How Fraternity First Feels

by Matt Farrell

When did you first feel your fraternity?

I’m not talking about when you first saw or heard about it. That’s usually the research you did, or the guy you already knew, or the bid that somehow ended up in front of you.

I’m not talking about the first close friend you met either. Even if that’s a big part of why you joined, that’s just one guy. I’m not even talking about the first time you were around your new member class or full chapter. After all, there’s plenty of other groups on campus that promised to make you close friends.

What I’m asking is when you realized this “fraternity” thing wasn’t just a social club. That your challenge and self-development would lie far beyond one semester. When did the connection with those around you transcend anything you could’ve imagined? What’s the story?

When did you first feel it?

For many men it takes at least a few weeks. Perhaps big brother night, an impactful bonding event, or a deep conversation with an older brother. Sometimes a few months – initiation, landing an internship, getting a little brother of your own. Some take years and some never feel it at all (remember the cool guys in your chapter who stopped showing up?)

All of the above are becoming increasingly terrifying to me for one major reason: they go against everything this generation of college student is searching for.

College students’ time matters more than ever. The rising cost of college places further pressure on maximizing the entire experience. Technology continues to offer fun and interesting distractions for the remaining free time. With endless options that can be difficult to compare, “what’s in it for me?” is the logical way to decide any time commitment.

Gen Z wants an edge.

Fraternities offer a great one, but we cost more. And they can get a lot of our benefits elsewhere on campus for free. At least it seems that way on the surface.

Over the past few years, IFC recruitment is becoming increasingly formal for all sorts of reasons. Whether you love it, hate it, or don’t care – there’s one thing very hard to deny:

We’ve never had a better opportunity to help hundreds of strangers feel fraternity together.

I’ve been traveling to orientations across the country these past few weeks and meeting our future potential members. They’re all in one spot. Waiting in the auditorium, or the classroom, or wherever that opening event is held. But what are they waiting for?

Hard to say. It could be a bunch of rules, or scheduling stuff that they can just look up afterwards. Or perhaps it’s simply something to sit through before they begin their “audition” of showing strangers why they should be chosen ahead of others next to them. On the outside they’re trying to act cool, on the inside they’re scared out of their mind. They have no idea what they’re actually waiting for.

We get to decide.

Are we putting on a meaningful experience, or are we just reading PowerPoints? How is the increased pressure on logistics, organization, and format impacting the real goal of recruitment?

There’s no doubt it’s a challenge. But formal IFC recruitment presents a chance to feel fraternity faster. And PNMs are craving it. Many of them suspect fraternity could give them the edge that they’re seeking. But they’re also crippled with the pressure to perform in every aspect: classes, resume, relationships, and social relevance to name a few.  Above all, our research (and others’) points to the sense of belonging they need to handle the pressure cooker of college.

Belonging is not a new message. But in watching several formal recruitments these past few weeks, it’s striking to see fraternity men that do it well. Freshmen are lucky to receive positive messages about belonging from orientation leaders and advisors. But there’s something special when the sense of true belonging is fostered by an average fraternity dude. The guy who isn’t “supposed” to act that way.

The most critical factor in any relationship is what Dr. John Gottman refers to in his book The Relationship Cure as a “bid” (ironically enough). He considers bids to be a “question, a gesture, a look, a touch—any single expression that says, ‘I want to feel connected to you.’” Gottman’s research showed bids are more important than any content within the relationships itself, and that it’s the easiest way to accelerate a quality relationship. Makes sense right? Most of your conversations with significant others, closest brothers, or even family are still about the same “boring stuff” you discuss with people you’re less close with. They just make it more meaningful and more fun. They care more.

Belonging is not something guys can really hear. We have to show them what it’s like. Thousands of friendships between men are there for the taking, regardless of recruitment structure. Fraternity men just have to focus on this new type of bid, instead of the piece of paper PNMs are mentally fixed on. We have to show them they belong instead of telling them.

When did you first feel your fraternity? How can we ensure our newest members feel it before you did?

Please reach out to me at to see how we can help your recruitment kickoff plans or make some future tweaks.