Is THIS The Secret To Fixing Penn State (and all) Fraternities?

by Matt Mattson

There’s an old saying from Abraham Maslow, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

I feel that way about the recent happenings around fraternity life at Penn State.

Administrators have policy. Lawmakers have laws. Researchers have research. Disciplinarians have discipline. Educators have education.

I’m not saying that’s bad. In fact, I have a hammer too. I just know the problems in college fraternities aren’t nails. Nails are far too simple. We’re going to need more than one hammer, that’s for sure.

I’m no expert on the Penn State situation at all. I’ve talked with some of their student leaders and heard a genuine desire to do the right thing in their voices. That’s enough for me to want to help.

So let me offer my hammer as an additional tool to employ. But not just for PSU. We all know that State College, PA isn’t the only fraternity community where these problems exist (hazing, dangerous alcohol use, sexual assault, etc.). Experienced fraternity/sorority pros can make the list of the highest risk campuses (Why haven’t list-makers made that list? Another needed hammer.).

So what do we recommend for these giant problems?


I know. This is my hammer, so to me, these problems all look like great big nails! But I’m convinced this hammer must have a prominent place in the tool belt.

Here are just a few of the rants I’ve gone on over the years about how recruitment is directly related to the biggest problems our fraternities face:

The quality of our organizations is directly correlated to the quality of the members we recruit.

Our organizations too often use the lowest common denominator recruitment methods and marketing techniques to attract the lowest common denominator prospects.

Fraternity selection criteria has historically been “Does he seem like a ‘good guy’?” – determined by gut feelings established over the course of a 5-day rush period made up of shallow conversations over barbecue.

We select our 20 new members from a prospect pool of 21 prospects — we don’t let quantity drive quality.

The expectations we set for member behavior during recruitment and upon bid acceptance are far stronger than any standards board or judicial committee.

We have not collectively determined a positive collective marketing narrative about fraternity, so that vacuum gets filled by popular media and tired stereotypes.

So, to answer the question posed in the click-bait title of this post… No. Recruitment is NOT the secret to fixing all of fraternity’s problems. But, it is an important hammer that our undergraduate leaders are actually interested in learning about and want to engage with. We know this well.

Another important hammer to be employed (that student leaders actually want to talk about) is smarter strategic marketing aimed at higher quality/lower risk students. We need to tell a better story to better people to build better organizations.

It’s a big tool box that we need for all these hammers. But, we’re not the only ones who understand that truth, of course. The NIC’s leadership is constantly calling for patience and collaboration. The AFA leadership has demonstrated a desire to bring parties together to make meaningful change.

Recently, Jud Horras, NIC President and CEO put out a statement that said in part, “the uncomfortable truth is that the inherent limitation of our interventions is that they attempt to influence student behavior from a position of external power. Time and time again, we are humbled by the fact that our efforts are shallow unless students are committed to doing the right thing in the moment.”

We offer our hammer not as an external force pounding on students. Instead, we offer recruitment and marketing support as approachable student-led interventions that (while they require real effort to make an impact) can be a positive approach to reaching the goal that we all share — for fraternities to become the safe, uplifting, accelerators of personal growth and achievement we know they are meant to be.