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Family values

The role of the family system in University organizations

	<p>University community members stood on the Lawn&#8217;s newly laid grass Wednesday evening to take in the annual end-of-summer tradition</p>

University community members stood on the Lawn’s newly laid grass Wednesday evening to take in the annual end-of-summer tradition

The family system is a staple of many organizations at the University. By pairing new members with older ones — known as “littles” and “bigs,” respectively — organizations hope to streamline the integration of these new members into the fold.

All types of University organizations engage in the practice, ranging from fraternities and sororities to the First Year Players and the Organization of Young Filipino Americans. The University Guide Service, the organization that trains student members to give tours to prospective students and tourists, used the family structure until a recent disciplinary action by the Office of the Dean of Students.

An incident in October involving the hospitalization of five U-Guides for alcohol-related complications prompted Dean of Students Allen Groves to mandate the Guides to eliminate their family system, ostensibly to curb excessive drinking. The situation, however, faced limited public scrutiny.

The sanctions have put the practice of the family structure into question across the entire University.

Familial love

Certainly, the family system has benefits.

Although U-Guides could not be reached for official comment, a third-year member consented to an interview on the condition of anonymity.

The family structure, he said, is intended to more effectively integrate new members, called “probies,” into the large organization and to pass on institutional knowledge from older to younger members. He said older members “give you critiques [on your mock tours] … tell you stories about their experiences … [and] make it a welcoming environment.”

Listing the goals and benefits of the family system in greek life, outgoing Inter-Sorority Council President Kathleen Lavelle, a fourth-year Architecture student, said that the “big sister” program is really meant as a mentorship program, providing vertical integration and a niche for females in the organization.

Third-year College student Anne-Marie Albracht, president of Delta Delta Delta sorority at the University, echoed the integrative, supportive aspect of families.

“I think families are so important because they foster relationships between new members and older girls in a way that might not happen naturally,” she said. “From the get go, first-years have an older mentor who looks after them and makes sure they understand everything that’s going on in the chapter and feel included.”

Outgoing Inter-Fraternity Council President Jake Pittman, a fourth-year college student, said in an email that the family system was far less prevalent in fraternities. “I do not see a comparable ‘family’ system in the fraternity realm,” he said.

The First Year Players, a drama club organized for first-years actors and run by older students, is another organization that includes a family system. “FYP is a large organization and [the family system] provides the opportunity for first-years to make new, close friends on a more personal level,” fourth-year College student Chelsea Marcelin said, the outgoing FYP producer.

The Negatives

But concerns also exist about the ways the family system may encourage unhealthy drinking habits. Lavelle did point out that the ideal of the family system in a sorority setting does not always operate as intended. “We have definitely seen people losing sight of what the point of it is,” she said.

Though there are controls in place to prevent this — big sisters are not supposed to provide alcohol to their little sisters, for example — Lavelle said “nothing is foolproof.”

Pittman said he did not believe that families contributed to a drinking culture.

“These relationships are bound by a common bond: eternal friendship,” he said. “So no, I don’t believe that families… encourage excessive and dangerous drinking.”

But many organizations were reluctant to comment on any potential link between families and drinking. Of five sororities contacted, four either did not respond or declined an interview.

*U-Guides’ expulsion of families *

Regarding the incident with the U-Guides in particular, Groves said in an email that he was “not able to publicly comment on disciplinary matters concerning student organizations,” but also said, “our expectations are that their new member training program will conform to certain standards in line with their narrow mission as reflected in the special status relationship with the University.”

A “special status” organization is one that, “[acts] as agent of the University in carrying out a University function(s) through authority delegated by an authorized University official,” according to a 1994 Agreement for a Contracted Independent Organization and Fraternal Organization.

Though the U-Guides, with its “special status” label, is relatively independent from University control, University guidelines for special status organizations dictate that, “when conducting non-University authorized activities, the student organization is considered by the University to be non-special status and, therefore, not acting as an agent of the University.”

“In my view, any educational training program for new Guides … would fall within the scope of activities delegated to the Guide Service by the University,” Groves said in a Nov. 18 interview.

The anonymous student said the U-Guides function on Sept. 27 — a night of celebration after new members had received their invitations to join the service — was “essentially a party.”

The student said that new members were paired up with families during the ceremony.

“You were given alcohol if you wanted it,” he said, pointing out that the type and quantity of alcohol one received differed from family to family, whether it be fifths of liquor, champagne, or 40-oz. bottles of malt liquor.

He made a point, however, to insist that drinking was optional.

“There were [those] who did not want to drink and didn’t drink, [but] clearly … the general expectation [was] that you would drink,” he said.

When asked what might have caused the five members to have been hospitalized that night, he pointed to a confluence of factors: the ready supply of alcohol from families, the excited celebratory atmosphere and the large presence of people, which may have resulted in peer pressure to drink in large quantities.

“This kind of celebratory atmosphere I don’t think is any more than you would find on any weekend whether at fraternities or house parties, particularly at a big college,” he said.

But instead of leaving very intoxicated individuals alone, families may have felt compelled to call the police, the student added. That decision, while well-intentioned, opened the family structure up to increased scrutiny, he said.

“Losing families will hurt the Guide system,” the anonymous student said. “I think family systems exist because they are beneficial… and their existence was a net positive.”

A previous version of this article stated that the Honor Committee, the University Judiciary Committee and Student Council are “special status organizations.” Those groups are in fact “agency organizations,” which, according to a speech from Pat Lampkin, the vice-president for student affairs, “perform duties the University would otherwise be obligated to perform on its own, including student discipline and supervision of residence halls.” The Cavalier Daily regrets the error.

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