If you are not a member of a sorority or a fraternity, you’ve probably still heard the term “Big” and “Little.” One of the most significant parts of joining a sorority or fraternity is receiving your Big – an active chapter member who becomes your mentor and guide. Your Big Sister tells you the do’s and the don’ts – the hottest fraternity guys, the lamest philanthropies, what every secret thing means in ritual (and why you do not say certain things out loud in public), and more. These sisterly bonds are held almost sacred; it is taboo to call another woman in the sorority Big other than the woman assigned to you, even if things go wrong between you and your mentor.
But what about Big Bros, or “Bigs” from a fraternity?
Every Panhellenic sorority has specific rules against Big Brother/Little Brother programs, and the same with any IFC fraternity. The following is stated about the Panhellenic Council’s Unanimous Agreement X (UA X), or “Protecting the Right of NPC Members to Remain Women-Only Organizations”:
“Because the context of UA X is to protect our right as women-only organizations, sorority women should not serve as members of an auxiliary or a subsidiary to men’s fraternities. This can include any of the following: language such as little sister or daughter of, an education program, recruitment process, meetings, dues and outward recognition.
Here are things to avoid:
Big sister/little brother or big brother/little sister activities, connections, or organizations. These make it appear that our organizations are tied to one another.”
This Unanimous Agreement affects all 26 Panhellenic sororities, and because of this, specific colleges or organizations have to change their governing documents or bylaws. The reason that Panhellenic wants to make sure that their sororities are not connected to other fraternities by auxiliary groups is due to the lobbying of organizational leaders in the 1970’s, when sororities fought to maintain themselves as single-sex organizations. With the amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Title IX banned sexual discrimination in public and private institutions, which would have prevented sororities from keeping their membership all female. While the topic of gender and sex during sorority recruitment is another issue and article altogether, the focus is on how associating with opposite-sex auxiliary groups is in disregard of what the PC lobbyists of the past had fought to keep intact.
Groups have been disbanded from campuses because of the existence of Big Brother/Little Sister programs, generally because the Greek system is seen as a hub for sexual assault, rape, and hazing. Many believe that Big Brother/Little Sister programs only exacerbate these issues. Even back in 1989 at the University of Missouri-Columbia, fraternity “Little Sister” programs and rush parties may have led to rape and sexual assault that occurred in multiple fraternity houses, causing the university to crack down on these programs. The Greek system’s reputation is never helped by the incidences of sexual assault and rape on college campuses, especially when the women and men involved are Greek. However, it is difficult to say whether or not the Big Brother programs were a direct cause of sexual assault on sorority women, since sexual assault is not mutually exclusive to college parties and alcohol. The Big Brother/Little Sister programs seem to be a scapegoat and an avenue for universities to attack Greek organizations instead of focusing on improving awareness on sexual assault and educating members of campus organizations. Thankfully, due to Title Nine legislation, organizations that have been deemed “high-risk” (to no surprise, Greeks are part of this group) go through mandatory training and seminars about sexual assault and harassment.
Another major concern about Big Brother programs is an increase of hazing, as Little Sisters will be initiated into their Big Brother’s fraternity family, and vice versa. Many Panhellenic and IFC organizations have tried to eliminate ‘families’ within their organizations, as these are usually cliques within the organization and can threaten bonds of sisterhood and brotherhood. Usually, New Members will go through a ‘family’ initiation, in addition to their initiation into the organization after their pledge-ship has ended. These family initiations typically include alcohol and hazing activities in order to prove you belong in the family. For fraternities, these initiations can be much more intense, and could involve skimpy outfits for women and heavy binge drinking.
Due to these concerns and the legislation put in place by Panhellenic sororities and IFC fraternities, why then do women across the country from all sororities and universities continue to participate in Big Bro/Little Sister and Little Sister/Big Brother programs?
I talked to sorority women from across the United States for their personal experiences with Big Brothers and Little Brothers in fraternities. For privacy reasons, names of people, universities, and organizations have been changed or omitted.
Big Brothers offer just as much support as Big Sisters do.
An overwhelming amount of women gushed about the physical and emotional support they gained from their Big Brother, likening the experience to that of gaining their Big Sis.
“He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes and would protect me. This is exactly what I recognized in my sorority Big right away. So I just thought, ‘If this is the way he treats me, what is so wrong with having a Big Bro.’” – A
“What I wanted from Greek life was to find those kind of lifelong friendships. I have those with my sisters, but also with my boy Little and my boy Big, who was the reason I went through sorority recruitment. He helped me realize that I belonged in my chapter instead of choosing another for the wrong reasons.” – B
“He's helped me with just about every problem and it's the same relationship I have with my big in my sorority.” – C
A Big Brother offers the same guidance as a Big Sister, and the opposite is true when sorority women take Little Brothers. Here’s one fraternity man’s take:
“It helps a guy a great deal knowing that his Big Sis is there for fashion or relationship advice, or maybe he needs someone to go with him to see the new romantic comedy out there. I feel that a big/little of opposite sex is really just a good friendship with a label, and maybe having matching letters makes it an even better friendship.”
Having a Big Brother or Little Brother fosters Greek relations.
Every executive board for every organization always has to deal with the issue of “Greek relations” – basically, how well you get along with everyone that isn’t in your sorority or fraternity. How do Big Bros foster these types of relations?
For some campuses, strong relationships between sorority women and fraternity men increase the turnout at philanthropic events, where sororities and fraternities raise money for their philanthropies. The stronger the Greek relations, the more money you’ll make for charity, which is why so many chapters focus on these relationships.
