The Phi Gamma Delta fraternity at the University of Maryland threw a rush party at the beginning of the semester, and dozens of potential recruits showed up. The guys threw a football in the front yard, ate pizza in the packed living room and talked at length about sports.
Throughout the event, they refilled their plastic Solo cups with soda.
"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."