A fraternity at CMC? Well, in a sense. This year, for the first time, a group of students decided to found a Claremont Colleges chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, an international Jewish fraternity. The fraternity became official when the AEPi President visited Claremont to inaugurate the group as the founding fathers of the chapter.
However, since CMC doesn’t recognize fraternities, the situation here is a little different. Instead, the group is currently in the process of becoming recognized as a school club. In fact, even though the group established itself through the fraternity infrastructure, they see themselves as more of an affinity group aimed toward promoting Judaism than the usual vision of a fraternity.
“It’s just a place where all the people can come together and express their Judaism in any way they want,” Vice President Dylan Saffer ’17 stated; “we understand the stereotype regarding fraternities, and we want to make people aware that we are not your typical fraternity.”
In addition, Executive Board Member Alex Brenner ’17 mentioned that “we are now officially recognized as a chapter of AEPi, but on the 5cs we understand that they don’t recognize fraternities, so we are hoping to get recognized as a club or an organization. Fraternity isn’t even really the right word to describe us. Instead, one of the words we go by is achim, which means brotherhood.”
The process began nearly two years ago, when a group of around seven students tried to start something similar, but the effort eventually fizzled out because they didn’t reach out enough to build up a solid social foundation. This year’s group effort, however, stands out differently.
Two of the group’s leaders, Brenner and Saffer, helped spearhead this year’s movement after they realized that a lot of their friends were also Jewish and decided it would be a great opportunity to make some new connections.
“We have a group of close to 35 people as founding fathers. There are also 15 to 20 more current students reaching out to us and showing interest as well as another 15-20 students coming in next year,” Brenner mentioned. “We see the potential for the group population to reach between 70 and 100.”
In addition, although the group is a Jewish fraternity, the members definitely want to avoid being exclusive. In fact, the group is open to non-Jewish members, and they even have some non-Jewish students already involved.
Once the group came together, the next step was to connect with the central AEPi organization.
“We had to reach out to Grant Bigman, Regional Chair of AEPi, and he interviewed each of us. He said that ‘you have a good group — we really like you’, and we had a preliminary initiation. What we had to do was to plan a social event, a philanthropy event, and a brotherhood event, as well as an event with another chapter. So after we accomplished that, he came down and officially initiated us,” Saffer explained to the Forum.
The actual inauguration was the culmination of a long trial period, starting back in the fall.
“It was almost a 3-4 month trial process,” Brenner stated. “We had multiple seminars on leadership, philanthropy, Jewish identity, social events. The President wanted us to reach out to the community, so he brought down presidents from other schools in southern California, such as Chapman, UCR, CSF, USC, UCLA, and they all came down to initiate us as founding fathers of our chapter.”
Now that the group has finally been initiated, they can start looking ahead to their activities for the upcoming year. So far, perhaps the biggest event that the group has been involved with was the Take Back the Night walk on April 24th, which promoted awareness about sexual assault.
In addition, member Austin Schoff ’17 helped found a large philanthropy event for brain cancer which AEPi is now working to expand even more.
“We now have a campaign that’s gonna start in June and go through summer next year and our goal is to raise 50,000 dollars for cancer research, which we are going to donate to Cedars-Sinai, a Jewish hospital in Los Angeles,” Brenner explained.
In addition, on the more fun side, AEPi hopes to host some all-school mini tournaments in things such as FIFA, basketball, or soccer. Ultimately, the group hopes to host one event per week. In terms of expanding the size of the group, Brenner views 60 people as a good number.
“Our goal is that through social events people will realize that this is a cool group, students will have interest and we may invite them to dinner with some of our members,” Brenner said. “For us, we wouldn’t really have a written application like some other campus groups; it’s more about how you fit in with the community. So we would just invite people to be a part of the group.”
Of course, since CMC is known for it’s Greek life-free culture, the founders were eager to explain that they don’t mean to disrupt such tradition in any way.
“The message we want to reiterate is that by no means is this an exclusive group or a fraternity where we think of ourselves as better than people,” Brenner stated. “It’s just another organization to spread awareness like some of these other affinity groups on campus. Everything is completely open.”