Alpha Epsilon Pi to Go Gender Neutral

UPDATED: April 4, 2017 at 8:30 p.m.

Members of the Harvard chapter of national fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi will disaffiliate from the organization and form a new, gender neutral social group, undergraduate chapter president Jake Ascher ’19 announced Tuesday.

The Eta Psi chapter of AEPi is the first of Harvard’s nine Greek organizations to go co-ed following the announcement of Harvard’s historic penalties on members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations. The College’s policy will bar undergraduate members of these groups—starting with the Class of 2021—from certain leadership positions, athletic captaincies, and postgraduate fellowships.

In a written statement released to The Crimson Tuesday, current members of the chapter announced they had “voted to become a gender neutral organization” and will hold a gender-neutral rush next fall. In order to do so, the group has been forced to disaffiliate from AEPi’s national organization.

AEPI Passover Seder
Alpha Epsilon Pi brothers celebrate Passover during a seder, a traditional Jewish ritual, in Hillel in 2015.

“Beginning next semester our rush process will be open to all Harvard undergraduates, regardless of gender identity,” the statement reads. “Our chapter has long debated the issues of gender inclusion and neutrality, but the announcement of the sanctions certainly spurred our decision,” it continues.

Ascher said Harvard’s Eta Psi members first discussed going gender neutral in May 2016 at a chapter-wide meeting held just after University President Drew G. Faust announced the College’s penalties. He said that meeting, intended to “take the temperature of the group,” largely decided the chapter’s future course.

“From then it seemed already inevitable that we would eventually make that change [and go gender neutral],” Ascher said.

The group continued discussing the idea until earlier this semester, when members gathered and officially voted to make this fall’s upcoming rush gender neutral. Though Ascher said the chapter has not been in contact with Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, members have met with Associate Dean of Student Life David R. Friedrich.

Ascher said that the group’s decision to go gender neutral was sparked both by the College’s penalties and by chapter members’ “willingness and desire” to do so.

“The sanctions are certainly what prompted us to do this, but I think that if we would’ve firmly disagreed ideologically with what the sanctions are trying to ultimately do, then we would have been eager to fight the sanctions rather than to change our organization,” Ascher said.

After learning the chapter intended to hold a gender neutral rush next fall, Khurana said he was pleased by the group’s plans.

“I applaud the members and leaders of the chapter on its decision to become more equitable and inclusive. The College looks forward to working with this new organization in our collective efforts to make our campus more gender inclusive,” Khurana said.

Ascher said the group will seek the newly designated “Provisional Social Organization” status, a “transitional category” for organizations going gender neutral approved by Khurana. Provisional Social Organizations must regularly publish a “demographic breakdown of the organization’s membership.”

Ascher said Friedrich assured chapter members that their plan put them on the right path towards “Provisional Social Organization” status, and towards eventually becoming a recognized student social group.

Since voting to go gender neutral, chapter members have worked to update the group’s rush and pledge processes to accommodate those who do not identify as male. Ascher said there are certain traditions the group will have to discontinue, but added he did not think the chapter’s identity would be altered.

“We’re not worried about this changing the fundamental character of the group because… the most important aspect of our group was never the fact that all of us were men,” Ascher said.

Ascher declined to comment on how the organization’s historically Jewish identity may be affected by regular publication of group demographics. But in their statement, chapter members reaffirmed their commitment to “Jewish values.”

“We will continue to uphold the Jewish values and traditions that have defined our group,” the statement reads. “We have always identified as a Jewish organization, yet we have never discriminated based on religion, and we never will in the future.”

AEPi’s national leadership would not allow the group to admit women and retain its status as a chapter affiliate, according to Ascher.

“What [the national organization] expressed to us is that we cannot admit women into our chapter, so if we want to have women or people who don’t identify as males in our organization, we would have to start a new organization and leave theirs,” Ascher said.

The AEPi national organization could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

While the group-to-be does not yet have a name or a finalized structure, Ascher said the new organization will not use gender-based quotas in their upcoming fall recruitment process. Though Ascher said the group will continue to re-evaluate its identity in the months ahead, at least one approach is off the table.

“We are not going to be a final club,” he said.

Other single-gender organizations have gone gender neutral ahead of the policy’s slated implementation in fall 2017. Most recently, the all-female Sabliere Society rebranded itself as the Sab Club and inducted its inaugural class of men. The previously all-female group the Seneca and the all-male Spee Club have taken similar steps. Earlier this semester, the Oak Club became the first all-male group to transition to a gender-neutral membership policy following the announcement of the sanctions.

The policy, however, may change. A committee of faculty, students, and staff created in January and co-chaired by Khurana is currently reviewing the policy and could “revise or replace” it.

—Staff writer Graham W. Bishai can be reached at graham.bishai@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @GrahamBishai.

—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at hannah.natanson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.

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