“You ask them: ‘What do you look for in a fraternity?’ And they might try to impress us and say, ‘Oh, I like girls and partying.’ And I say: ‘Yeah, every house does that. What else?’ ” said Jon Oks, a member who is a junior. “I tell them: Look at our trophies. Talk to these guys. . . . Come to our house, eat some pizza.”
Fraternity rush is sobering up at a number of universities, including Maryland, where administrators ordered the student organizations to overhaul their recruiting — or risk having the university do it for them.
Following incidents at the University of South Carolina and Yale and Cornell universities over the past two years, debate has arisen about the role of fraternities in higher education and whether they should continue to exist. Much of what fraternities offer — a small community at a large school, a network of alumni, community service and leadership opportunities — is now offered by universities themselves.
To survive, fraternities have to change, said Peter Smithhisler, president of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, which represents 75 fraternities with chapters on more than 800 campuses.
“Those chapters that can articulate what it means to be a fraternity man — beyond a drinking culture — are the ones making it,” he said. “Those who rely on the crutch of alcohol won’t make it.”
Often, that change starts with recruiting. If fraternities pick their next class of brothers based on interests, life goals and leadership experiences — instead of their hilarity when plastered — they are more likely to get along when sober, bond without hazing and view their organization as something other than a drinking club. That may mean fewer problems with alcohol abuse down the line.
Most schools prohibited the use of alcohol in recruiting decades ago, and most freshmen and sophomores who rush are younger than the legal drinking age of 21. But school rules and drinking laws often are ignored — and not just by fraternity members.
U-Md. officials say alcohol over the years has played a role in recruiting for many student groups. But fraternities have come under particular scrutiny.
Not long ago, fraternity rush at U-Md. mirrored some of the stereotypes in movies such as “Animal House” and “Old School.” Hordes of intoxicated students wandered the neighborhoods near campus, jumping from one kegger to the next, sometimes giving their cellphone numbers to fraternities they liked.
Spring rush often meant house parties that raged out of control, an increased number of students taken to emergency rooms for alcohol-related problems and the university investigating suspected cases of hazing.
In 2002, U-Md. student Daniel F. Reardon fell into a coma and died after a night of heavy drinking while joining the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity. His parents sued the fraternity and some of its members for not getting Reardon help quickly enough. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.