When Hunter Rice came to SMU from Los Angeles in 2012, Greek life was one of his main priorities.
“I thought it would be an easy outlet to meet guys I could relate to,” he said.
But he quickly found out that finding a perfect fit would be more difficult than he expected. Homesick for the Jewish culture, Rice contemplated transferring schools. Then he came up with a different idea: “Instead of leaving to go find what I was looking for, why not try to inject that into SMU and bring it here?”
Two years later, Rice is one of the founder of SMU’s newest fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi. The fraternity, nicknamed AEPi, is the first chapter to be approved by SMU’s Interfraternity Council in almost 30 years, since Sigma Phi Epsilon joined the SMU campus in 1986.
Nationally, AEPi was founded in 1913 at New York University and is rooted in the Jewish faith. The fraternity’s arrival comes during a time of expanding cultural and religious diversity on campus.
“It’s a positive reaction [from the Greek community] because the IFC recognized they were filling a need for a chapter with Jewish heritage,” said Kevin Saberre, the SMU advisor to IFC.
Rice believes acceptance by IFC and the SMU community is positive, but draws attention to a widespread history of non-inclusive attitudes.
“This area as a whole is not really subject to change or have change,” he said. “We’ve had negative reactions [anonymously on social media], but at the end of the day it’s most important to build this for students in the future; that it’s going to help and build a place where students can feel comfortable.”
Only 2 percent of the current SMU student body identifies as Jewish. That population stands at roughly 300 students now, and AEPi seeks to boost those numbers.
AEPi vice president Lance Barnard hopes the fraternity will attract Jewish high school students to apply to SMU.
“That does factor into people’s decisions,” he said. “They want to see a population on campus and that it’s thriving.”
Rabbi Heidi Coretz, director of Hillel of Dallas, works within SMU’s Office of the Chaplain to organize and support interfaith activities.
“Religious diversity is encouraged and affirmed here,” Coretz said. “It’s a very positive climate here. It’s very embracing of SMU to support all religious life and racial diversity.”
The men of AEPi are especially interested in what this new diversity will bring. Rice and Barnard said the possibility of building a fraternity house is on their radar, and they’re gearing up for spring 2016 recruitment.
The SMU chapter consists of 17 students and is looking to grow. Barnard and Rice share a goal of maintaining individuality within the house as it grows in size.
“It’s a fraternity where you don’t have to be afraid to be yourself,” Barnard said. “We have that shared culture but every single guy in there is really unique. We want to keep that going forward.”