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The Dartmouth
May 22, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Creating Family: “Big-Little” Relationships

One writer explores the friendships between and intricacies of bigs and littles in Greek life.

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Rush is over, and new members now embark on the Greek life experience. In addition to attending their first formals and social events, one beloved tradition of joining a Greek organization is getting a “big” — typically an older member of the house who is a designated mentor and friend to a new member, or “little.” 

Big-Little is not only a tradition, but also a mentorship program to provide a “built-in friend” to rely on in the house, according to Sigma Delta sorority member Sydney Fortner ’24. 

“It was kind of a nice way to get introduced into the house and get to know the older guys,” Leo Fuchs ’24, Gamma Delta Chi fraternity member, said. 

Heather Damia ’24, a member of Phi Tau gender-inclusive Greek house and the company manager of The Dartmouth Rude Mechanicals, which has also implemented a Big-Little mentor program, agreed. 

“It’s nice to have an assigned person where it’s like, this person likes you [and] wants to hang out with you, as opposed to just a bunch of older people that you don’t know,” she explained.

But how, exactly, are bigs and littles paired together? 

Maddy Spivak ’24, the “Fairy Godmother” of Sigma Delt — and therefore responsible for organizing Big-Little — described how, in Sigma Delt, both new and established members fill out a form answering questions about their personalities, hobbies and academic interests. The Fairy Godmothers also make sure to ask if there is anyone the littles know well and would rather not be paired with, or if there is anyone they want to get to know better. They also try to match people who would be a good fit for each other, according to Spivak.

They sometimes get “sillier” requests from members, according to Spivak: “There’s one family [lineage] that’s lactose intolerant.” 

However, some requests definitely hold higher priority than others. “If littles have a certain identity that is minoritized within the house … we try to make sure we honor any of those requests,” Spivak said. “Then the rest of them are maybe a little more trivial.” 

Not all Greek houses pair bigs and littles the same way, though. 

For GDX, your Big is usually the brother you were closest with during the rush process, according to Fuchs.

In Alpha Phi sorority, the “moms” hold a similar role to the Fairy Godmothers of Sigma Delt, acting as mentors for their new members, which they call “babies,” according to APhi member Mahina Amoy ’25. The moms organize “sister dates,” during which the older members spend time getting to know new members.

“You go on tons of sister dates and get to know girls for a week, and then [old members] tell the Moms [which] girls… [they’re] really interested in having as [their] Little,” Amoy said. “They help … make sure that everyone hopefully ends up with someone that they really like.” 

Although getting to know so many potential littles made it difficult for her to choose one, the process paid off in the end.

“It’s so hard because you get to know so many girls, and you just want all of them as your ‘babies,’” Amoy said. “The good thing about going on so many sister dates is [that] I have my little, and I connected with her super well, but I also have like five plus other girls that I got to know, and I still do things with those babies all the time, too.”

Once bigs and littles are matched up, the big typically keeps their identity a secret from their little for what is known as “Big-Little Week.” During this time, bigs may interact with their Littles in various ways, such as communicating through anonymous texting apps or dropping off gifts at their door, Spivak said. 

Some bigs also give their littles specific “tasks” to do, which Sasha Usher ’25 — a member of Sigma Delt — described as “rather silly.” Nonetheless, Spivak, Usher and Amoy all stressed that none of the tasks are compulsory: Members can choose to participate however much they want.

“The only thing that a big has to do during Big-Little Week is make a poster for their little and put it on their door that usually says something along the lines of ‘Welcome Home’ or ‘Sigma Delt Loves You’... and leave it at their door as a surprise,” Spivak said.

Amoy also decorated her little’s room with an APhi sign, as well as her little’s favorite snacks and “a bunch of fun little gifts.”

Fortner reflected fondly on the tasks her big gave her as a little: “I actually was having a really hard week when I was a little… so [my Big gave me] self care tasks,” she said. She was “tasked” to go on a Woccum —  a walk around Occom Pond — and pet therapy dogs. Fortner’s big made her feel “really cared for and looked out for” during Big-Little week.

At the end of Big-Little Week comes “reveals,” as the littles finally get to find out their bigs’ identities.

During reveals, many Big-Little families coordinate matching or complimentary costumes according to certain themes. For instance, Spivak, her little, and her grand-little (her little’s new little), took advantage of their tall height to dress up as tall foods: “I was a banana, my Little was a pickle and my grand-Little was a hotdog.”

At Sigma Delt, the Littles then line up in the basement and their bigs line up behind each of their littles. Then, they have a sort of “call and response” tradition, Spivak said, where littles pledge to like their big’s Instagram posts and the Bigs say things like “I pledge to always support my little.”

After the pledge, the littles turn around and see who their big is. 

APhi has a similar tradition of incorporating themed costumes into reveals. Amoy’s littles, dressed as “rave girls,” had to search the room for Amoy and her Big, dressed as “disappointed Dads.” 

Although reveals mark the end of Big-Little Week, Big-Little relationships ideally last much longer, according to Spivak.

Spivak developed much of her friendship with her big outside the house, whether through grabbing meals or playing pong together. They became close enough that Spivak stayed with her in Boston for a night during the summer, even after her big graduated. 

Amoy also reaches out to her family often and feels “super lucky” to know her big, grand-big and even her great grand-big.

“I adore them. They’ve always been there for me, [and] they’ve always been helping me learn the ropes,” Amoy described. “[My big is] my go-to person when I have something that I need figured out, or I have a question.”

Damia also still texts her big whenever she needs advice: “I’m like, ‘Hi mom, help me,’” she joked. 

Despite its benefits, the Big-Little pairings are not always perfect matches.

“Part of the Big-Little thing is that you may not have anything in common with your little or your big,” Fortner acknowledged. “I sometimes do feel like littles don’t feel supported by their bigs because their bigs aren’t really involved … but there’s no one way to fix that.”

The relationship between bigs and littles often yields however much is put into it. “If you want it to be a big thing it can be,” Damia said. “If you’re like ‘eh, whatever,’ it doesn’t need to matter for you.”

For some fraternities, Big-Little is a small part of the Greek experience. 

“[Big-Little] is not a huge deal,” Fuchs said. “It’s a pretty small thing that happens on the side.”

Despite its limits, Big-Little has undeniably influenced many sorority members’ investments in their houses.

“The care you have for the house and the people in it grows exponentially through [the Big-Little] process,” Amoy reflected. “I feel like now I’m at a stage where … [I] have a deepening desire to give back to APhi and make for this new class the great experience as a baby that I had.”