Campus Reacts to Leak of Racist, Islamophobic AEPi E-mails

“I think our [Muslim] community members deserve an apology.”

By Sarah Manhardt

The campus community reacted Thursday to a BuzzFeed News article comprising leaked e-mails from the Chicago chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity. The e-mails contained racist, Islamophobic, and misogynistic content that mocked student groups and an individual student. A former brother leaked the e-mails, which were sent to AEPi’s listhost between 2011 and 2015.

Many of the e-mails released contained anti-Islamic statements and racist language. Content in the e-mails mocked Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, used racial epithets for blacks and Muslims, joked about Palestine, and made degrading comments about women.

Third-year Ala Tineh, vice president of the Muslim Students Association (MSA), which was attacked in the e-mails, said she would like an apology from AEPi.

“I think our [Muslim] community members deserve an apology, as well as students of color, specifically African-American students, and half of the campus who are women, so that’s the least they can do,” she said.

Third-year Stephanie Greene, the president of the Organization of Black Students, said the University should use the e-mails to address systemic racism on campus.

“I think it would be really important for the University to say, ‘There’s something going on at our University that we need to change,’ so if that means we are starting to diversify the Core so kids are seeing more ideas of what racism and institutional racism are part of their academic experience here, that would be great,” she said.

In an e-mail to students, Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Karen Warren Coleman and Dean of Students in the University Michele Rasmussen called the language “disrespectful and harmful” and urged students to participate in survey forums for the upcoming campus climate survey focused on diversity, inclusion, and the climate for underrepresented and marginalized groups.

“The attitudes and views [the e-mails] express are unacceptable, violate the University’s core values, and conflict with our strong commitment to ensuring that people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives can thrive on our campus,” the e-mail read.

AEPi released an apology on Facebook, stating that it will implement four steps in response to the incident. The steps include amending its charter to create a zero-tolerance policy for hate speech and mandate mandatory sensitivity training for pledges, ensuring the Code of Conduct is explained to all potential rushes before they can receive a bid, and having “ongoing open forums” with the campus community to improve the fraternity and Greek life as a whole.

AEPi president third-year Joshua Benadiva said the amendments should address the climate that allowed hate speech in AEPi, which he acknowledged has been an issue he has tried to address at the fraternity.

“That’s the idea behind these amendments, people were saying ‘Hey that’s messed up’ but other people were saying ‘Free speech’ and there’s no place for hate speech, we don’t have to abide by free speech in the context of things that are that hurtful,” he said.

While he discussed the contents of the e-mail, he denied that the “3rd Floor Constitution,” which included degrading comments about women, was written by fraternity members or ever posted in the fraternity. He acknowledged that the document was forwarded over the listhost.

AEPi spokesperson Jonathan Pierce said the international organization is supporting the Chicago chapter.

“We’re going to support them in that effort, make sure we’re providing them with programs to teach tolerance, we’re working right now with a couple organizations on that and we’ll be bringing that into the Chicago chapter.”

This e-mail release was the most recent in a string of racial bias incidents on campus. In 2014 several students’ Halloween costumes set off a chain of events which included a petition with over 2,500 signatures calling on the University to address the campus climate on racial issues, which resulted in the promise for a campus climate survey to address racial issues to be administered this spring. In spring 2012 two fraternities faced bias claims, and in spring 2013 a Facebook page entitled “Politically Incorrect Maroon Confessions” launched, featuring discriminatory content.

Fourth-year Salman Islam, the president of MSA, said that for him the e-mails localized a national conversation.

“Especially with the national elections that are going on you hear about a lot of hate being thrown around, you never realize [you never] think it’s in your own community.”