Starting this year, Berkeley’s EEGSA is implementing a big sibling program. The purpose is to reduce common anxieties first year graduate students face: adjusting to life in Berkeley, figuring out which classes to take, and finding an advisor. The assumption is that senior graduate students, having successfully adjusted to life in Berkeley by virtue of the fact they’re still around, will have words of wisdom for the newbies. The idea may originate from the Big Brothers, Big Sisters volunteer program, which serves as a mentorship program for children.
While the above program idealizes the idea of a big sibling, speaking as someone with a younger sister, elder siblings might not always act in the best interest of the younger one. Sorry, Sandhya! Perhaps for this reason, big sibling does not always carry a positive connotation. In Orwell’s 1984, “Big Brother is watching you.” With the help of video cameras, those who do not learn Newspeak and try to subvert the authority of government are found. The book inspired the reality show Big Brother, on which I will not comment. Sometimes assuming the role of big brother can come across as condescending or even racist. To justify the jingoism around the turn of the 20th century, President McKinley spoke of helping “our little brown brothers.”