A Special Sibling Relationship: Big Sib Dynamics

An inside look at how Big Sibs and Little Sibs each view the Big Sib program.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

As you enter the Stuyvesant building for the first time during Camp Stuy, applause swarms you. Each pair of congratulatory hands belongs to a grinning upperclassman clad in a Big Sibs t-shirt. While the hallmark Big Sib program, with its constant stream of support and events, has long been hailed as a concerted effort to welcome incoming freshmen and sophomore transfers, its effects vary in degree from student to student, largely depending on the relationship between Little Sibs and their upperclassmen counterparts.

Junior and Big Sib Chair Adeline Sauberli shared that she emphasizes the importance of Big Sibs initiating interaction in a Big-Little Sib relationship. “Just because you tell your homeroom ‘hey, if you have a question, you can message me,’ I don't think a lot of people follow up with that. I think one thing is that Big Sibs have to be the first person to do the interaction, at least at the beginning. Then it's amazing because your Little Sib ends up coming up to you, but you need to be the first person there [...] People who can really carry a conversation, [that’s] a little thing that's really important,” she explained.

Sauberli also noted that it’s beneficial to go about one’s Big Sib duties in an unconventional manner. She explained, “Basically, you have to be cringe as much as possible in order to get anywhere. And that does mean you walk up to your Little Sib in the hallway, and you just start talking to them about how things are going.” And while Big Sibs may think that it is only important for them to get to know their Little Sibs, it is equally important for Little Sibs to get to know their Big Sibs. Big Sibs can be an inspiration, as Sauberli stated: “When you see someone talking really passionately about something that they’re doing as an upperclassman [then] that changes a lot.”

When asked about their experience with their Big Sibs, anonymous freshman A said, “Some of them just like, ignored the rest of us. They sort of were just there, maybe because it looks good for their college applications. They didn't really want to talk to us or associate with us in any shape or form, they just ignored us, and the only talking that they would do with us was the lesson boards and occasionally chiming in. It felt like they did not want to be there.” However, she added that a couple of her other Big Sibs were much more proactive and they introduced her to their extracurriculars.

Big-Little Sib relationships can have a huge range of dynamics, as each Big Sib’s style of interaction varies. Sauberli stated, “People have really different ideas of what’s important about Big Sibs: some people think it should be a really professional relationship, where you kind of are giving advice, and you're kind of an extra resource—really similar to a guidance counselor.” During the interview process for recruiting Big Sibs, interviewees are given a hypothetical situation to gauge their ability to defuse an unprecedented situation. For example, one of the scenarios was that a Little Sib developing romantic feelings for their Big Sib. “Sometimes when we give people the, you know, the romantic scenario, that the Little Sib likes them, people were like, yeah, this is meant to be a purely professional relationship,” Sauberli noted. And while most Big Sibs can agree that a relationship with a Little Sib shouldn’t stray in that direction, Sauberli does not think this should mean that the relationship is completely professional and sterile: “We think that really cool things can come out of Big Sibs being friends with their Little Sibs.” 

Indeed, some Big Sibs do take the professionalism of the job too far, acting almost like a guidance counselor in situations where they are meant to be more of an older, helpful friend. Anonymous freshman A also pointed out that “with some [Big Sibs], it definitely feels like more of a transactional thing, and for others that actively reach out to a lot of us it felt more like they were my actual sibling, but nicer.” The Big Sib-Little Sib dynamic should be more personalized to be more meaningful. “I felt like it was too professional a model, I suppose. It felt like they were giving hard-cut advice that didn’t really have any of their own experience in it. It was more like the standard advice that you might get from anyone or any guidebook,” they added.

The activities that Big Sibs and Little Sibs are given can also make or break the Big Sib relationship. Anonymous freshman A shared that the particular environment of Camp Stuy was conducive to great Big-Little Sib dynamics. “Within the Big Sib, like responsibilities, I feel like Camp Stuy [really] helped us get to know them better,” they said. Despite Big and Little Sibs frequently meeting during homeroom, Big Sib contributions didn’t have the same effect as Camp Stuy. “Homeroom didn’t really help much. They don’t really contribute much to that,” they said. “Being able to interact with [my Big Sibs] outside of the normal big set of responsibilities definitely was like the best you could do.” This was an imperative part of the Big-Little Sib connection that granted a more friendly, sibling-like relationship rather than a more professional one based on less effective structured activities.

Sauberli hopes to have more communication between Big Sibs and the administration, and also between homerooms to make the Big Sib program more cohesive. “We have to be more in contact with the administration about what we can do and what we can't do. And we have to meet with them more to plan things and make decisions,” Sauberli described. “We don't have a lot of opportunities to meet together as a whole unit, and share with other homerooms what's working and what’s not working. And because there's only five chairs, it’s hard to maintain communication with things like, you know, how they’re doing.” The goal of the Big Sib chairs is for the program to be more united by the end of their time as chairs.

Overall, Big Sibs are a crucial part of a freshman’s transition into Stuyvesant. “I feel like without [my Big Sibs], I don't think I would have made such a smooth adjustment to my time here at Stuy,” anonymous freshman A said. While the Big Sib program may have its drawbacks, from apathy to excessive professionalism from some Big Sibs, this year’s Big Sib chairs are laying plans to repair those issues for next year. Through adjustments such as not automatically accepting returning Big Sibs, chairs are expecting a higher standard of mentorship from Big Sibs, and make sure that every Big Sib is committed to aiding all incoming students.