, the current undergraduates and alums who disagreed with the plan to quit AEPi were pressured, ignored or disenfranchised.
AEPi International is disappointed that it has come to this. We strongly believe that membership in AEPi — or in any other national fraternity — has a number of important benefits. Not the least of these benefits is liability insurance (a major component of the annual dues that our former members did not want to pay), which provides coverage for individuals and their families. Local fraternity members do not get equivalent coverage, from the University or otherwise, and are putting themselves and their families at risk.
The current (now former) members of our Brown chapter of AEPi have thrown away more than 20 years of history and tradition and turned their backs on their alumni brothers. We’re confident that in the very near future we will identify students at Brown who want to rebuild AEPi to be stronger than ever. When that time comes, we will once again establish a fraternity chapter dedicated to brotherhood, perseverance, humility and developing the future leaders of the world’s Jewish communities.
Jonathan Pierce, Vanderbilt ’86, is a past International President of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity.