By Louie Diaz Jr.
As the new kids on the block, they needed to make a statement. The venue was the Underground, a York University pub, one Saturday night a few weeks ago. Ryerson’s first fraternity members in some 35 years knew they would have to do more than just show up to stand out from the other frats. Their group was just a few weeks old, and nowhere near as smooth and refined as the boys from York. So to show their pride, the new members of the largest Jewish fraternity in North America, Alpha Epsilon Pi, turned up at the party wearing toques and ties. Not a drastic measure, but enough to get noticed.
Stunts like these will help Jack Gryn, master of the Ryerson colony of AEPi, and his fellow frat members pass their probationary period, which can last up to two years. We have to prove to them that we have positive social impact and that it will be around for a few years,” said Gryn, also president of the Jewish Students Association. The third-year computer science student, who was allowed to join York’s frat the past two year, is optimistic that will happen. He says while the school has a number of cultural groups, they don’t offer the camaraderie of frats. JSA people come and go, Gryn says, rarely establishing a real bond. At AEPi, brothers are for life.
Jack Gryn emerges from JSA’s tiny Jorgenson Hall office after eating a bagel lunch. He has a blue AEPi baseball cap on and the Star of David dangles from his neck. Gryn is re-establishing an almost forgotten part of campus life at Ryerson. The AEPi colony is believed to be the first frat to set up shop on campus since 1965. That year the school had three unofficial fraternizes, but they disappeared from campus not long after 26-year-old Ryerson student Thomas Dasovich died in a car crash after participating in a seven-hour drinking contest sponsored by the frats. An inquest into his death revealed he drank 25 to 30 pints of beer that January night.
Gryn began work on bringing AEPi to campus in May. But before the frat’s headquarters in Indianapolis would even look at his proposal, he had to prove enough interest existed. “Once you have 10 guys, then we talk business,” he was told. Today, the frat boasts 21 full-fledged brothers and 35 potential members. “We offer them a group they can be part of. We offer them what they can’t get elsewhere,” said Jason Gottleib, regional advisor of AEPi. Before Gryn started the Ryerson colony, the only option for male students was to look to frats at York and the University of Toronto. (For Ryerson female students, there is still no on-campus choice.)
While the Ryerson colony is just a few weeks old, the fraternity was founded at New York University 87 years ago. Since then, AEPi has spread to more than 100 campuses across North America, and of the 70,000 men who have pledged, more than a few have left their mark. Famous alumni include folk singers Simon and Garfunkel, actor Gene Wilder, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Simpsons producer James L. Brooks.
Becoming a part of Ryerson’s AEPi frat takes a little more than saying you’re interested. “We want people who are willing to be involved and participate,” said Gryn. “We want the right people who walk the walk, not just talk the talk.” It costs $345 to become a brother, the bulk of which goes to AEPi’s head office.
Brian Wolk, a third-year computer science student, joined AEPi because he heard so many good things about the organizations from Gryn. “I didn’t know a lot of Jews [at Ryerson] at the time,” he said. “This is a good way to get involved in the community.”
Wolk hopes the frat will help the Jewish community flourish on campus. “We want as much people as we can … to try to get Jewish life here in Ryerson.,” he said. “We don’t see any life right now. They say there’s 1,000 Jews here. We hope to bring them out.”
Jacob Moshinsky, a third-year marketing student, recently become an AEPi brother. He is now lieutenant-master, or vice president, of the Ryerson colony. “This is a good way to meet people, to hang out together, to network and have links to the future.”
Three weeks ago, the AEPi boys hung out at a whirly ball court near Yorkdale mall. There, they took on seven Sigma Delta Tau sorority girls in a game that involves bumper cars, lacrosse sticks and a ball. “You try to get it in this basketball board thing with a target and try to hit it,” Gryn explained. “It was just a fun thing to do.”
Although AEPi, is the only fraternity based here, school policy doesn’t allow it to carry the Ryerson name. Marion Creery, director of student services, says the school has never officially recognized or approved any fraternities in its 52-year history, although no specific rule pertaining to frats exists. When told of AEPi’s arrival on campus, Creery said no one from the frat has contacted her.
Winning approval from the university, however, is not one of Gryn’s main concerns because he doesn’t think it’s necessary. He doesn’t want any space in Ryerson’s buildings to set up an AEPi office. He doesn’t want any financing. He doesn’t want to be restricted by university rules.
Creery says that’s fine as long as Gryn doesn’t use the Ryerson name. “If any student group uses our name they’d have to abide by Ryerson rules … and their rules might be in conflict.” Another concern of Creery’s is “the behavior that other frats have shown in the past.”
“We want assurances that similar behavior will not be at Ryerson,” she said.
Frat culture has changed significantly over the years, though. An AEPi pamphlet promoting the frat says chapters are not allowed to buy alcohol and hazing is “strictly prohibited.” These days, brothers and sisters are more occupied with the networking and community work than hazing and keg parties.
Last week, AEPi and JSA built a succah, a traditional prayer house to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Succoth. The wooden structure, the size of a small bedroom, stands between Pitman Hall and the Rogers Communications Centre as a place where Ryerson’s Jewish community can come together. (Ryerson security is investigating after the house was vandalized earlier this week.)
“What you see in the movies about frats is not what AEPi is about,” Gryn said. “It’s not about drinking. It’s about brotherhood.”