On the outside looking in, the customs of Greek life seem fun: socials every week, sorority tank tops for days and flashing your sorority’s letter sign whenever possible.
But one thing is for sure, sororities unite college women that wouldn’t have necessarily met otherwise. Gillian Fleshman and Rachael Ann Lerner, a big-little relationship in Alpha Upsilon Pi, are just one example at Manhattan College.
“We’re easily best friends” said Lerner, a junior studying radiologic technology.
Fleshman is a sophomore studying French and Spanish. Because of their difference in class standing and major, they attribute their union to rushing and joining the sorority on campus.
“My whole perception [of sororities] changed when I met them,” Fleshman said. They met at a rush event and bonded over their love for glitter and arts and crafts.
Fleshman selected Lerner to become her big immediately. Lerner said there wasn’t a contestant when choosing Fleshman to be her little because everyone in the sorority seemed to know that they had a special connection from the beginning.
“I don’t have to really meet up with her to see how her studies are doing,” Lerner said of Fleshman. “She’s really studious so I don’t worry on her academia.”
Big-little relationships are a lot like a big-little sister relationship, mainly composed by protection and support.
“Our relationship was really friendship,” Lerner says as she shares that she wasn’t involved in Fleshman’s pledging process. “That [process] is up to the e-board”.
“I’m involved in protecting her and her interest, her safety and well being” said Lerner. “It’s up to the pledge mistress on how she wants to work with the new pledges.”
A pledge mistress is the overseer that watches over the pledges and dictates the process, while guiding the pledges through what it means to be a sister, Lerner added.
When asked about the pledging tasks each candidate had to partake in, Lerner mentioned that each sorority has a confidentiality agreement.
“We do have a confidentiality statement about the pledging process,” said Lerner.
“I was never in danger,” said Fleshman.
Lerner added that even though Fleshman has the sorority as a priority, she came to school to study.
“The sorority is important for all but her priority is her school work so as a big sister that is what I want to protect,” Lerner said.
Alpha Upsilon Pi is no longer recognized as a sorority at Manhattan College due to what the college called a “hazing incident” last year. But altogether, they still act like one and continue to build upon their relationships.
“Our friendship remains, even though what brought us together is not here anymore,” said Lerner.
“It’s not necessarily seen by people out of the greek life but there’s a lot of effort that goes into it. We care about each other and the philanthropy we do,” said Lerner.
Every big-little relationship is going to be different because every family is different, according to Lerner.
One of their best memories as the duo was during the pledging process, before they were aware of their official big-little relationship. Fleshman made a paddle decorated with the sorority symbols, and Lerner gave her little presents throughout the process.
In the everyday, after Fleshman was officially accepted into the sorority and paired with Lerner, they became equals.
“I was lost. I felt alone and having a sorority gave me a sense of belonging at school,” Fleshman said.