After 15 years on campus unrecognized by the university, Alpha Epsilon Pi, a traditionally Jewish fraternity, gained provisional colony status from Lehigh on Jan. 15.
“From the start, we wanted recognition no matter what,” said AEPi president Jonathan Cohen, ‘15. “If we were to go through accreditation, we wanted to be worthy of gold every semester.”
Cohen said recognition status will enable AEPi to publicize all the events it already holds with various groups around campus. Jewish student organizations such as Hillel and Chabad depend upon the regular involvement of AEPi brothers.
“AEPi has a number of positive collaborations, but because they weren’t recognized they weren’t available to fully take advantage of those,” said Tim Wilkinson, director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs.
Provisional colony status also means the fraternity will have to comply with several conditions and submit a chapter reflection before being considered for full recognition status at the end of the semester. Most notably, AEPi will not be able to participate in fraternity recruitment or new member education activities this semester.
Zachary Cahn, ’15, vice president of AEPi, said he is optimistic about these conditions. He said the provisional period will allow the fraternity to prepare its members to recruit a new member class next fall.
“(Next fall we) can start recruiting pretty hard, initially with sophomores, and then next spring we’ll see a pretty big new member class,” Cahn said.
Wilkinson said the need for a Jewish fraternity was determined a few years ago following a proposal from Rabbi Seth Goren.
“We are always looking to expand when there is a cultural need that needs to be met,” Wilkinson said. “This is one we agreed could be met.”
AEPi was selected over two other historically Jewish organizations that were competing for recognition: Zeta Beta Tau and Sigma Alpha Mu. Lehigh’s Expansion Committee, comprised of 10 representatives from various campus departments and groups, ultimately chose AEPi because of the strength of its national organization and history of its beneficial involvement at Lehigh.
Wilkinson said during AEPi’s presentation to the Expansion Committee, the student and alumni representatives were effective in articulating why the fraternity decided to come back to campus in 2001 unofficially after having lost their recognition in the late ’90s.
“The practice of AEPi’s national office coming on campus without permission is not something we agree with, but we really listen to the students, and the decision came down to what is best for the students at Lehigh,” Wilkinson said. “It was really the students that resonated with us.”
Cohen and Cahn were enthusiastic about how AEPi can contribute to the Lehigh community now that the chapter is university recognized. The chapter is now able to share what it has learned over the past decade, particularly regarding their leadership structure.
AEPi is run by an executive board that focuses on long-term planning and a board of directors that organizes events on a day-to-day basis. Each director has his own committee and positions on the committee, creating opportunity for many positions.
Cahn said the system allows brothers to delegate tasks and make their own decisions, which makes the process of running chapter operations more efficient.
“It’s not being led from the e-board down, it’s being led from the brotherhood up,” Cohen said.
Rabbi Zalman Greenberg was a strong supporter of AEPi’s recognition and a source of guidance throughout the process.
“AEPi had been a leading force in promoting ethical and Jewish values that extend way beyond their members,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg said he has gotten to know many of the AEPi brothers over the years.
“As a group they definitely attract students of good character, and what has particularly impressed us is their ability to volunteer their time for the benefit of the Lehigh community,” he said.
Nationally, the prominence of the chapter interests even prospective students. Through the fraternity’s involvement in Jewish youth programs such as BBYO and Israel engagement groups, many students are interested in joining AEPi even before coming to Lehigh, Cahn said.
“There’s a built-in demand, almost, because a lot of them have had exposure to AEPi in the past,” Cahn said. “People often ask if AEPi is at Lehigh.”
As soon as the leaders of AEPi were notified of their recognition status, they threw a celebration event with alumni in New York City. Cahn said many active brothers and alumni attended, even with such last minute notice.
To stay in line with the provisions, Cohen said the leaders of AEPi are working with an OFSA adviser to make sure everything they do is appropriate and clear, with a real focus on Jewish leadership and philanthropy.
“Our brotherhood involvement and GPA is through the roof,” Cohen said. “This is a pivotal moment of Jewish life at Lehigh.”