Amidst a national conversation concerning the value and possibility of harm posed by the Greek fraternity and sorority system on college campuses across the United States, it may be time to reevaluate the utility of historically Jewish fraternities like Alpha Epsilon Pi and Sigma Alpha Mu.
In making this suggestion, we do not take the history of these groups lightly; nor do we ignore the important work done by these fraternities in response to mounting anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment on many college campuses. But just as the #MeToo movement has shined a bright light on the prevalence of sexual assault and misogyny across a broad swath of society at large, we cannot ignore the all-too-common evidence of very troubling behavior by these and other fraternities across the country. Indeed, for all the good AEPi and other Jewish brotherhood organizations do on behalf of our Jewish community, many of their chapters are among the worst offenders.
The SAM chapter at Penn State has been suspended since April 2017, for violating the university’s policies on alcohol. Earlier this month, both the AEPi and SAM chapters at Ohio State University were banned for multiple violations of the school’s alcohol and hazing policies. That news followed by a few weeks the closure of the AEPi chapter at Temple University in Philadelphia over multiple reports of sexual assaults and underage drinking at the frat house. (The former AEPi president at Temple has been charged with attempted rape and related misdeeds.)
And we have seen similarly troubling allegations at Arizona State University, where the AEPi chapter was shut down in 2013; allegations last year of sexual abuse by frat brothers at the College of Charleston; and accusations of the promotion of a racist listserv at the University of Chicago.
These and other activities by Jewish fraternity members are a disgrace to Jewish values. And all of these troubling developments challenge a national AEPi board that also has to deal with the resignation of some of its leadership over protests that the group lacks financial transparency.
In trying to deal with all of these developments, one gets the sense that the AEPi board is engaged in a form of crisis management similar to the game of whack-a-mole — which has required the group to focus on defending, defining and debating its own management, operations and standards rather than the growing needs of its Jewish student members.
Local chapters of national Jewish fraternities need leadership and guidance from their national organization. But those services cannot be provided by organizational leadership that is distracted by the need to protect its own reputation and actions.
If the national Jewish fraternities are unable to promote Jewish values and morality, and are distracted from servicing the rising needs of Jewish students on campus, it may well be time to reevaluate their worth. PJC