April 7 2017
Harvard’s Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity has announced it will go gender-neutral, becoming the first Greek organization on campus to do so.
The decision comes as Harvard continues its controversial ban on single-gender organizations. Going forward, the university won’t allow students who belong to these groups to lead recognized campus clubs or sports teams, and it also won’t endorse them for prestigious fellowships like the Rhodes or Marshall scholarships.
Last week, the university announced it would give sororities up to five years before penalizing them, but it would not extend the same exemption to fraternities—a policy one national fraternity executive slammed as a “blatant form of gender discrimination” against men.
By deadline, AEPi’s president, Jake Ascher, did not respond to Heat Street’s request for comment. But in a statement announcing its new gender-neutral plans, the fraternity’s members wrote that while they had long discussed the possibility, “the announcement of sanctions certainly spurred our decision.”
The fraternity said that while members “recognize that there is value to single-gendered spaces,” they have “always placed far more emphasis on being a supportive and welcoming community than an all-male one.”
Ascher elaborated in an interview with the Harvard Crimson, saying, “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.”
To become gender-neutral, AEPi will disaffiliate from the national organization, forming a new group on campus.
Under Harvard’s new rules, all gender-neutral organizations must publish periodic disclosures about their demographics—a requirement that may inherently result in additional changes to AEPi, which has historically been a Jewish organization.
Even with its new gender-neutral status, the organization will “continue to uphold the Jewish values and traditions that have defined our group,” the AEPi statement said, adding that “we have never discriminated based on religion, and we never will in the future.”
Harvard’s strict new policy on single-gender organizations was prompted in part by efforts to prevent sexual assault and gender discrimination.
A university report claimed that single-gender organizations like fraternities can “send an unambiguous message that [these spaces] are the exclusive preserves of men” and “propagate exclusionary values that undermine those of the larger Harvard College community.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.