A new poll released by Louis Brandeis Center on September 20 found that half of students in the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity and Alpha Epsilon Phi (AEPhi) sorority hide their Jewish identities on college campuses.
The poll, which was conducted by the Cohen Research Group from April 14-21, surveyed 710 AEPi members and 317 AEPhi members. Forty-nine percent of AEPi members and 50% of AEPhi members said they felt like they had to hide their Jewish identities while attending virtual or in-person events on campus. Of those who said they felt like they needed to hide their Jewish identities, most cited concerns about being “verbally attacked.” About 30% said they were concerned about a professor marginalizing or penalizing them and about a fifth said they were “concerned about being physically attacked.”
Thirteen percent of AEPi freshmen said they sometimes felt like they needed to hide their identity, whereas 22% of AEPi seniors felt that way. Among AEPhi members, those numbers were 10% and 24%, respectively. Those who felt that they needed to hide their identities “often” were at 2% for AEPi freshmen and 3% for AEPi seniors; similarly, those numbers were at 2% for both AEPhi freshmen and seniors.
Overall, 64% of AEPi members and 67% of AEPhi members said they felt unsafe being Jewish on college campuses. Twenty-six percent of AEPi members and 17% of AEPhi members said they had experienced or heard about an antisemitic incident on their campus over the past four months.
Kenneth L. Marcus, Founder and Chairman of the Brandeis Center, told the Journal that “there is a lot of disturbing information” in the poll, saying that it was particularly “startling” that 11% of AEPi members and 7% of AEPhi members were aware of incidents in which students were spat at for being Jewish. The poll noted that these didn’t include the 15 AEPi members and the lone AEPhi member claiming that they were spat at for being Jewish. Marcus also argued that the poll likely understates the amount of antisemitism on campus since it was taken before Israel-Hamas conflict in May.
“We know that antisemitic incidents were far higher at the end of this semester than they were during the period when this survey was done,” Marcus said.
But Marcus felt that the most disturbing part of the survey was the number of AEPi and AEPhi members who didn’t feel comfortable expressing their Jewish identity on campus. “This grinding antisemitism over time has been having an effect on students, and the longer they’re on campus, the more intense the effect is. The more they are on campus, the more they see the extent of the problem and start to disengage Jewishly.”
He warned that such disengagement could be a long-term detriment for the Jewish community as a whole. “It’s not just a matter of students who wear kippahs deciding not to wear a kippah, although it is certainly deeply unfortunate if they feel they aren’t safe to do that. It’s also about students who feel that they can’t attend Jewish religious services or Israel-related events. The long-term effect, of course, is that it will increase ignorance and reduce communal involvement. We need for young people when they’re still in college to be exposed to a variety of ideas and practices and there’s no better time for them to deepen their involvement in Jewish life. If the opposite is happening, it will certainly effect the way they live their lives after their graduate.”