Every other Sunday, members of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity gather at Polk Street to begin their day with what they call, “AEPi Sunday Cleanups.”
AEPi members wait with gloves and empty garbage bags for members of the Lehigh community to come together and help them clean the streets of South Bethlehem.
Matt Tracy, ’19, the president of AEPi, brought the idea to his fraternity after reading an article on South Bethlehem residents’ displeasure with the way Lehigh students treat the city’s streets. This spurred conversation among AEPi members about rebuilding trust with the Bethlehem community.
“It’s something that’ll take time to see if it’s actually working or not because honestly, it’s hard for them to know what’s actually happening and see that we’re making an effort,” Tracy said.
Although AEPi Sunday Cleanups is a small program that is still in the works, Tracy said he hopes getting the word out about the cleanups will spread information to South Bethlehem residents.
The fraternity’s overarching goal is to create unity and build relationships with South Bethlehem residents, and Tracy said he is also trying to ease the tensions that exist on Lehigh’s campus.
Chief diversity officer Donald Outing spoke at an Interfraternity Council meeting last week to discuss the division of the Lehigh student body. Outing split the community into three groups — Greek students, student athletes and the rest of the student body not involved in either of those organizations. Tracy aimed to solve this problem in his vision for AEPi Sunday Cleanups.
After four AEPi Sunday Cleanups, which run on a biweekly schedule, the fraternity has already started to see some progress in the bridging of the different communities. AEPi is working to unite the Greek community as well as Greek and non-Greek students.
“We’re definitely going to reach out to basically everybody on campus,” said Aaron Cohen, ’20, the philanthropy and community service chair of AEPi. “Everyone is welcome.”
Although AEPi is taking the lead on these cleanups, they team up with other organizations to co-sponsor the cleanup and promote involvement. They co-sponsored one event with Chi Psi fraternity and are planning to co-sponsor with Student Senate next time.
Teaming up with Senate falls in the fraternity’s next step toward uniting Greek and non-Greek student organizations.
“Senate is a good step for us to meet people not in Greek life, and usually people on Student Senate are involved in other organizations,” Tracy said.
He said he wants to take this opportunity to become familiar with other organizations and see if they are interested in co-sponsoring future cleanups.
Molly Bankuti, ’18, the Panhellenic Council president, believes the progress AEPi is aiming to achieve begins within the Lehigh community. As the president of one of the Greek councils, Bankuti is an advocate for community unity and works with her own Panhel executive board to achieve the same goals.
“Once we can reach out to the Lehigh community and we can kind of scale this up and make it a regular thing, then that’s when the impact will really be seen, and it will take that relationship with our community neighbors to the next level,” Bankuti said. “This has to become a norm. This has to become a thing that everyone signs up for and a thing that everyone does.”
Cohen hopes these cleanups will continue to grow and encourage other organizations to complete similar projects.
“We want to make everything more inclusive,” Cohen said. “I know in light of everything that’s been happening recently with the Greek community, it’s definitely something that I know a lot of Lehigh is kind of pushing for. So I think we really just do hope that other organizations will join us in leading that kind of mentality in the future.”