By Keith Ellis (with a big shout out to his Graduate Assistant James Crawford for providing ideas and suggestions)
Alcohol and fraternity recruitment; on many campus these two items are unfortunately synonymous with each other. Our fraternity men often believe that recruits are “looking for alcohol” or will not join unless we give them alcohol. Reality says that recruits will take their cues from you, the recruiters. If you can show them a good time without alcohol, they wont miss it. If all you talk about is alcohol and parties they will look for it and expect it, and if you hand them a beer as soon as they walk through the door you will have a member who expects to have alcohol at every function from that point on. The fact is, it is our members who want to have alcohol at recruitment because they just do not know how to talk to new recruits without a beer in their hand. Conversation is hard and translating our fraternal values into words can be even harder if our members do not have experiences with our values to fall back on. Below are some common excuses fraternity advisors hear about why fraternities need alcohol at recruitment, and the rebuttals to those arguments. Use this in your next recruitment planning meeting when the guy in the back of the room who only shows up for parties and just happened to wander into your meeting starts to speak up.
He’s Not Who We Thought He Was
We’ve all been there, at a party somewhere and there’s this random guy hanging out who starts to get a little out of control. No one is really sure who he is or how he got there but all of a sudden he’s starting a fight, or creeping out the female guests, or puking his guts out in the bathroom. Now multiply that by the number of recruits you have at your event. No one really knows any of these guys, where they are from, what their names are or what their background is. They could be cool, chill and fun to hang out with, or they could be violent, belligerent, or a rapist; but you gave them alcohol that night so the responsibility for their behavior belongs to you and your chapter.
A Modern Day Animal House
As fraternity men we spend a lot of our time combating the “Animal House Myth” that fraternities exist just to party, haze the pledges, use women and flunk out of school. When we spend our time recruiting with alcohol we just reinforce that stereotype; what our community shows potential members is that we cannot even go a week without drinking. Yet we wonder why the media likes to portray fraternities with the same “Animal House” lens.
But We Are a Social Fraternity
Have you ever looked up the definition of social in a dictionary? Social is defined by friendship, relationships, alliances and interactions. Not once do the words “party” or “alcohol” get mentioned. We are members of social fraternities, fraternities that are built on friendship and brotherhood, not alcohol.
But When You Drink You Find Out Who He Really Is
This excuse assumes that when you drink you are having real conversation and that you cannot have a real conversation without alcohol. The reality is that more real conversations happen every day without alcohol than with it. Having positive interactions with people can provide meaning to the conversation, can build stronger relationships and is likely to bring the recruit back the next day. Fraternities should be teaching our men to have these conversations sober to prepare them for the real world where alcohol is not the base of all conversation.
We Can’t Get the Active Brothers to Show Up for Recruitment Without Alcohol
Ever wonder why a chapter that doesn’t recruit with alcohol has so much more success getting brothers to show up for recruitment (and everything else)? It’s because when you recruit with alcohol you end up with a bunch of alcoholics and men who don’t know how to hang out together without alcohol being present. Pretty soon every activity your chapter does without alcohol has poor attendance because no one wants to go if they cannot drink.
But the Recruits Will Not Come if We Don’t Have Alcohol
First of all do you really want to recruit guys that are only looking for alcohol? Those are probably the guys that will only show up for parties too, and will cause problems when they are there. Secondly if you create an environment where the recruits feel comfortable hanging out with each other and make your recruits feel welcome in your house or recruitment location they will not need alcohol to have a good time. Men bond together in friendship and brotherhood naturally, you just have to plan ahead and have activities going on to facilitate that bonding.
All the Other Fraternities are Using Alcohol
Recruitment is all about branding yourself. It is the Public Relations arm of your not for profit organization, so of course you want to brand yourself as being better than the other fraternities on your campus. Why then do you all try to do the exact same activities as one another (i.e. all attempt to use alcohol as your main recruitment tool). Stand out, be different, choose a new path. Establish yourself as the fraternity that can hang out together without alcohol. Show the men who are looking for more out of their fraternity experience that your chapter has something to offer. Let the other chapters recruit the problem members while you get all the guys that want more from the fraternity than four drunken years.
We Need Alcohol to Have Fun
If this is true than the real world will not be kind to you. We have all had valuable experiences with our chapter brothers sober whether those experiences are white water rafting, doing an outdoor ropes course, attending chapter meeting or just sitting down and having a meal together. We know that alcohol is not the only way to have fun so why create that façade during recruitment? When we do, the recruits begin to expect everything to involve alcohol.
It’s Against the Law (and your National Policies)
I hate using the law argument but the reality is that throughout the United States of America the legal drinking age is 21. Very few fraternity recruits are of the age where they can legally consume alcohol, and it is illegal for the chapter to provide alcohol to recruits. Additionally your national fraternity has rules against having alcohol during recruitment and you put your status as a fraternity at risk when you decide to ignore this policy.
Keith Ellis is the Associate Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life at the University of South Carolina. Keith spent three years at the University of Kentucky as the fraternity advisor and worked diligently with the fraternity leaders there to build a strong values based community. Keith graduated from the University of Memphis in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and during his time as an undergrad was a chartering member of the Tennessee Beta chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon and served on the Standards Board, as Vice President of Recruitment and as President. Keith received his Maters in Higher Education Administration from the University of Kansas before moving to Kentucky to be the Assistant Director of Student Involvement. Keith is pursuing a doctoral degree in Educational Policy Evaluation focusing on legal issues and hazing in Greek Letter Organizations. Keith has served as a UIFI facilitator and is on the faculty for the Novak Hazing Prevention Institute.