eJP Interview Series

‘Get Your Phil’ with Rob Derdiger

As one of the more prominent Jewish institutions on a college campus, Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity houses have often been targets for antisemitic activities. But this has given them deep, friendly connections to campus administrators, which have become particularly useful, AEPi CEO Rob Derdiger told eJewishPhilanthropy Managing Editor Judah Ari Gross in the latest installment of “Get Your Phil.”

From a one to a four: “Many, many of our brothers kind of come into AEPi because the barriers to entry are very low, but they feel the the pull of Jewish community. And then through their involvement in AEPi, they do connect with Hillel. They do connect with Chabad. They do work through other Jewish organizations and become far more engaged in the Jewish community… If you think about it as a one to ten scale, we are successful even if we take a kid who’s at a ‘one’ in the level of interest in their Jewish identity and get them to be a four, or [from a] a three to a six. “

Post-Oct. 7 campus life: AEPi has responded to over 235 individual incident reports related to antisemitism and anti-Israel activity aimed at our chapters [since Oct. 7]. That ranges from threatening protest activity to physical assault to vandalism and everything in between. And it’s an incredibly challenging environment. But I don’t like to be completely negative. Eighty-one of our chapters participated in a day of strength on Oct. 15. Since Oct. 7, we’ve tracked over a thousand pro-Israel events on campus that our chapters have participated in and our chapters have raised over a quarter of a million dollars for Israeli causes. So they are rising to the occasion.

A friendly option: Sometimes if AEPi or Hillel can’t get in front of a college president, the [Anti-Defamation League] can. It’s a big name and sometimes they pick up the phone. There are other times when the ADL or [American Jewish Committee] is a scary name and a campus administrator who’s in a DEI office or a conduct office or a Greek life office is remiss to pick up the phone for those individuals. But when AEPi calls, we know each other. And there are so many conversations that we’ve been able to have since Oct. 7 because we say to our colleagues on the campus side, ‘Hey, this is off the record and you’re safe talking to us here. What do you need?’… There’s a lot of misunderstanding out there and there’s a lot of fear to engage because of the idea that there could be a Title VI investigation or a public outcry.On the ADL’s ‘report card’ for colleges: “First, I’ll say that schools have a lot of work to do… With that said, there were a lot of calls within the Jewish community for these objective metrics on universities… And I respect the ADL for at least giving it an attempt and using a pretty robust process to gather the data… On the flip side, I definitely join in some concern that in the next 11-12 days, most students who are heading to college will be making their decisions. And I hope that this does not become kind of the singular guide or singular point of information for the decision-making process on where you’re going to go to school. And I think that Adam [Lehman] from Hillel was correct in saying that it doesn’t really represent the totality of Jewish life and Jewish experiences on campus. And that’s an important point to be made.”

Watch the full recording below.