“I'm part of a little sister panel for a fraternity on my campus and I think it's awesome! Each guy has a Little or two from each sorority, so it is a great way to get connected with other sororities and make Panhellenic unit a reality. We're not technically allowed to be little sisters, but as long as we represent our chapter well and don't do anything to jeopardize our reputation, it's over-looked. We don't have big brothers; I don't think any of the sororities on my campus do.” – F
These relationships can help Panhellenic friendships grow, too.
“Without going to my Big Bro’s house to do homework or just hang out I would have never met a bunch of girls that are also Little Sisters at that house. We have our own little Panhel group of girls that all hang out together and even have our own group chat…If I would have never gotten my Big in that house, I would not have the same relations I do with other Panhel chapters.” – L
Big Brothers offer support when Big Sister relationships fail.
Some Big and Little relationships between sorority sisters may fade after time, no matter how strong the start. Having more than one mentor in the Greek system can only help a Little stay connected to her sisters and the Greek community.
“My sorority Grand Big had a falling out with her Big so my GGBig is a dude and I couldn't have wished for a better one…I think it’s important that in the case of a missing or broken 'family' there are pieces like him to glue together the cracks.” – E
“My big sis and I never connected and I was ready to quit my sorority until I met my Big Bro. He helped me get involved in Greek life and see all the benefits of it. Through lunch dates, study nights, and weekends spent with his brothers, I saw how great Greek life was and it made me want to be more involved…He's probably the best thing I ever got out of Greek life. I know he'll always be one of my best friends. He helped me meet some of my best friends in other sororities as well, and made the Greek "community" actually seem like a community to me.” - M
The Big Bro/Little Sister relationship is anything but sexual.
This is the most well-known stereotype when it comes to Big Brothers and Little Sisters. While I personally know many great couples that resulted out of these bonds, not all relationships are sexual. These relationships are similar to any other female/male friendship.
“To me, it really felt like he was just like an older brother.” - A
“I usually call my Big Bro ‘Dad,’ because that's how close we are and shows how much I trust and look up to him.” – C
“We've been best friends for over two years now. I even set him up with one of my sisters, who is undoubtedly his soulmate and the only person (other than me) that's as weird as he is LOL…I can only describe our Big/Little relationship as one of mutual weirdness and inexplicable trust.” – K
Big Brothers do their best never to make their Little Sisters feel uncomfortable, and protect them from any inappropriate situation, especially around other men. Not only does a woman gain support from her Big, but from her Big’s fraternity brothers as well.
“A benefit I've noticed is that not only did I expand my family, my Little’s boy family is now a part of mine as well. My support system has extended massively and now I have just as many connections with Panhellenic woman as I do guys in IFC…The fraternity tends to hold you in a little bit of higher regard knowing you're a little sister or big sister to one of their brothers, so it extends even further from just your big/little relationship with the fraternity.” – O
“I have never once felt uncomfortable or anything around my Big Bro’s fraternity brothers. I think the concerns are not even relevant. We are strong proud sorority women; since when did we let it be okay for boys to push us around? I think we are taught to stand up for ourselves, and we are taught what is right and wrong. The relevance of the problems isn't there.” – G
Not only is a woman’s Big Brother there to make sure she steers clear of trouble at parties, but the last woman quoted is right; sorority women are strong enough to make their own decisions and own up to their own mistakes. We can stand up for ourselves, and with the support of those we love – men and women – we grow only stronger.
However, sexual assault and hazing continues to happen, despite the stricter enforcement against Big Brother programs. Because of the scrutiny on the Greek system, many Big Brother/Little Sister pairs are forced into secrecy:
“Well…having intermixed relationships (big bro/little sis, etc) is not allowed and highly frowned upon, but some people still do in secret.” – H
“About Big Brothers, my sorority makes this a HUGE deal. They can even have you terminated through the process of honor council. They've even stalked our Facebook, Twitters, etc. But many of us still have them. We just don't announce them on social media and call them "best guy friend" or something equally as lame.” – J
“This coming semester, inter-organizational Bigs and Littles are being banned from my school and a lot of people are upset. It's frustrating to think that we stress Greek life as a whole community with quotes like, "No matter the letters, we're all Greek together," and then turn around and remove such a bonding thing from Greek life...I go to a very little liberal arts college and within the Panhell bylaws it can't be supported, because then the organizations aren't strictly sororities (because men are associated). It was described very crudely as ' interbreeding'.” - P
It is very clear that the Big Brother/Little Sister programs are not the issue at hand.
The lack of structured programs and accountability adds to the problems and increases secrecy, which makes it difficult for women or men to come forward if sexual assault or hazing occurs.
Without structured and monitored Big Brother/Little Sister programs, there is an assumed increased risk that women or men will not report any inappropriate behavior if they are victims of hazing, sexual assault, or rape within the Greek community. Despite the support, love, and positive benefits these relationships have given countless sorority women and men, holding these secret auxiliary groups accountable for their actions and keeping watch over them will only benefit the Greek community at large.
These types of programs are so engrained in Greek culture on so many campuses that a blanket ban will not resolve the ‘issues’ that many believe are associated with fraternities and sororities or any auxiliary group associated with them. Universities are making greater steps to hold their organizations accountable for hazing and sexual assault; however, incidents like these are usually individual groups, and are not representative of our Greek community as a whole. There is really no way to “eliminate” Big Brother programs on campuses, and once universities, Panhellenic, and Inter-fraternity councils realize this, we can begin to improve the Greek communities across the United States.