I still remember the conversation, though I don’t remember his name. I was chatting with a classmate in college about why he joined a fraternity and I will never forget his response, “I joined for the beer; I stayed for the brothers.” But he continued on to brag of his lackluster contributions to his chapter: lack of attendance at meetings, beer pong champion, refusal to move into the “lame” chapter house, and his ever-loyal dedication to all the unofficial social events. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but of course this was the man this fraternity recruited, because the way they recruited was the exactly what that type of member would seek. Yet, I’m sure he was not really the member they wanted.
And that’s precisely the paradox of recruiting with alcohol. I hear it defended by chapter after chapter, each telling me one of two justifications for its necessity. The first is that is what gets guys in the door. The second is that the chapter needs to get recruits drunk in order to know who they really are. But is any of this truly necessary?
So let’s first talk about how alcohol brings guys to the door. I want you to ask yourself, “What kind of guys are coming for the alcohol?” Are these the leaders, the scholars, the gentlemen you seek? Or, are they the dudes who are going to not pay their dues, get wasted at socials, and trash your house? What type of chapter do you want to be? I constantly hear groups they don’t want to be stereotyped as ‘frats’. And my response to that is, then don’t’ recruit like one! If you recruit with alcohol and parties, you are sending the message that those are things you value and you will, in turn, recruit men who value the same things. No other student organization on your campus needs booze to attract members… why do you? Your fraternity is supposedly more awesome than any other group, so it should be easier to get men, not harder, right?
OK, so maybe using alcohol to get people to your events is wrong, but what about using alcohol as a tool to learn who a guy really is? Doesn’t getting someone drunk show us his true self? Well, I don’t know about that either. When I’m drunk I talk… a lot! I also stumble, laugh obnoxiously, and on occasion lose my lunch. None of that tells you anything about who I am as a person. The content of my person remains the same- sober or not. You can learn about my fluency in sarcasm, dislike for all things too ‘girly’, and seriously liberal leanings by talking to me in any state of sobriety (or lack thereof). If you don’t know enough about a guy from your sober interactions with him to decide if he’d be a great member, then you don’t know him well enough! Getting him drunk isn’t going to be the tipping point for assessing whether he meets your standards. Your rule of thumb should be, “Don’t give him a bid today if you aren’t willing to initiate him tomorrow.” No, you don’t actually have to initiate him tomorrow, but that’s how well you should know every man who entrust with your pledge pin.
There is an assumption that people expect you to use alcohol to recruit. That idea is reinforced on TV, in movies, and on less-than-flattering websites that highlight the negative images of fraternity. That isn’t what great men expect when they are looking for an organization that will make them better men. There are phenomenal men on your campus who will join because your fraternity is amazing. And the jerk-offs who don’t like that you aren’t recruiting with alcohol? F-em! Those aren’t the guys who are going to help your chapter succeed, and they’re likely to become a thorn in your side for the next 4 years. Have the confidence to know your organization is awesome and that you don’t need to rely on people getting drunk to be interested in your fraternity.