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Big Belle, Little Belle program promotes sisterhood, community

| Friday, December 11, 2015

There may not be any Greek life in South Bend, but the “Big Belle, Little Belle” initiative at Saint Mary’s promotes a sisterly bond, allowing upperclassmen to help first-years transition into life at the College.

Co-chairs of the first year concerns committee, sophomore Caroline Koenig and junior Taylor Lashbrook, collaborated to assemble the program, according to Koenig. She said the juniors and seniors who serve as Big Belles bond with their assigned littles through events such as craft nights, highlighting the supportive environment of Saint Mary’s.

“Trying to connect the first-years and the upperclassmen can be hard at times because there are things that separate them,” Koenig said. “To bring everyone together, to make more connections and to make more friends is a very positive thing for the community.”

An overwhelming number of first-years signed up, so the program, which would initially have included only junior Big Belles, broadened to incorporate seniors as well, Koenig said.

“You make all these friends so fast, and you get thrown into the crazy different environment that college is,” she said. “We felt that we needed people who are already grounded, people who already know who they are in college, to lend a helping hand.”

Koenig said she and Lashbrook made an effort to pair girls with common interests, such as the same major, making it easy for first-years to receive pertinent advice. Based loosely on the sorority concept of having an older sister, who serves as a role-model, “Big Belle, Little Belle” aims to promote relationships between grade levels, Koenig said. She also said the success of this year’s launch helped identify ways to improve the program in following years.

“We have a lot of ideas for how it’s going to flow next year and how we want to make it bigger and better,” Koenig said. “We’re still trying to work out a bit of the kinks since it is such a new program, and we had such a big turnout.”

Junior Katie Slisz said she feels fortunate to mentor two Little Belles, as she enjoys interacting with and learning from younger students.

“It’s nice to be able to get to know freshmen and expand your base of the connection with people you know in college,” Slisz said. “Instead of staying with my own group of friends or people I know from class, I’m able to meet people outside of that.”

Slisz said she enjoys referring back to her own experiences so she can advise students and ease any difficulties they may have while adjusting to the college environment.

“Personally, it was kind of scary coming in because I didn’t know anyone initially,” Slisz said. “It’s nice to have the ability to reach out to them. It really is such a great community-builder.”

Slisz said so far Big Belles have made crafts — including door decorations and booklets with useful tips — for their mentees to promote a comfortable relationship with open communication. She said participating in the program has given her friends she would not have made otherwise, while granting her the chance to make their college experience the best it can possibly be.

“A lot of our core values are about sharing in a bond and working to build people up,” Slisz said. “This really is a great way to form positive relationships where we can be helping one another.”

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About Martha Reilly

Martha is a senior majoring in English literature and political science. She currently serves as Saint Mary's editor but still values the Oxford comma in everyday use.

Contact Martha