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AEPhi...s Return to Jewish Identity Spurs De-pledgings, De-affiliations

By Marie Thibault
NEWS EDITOR

Seven of the eight new members of Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority have de-pledged, and five members have also de-affiliated, according to an Alpha Epsilon Phi sister who requested to remain anonymous. AEPhi’s Vice-President of Operations Emily D. Slutsky ’07 declined to confirm these numbers, saying “AEPhi has a different game plan than the other four sororities, so numbers mean absolutely nothing to us.”

Slutsky presented the plan to what she termed “return to AEPhi’s national identity” in a letter read at a chapter meeting in February. She described the letter as a reflection of the need for AEPhi as a chapter to promote the values of the national Jewish sorority.

A woman who de-pledged and also wished to remain anonymous said she did so because AEPhi’s new identity does not support what she and her fellow new members believe. “The Jewish identity is taking priority before diversity. This conflicts with what we believe in so this is the best decision,” she said of her decision to de-pledge.

Lauren E. Oldja ’08, who de-affiliated, said she did so because “the identity of the chapter has changed. AEPhi is not what I thought it was, and it is not what I told Potential New Members (PNM) it was. In the same way that I probably would not have joined a Hispanic or Black sorority, I probably would not have joined a Jewish sorority.” She said that AEPhi is now actively recruiting Jewish women.

Slutsky said that the purpose of AEPhi is to have a home for everyone who wants to respect and understand the Jewish religion. “It is not a religious organization at all,” she said.

Both Vice-President of Recruitment Elizabeth Katcoff ’08 and Slutsky said they are not alarmed by the recent depledgings because they have been able to recruit another new member class. They declined to give any numbers. When asked how many of the most recent prospective new members are Jewish, Katcoff said that “we aren’t very concerned about percentages.” The anonymous sister said that all of the most recent new members are Jewish except for one.

The anonymous sister said that seven of AEPhi’s 22 sisters are Jewish. Both Slutsky and Katcoff declined to confirm this statistic.

Katcoff, who was recently named vice-president of recruitment after this year’s formal recruitment, said “it’s our fault not that they [the new members] depledged, but the fact that they were new members to begin with,” because AEPhi’s Jewish identity was not promoted during formal recruitment.

Brigid C. Dwyer ’06, who was the previous vice-president of recruitment in charge of this year’s formal recruitment said “my philosophy was trying to communicate … that AEPhi has an open membership policy … I tried to make an effort to make sure AEPhi’s heritage and identity was known.”

Members split on whether to stay

Nina H. Kim ’09, who de-pledged, said she felt like there was a communication gap between the sisters. “We didn’t even know that AEPhi was … proclaiming a Jewish identity until a week into pledging.”

Both Kim and the anonymous woman who de-pledged said that they de-pledged by e-mail, but do not know how AEPhi members reacted. Kim said that she received an e-mail suggesting she talk over her decision with members of the executive board, while the other person said she hadn’t heard any response.

Katcoff said that seven years ago AEPhi had a similar problem. “We were lying about our identity in order to get more members.” At that time, members from AEPhi’s national headquarters interviewed all of the sisters and invited those who recognized and supported the Jewish identity of AEPhi to remain. Only three were not invited back, and not all of them were non-Jewish, Katcoff said. Those sisters deaffiliated but were given alumni status. Bonnie Wunsch, executive director of AEPhi, could not be reached for comment.

“We didn’t want something like that to happen again,” but “we realized we were straying again,” Katcoff said.

Lindsay L. Calderon ’08, who is not Jewish, decided to de-affiliate the weekend after the letter was read to the chapter. She said she felt that Jewish sisters couldn’t really be themselves if she was around. “I really want AEPhi to prosper in their Jewish identity,” she added.

Sarah C. Rich ’08 said that she decided to stay at AEPhi because “I like the sisters and the sorority and I made a commitment.” Teresa H. Liu ’07, who is also a member, said that AEPhi has allowed her to grow as a person because she was learning about a culture different from her own.

The anonymous sister said that she felt Slutsky and other members of AEPhi’s executive board were “focused on an admirable cause,” but “were going about it in the wrong way.” “I feel that in making the Jewish identity of our chapter an objective to which AEPhi’s other values can be sacrificed, we are losing sight of what really matters.”

Sisters not aware of mailing list

The anonymous sister said that she had recently discovered the existence of AEPhiJews@mit.edu, an e-mail list that she said consisted only of Jewish sisters and one new Jewish member. She said that the major planning decisions about informal recruitment events were being made by Jewish AEPhi sisters through this mailing list.

Slutsky said that one of her tasks as vice-president of operations is to create mailing lists. This one was created because she and some other sisters were unclear about how to present AEPhi’s Jewish identity. The list serves as a think tank and discussion forum, she said.

Katcoff said the new member was “helping us determine our identity.”

AEPhi’s President Elaina L. Cherry ’07 said that not everyone on the mailing list is Jewish, citing herself as an example.

The anonymous sister said that she felt some sisters were not included in planning sorority events, but were told where and when an event would be without being allowed input.

Slutsky said that it is a “flat-out lie” that sisters were not informed about event planning. “I can’t help it if people don’t check their e-mails.”

Katcoff said that everyone knew about the events, except in one case, where the PNM “wouldn’t have come if we told them the whole chapter would be there,” because she felt more comfortable at first in a setting with her friends.

Neither Rich nor Calderon had heard of AEPhiJews@mit.edu.

Members: AEPhi financially sound

Kaya Miller, assistant director of Fraternities, Sororities, and Independent Living Groups, said that she worked with members of AEPhi’s executive board before the de-pledgings to plan informal recruitment events. She said that the girls had planned three large events and she encouraged them to plan two others. Katcoff said these events included Arts & Craft day and cookie baking.

“I didn’t find it alarming they were trying to connect with their national identity … I personally feel that this is a part of a group development model they’re going through” Miller said of the de-pledgings.

Panhellenic Association President Shannon N. Nees ’07 said that Panhel members are available to offer an unbiased opinion for anyone involved, but that AEPhi has been handling the situation internally. “I think their officers are doing a very good job of handling it,” she said.

Cherry said that the loss of sisters and new members will not affect AEPhi financially, since the activities planned are based on the number of sisters. Though sororities do not submit budgets to the Student Life Programs department, Miller said that AEPhi has a long-term lease on their house and that they are not in jeopardy of losing it.