Dear Mr. Borans,
My name is Allen Lipson; I affiliated with Alpha Epsilon Pi’s Iota Chapter at Columbia University from 2011 to 2013. Despite my decision to leave the fraternity my third year of college, I’ve not figured out how to unsubscribe from your emails, your magazine, or your generous (yet alas, still unaffordable) Brooks Brothers discounts.
Hence I received your email of March 23rd entitled “Protect the Fraternity Experience.” I found it troubling, and I’d like to explain why from one (former) brother to another.
You begin the email with the astute observation that “a lot of change is happening both within the higher education and political landscape.” That’s certainly true; between the new administration’s discriminatory immigration orders and the House’s repeated attempts to jettison basic health care for twenty-five million Americans, challenges to Jewish values arise with each new headline. Given your fraternity’s stated commitment to those values– in your website’s words, “brotherhood, tzedakah, and social awareness”, a call for local and national action would not be remiss.
Yet AEPi has largely remained silent throughout the political turbulence — until now. What dire circumstance occasions this unusual request for lobbying support? I quote: “Advocating for the fraternity experience [is] more important than ever […] Despite our proven track record of developing young men into tomorrow’s Jewish leaders, the value of single-gender Greek organizations on the campus is still being questioned today.”
This, you say, is your top priority. Not tzedakah, not social awareness, but “the fraternity experience.” One cannot help but wonder just what this “experience” consists in. From my three years in Greek life, I suspect it includes hazing and party culture. How large a problem do these issues represent? Since they by nature often go undocumented, it’s suggestive that New York Times journalist Hank Nuwer records at least 25 cases of fraternity hazing-related deaths covered in national media over the past five years, and that a controlled study by sociologist Dr. John Foubert rates fraternity members three times more likely than other college males to be named in sexual assault cases.
I can attest that hazing and questionable behavior at parties took place during my time on campus, and former AEPi brothers around the country make similar claims of their own. (I should be clear, however, that I’m grateful never to have personally heard about a case of sexual assault at Columbia’s AEPi.) The louder your organization claims that you’re shocked — shocked— at such behavior occurring in your chapters, the harder it is to believe. After all, what were you expecting from the “fraternity experience”: college freshmen sitting down for a game of Mah Jongg? Whether or not AEPi is directly implicated, Heschel’s famous dictum rings true: “In an immoral society, few are guilty, but all are responsible.” I don’t exempt myself from that verdict. The question is: do you?
If I recall the words of your official song, AEPi confidently claims to draw inspiration from “the Heavenly One who guides us on our way”, so I suggest you brush up on your Jewish sources. Joseph and his siblings were part of a “brotherhood” too. So were Amnon and Tamar. The Talmud teaches that shfichut damim, the spilling of blood, is one of only three crimes that one should submit to martyrdom rather than commit. (Another is gilui arayot, sexual immorality, which also applies here.) “Spilling blood” is understood to include emotional humiliation as well as physical harm; the pledging process involves both offenses. Judaism takes these issues seriously, to say the least.
All this leads me to the conclusion that you and I understand “Jewish values” very differently. In a final analysis, your “Jewish values” means, as you put it in your mission statement, preventing Jewish men from “forsaking their heritage” and “abandon[ing] Judaism”– even at the implicit cost of a few too many keg stands.
A Jew with a decent conscience cannot condone Greek culture as it currently stands. Mr. Borans, your fraternity experience is not worth protecting.
Most fraternally yours,