Brothers and Sisters Program Yields Mixed Results

In the fall of 2013, NYU Abu Dhabi sophomore Veronica Houk led a Student Government program called Brothers and Sisters. Freshmen could sign up to be ...

Feb 15, 2014

In the fall of 2013, NYU Abu Dhabi sophomore Veronica Houk led a Student Government program called Brothers and Sisters. Freshmen could sign up to be paired with an older sister or brother based on nationality, academic interests, extracurricular interests and study abroad experiences. According to the current Officer of Communications, freshman Sofia Gomez-Doyle, 226 students signed up last year, making it one of Student Government’s largest programs. Doyle said that the program focuses on making freshmen feel like they are a part of the NYUAD community.
"Freshmen are here in Abu Dhabi for the first time, and you know, it's really nice to have a buddy or a sibling who can give you academic advice for your major, show you around Abu Dhabi, bring you to some nice restaurants and cafés. Or just be there as a resource, if you need anything," said Doyle.
The program also dedicates itself to reinforcing relationships across classes, especially given NYUAD’s growth. Doyle commented:
"We're not a school with [150] people anymore, we're [600] now, and we're growing. [Brothers and Sisters is] for students that really want to reach across those divides”
This semester the program is focusing on academic growth and support, having given students the opportunity to be more elaborative in their choices. Moreover, the program is no longer limited to a sister-sister or a brother-brother relationship. If a student is interested in law, for example, and the Student Government feels like that someone is a brilliant match for them, gender would not play a role in the assignment.
"This year, the questionnaire asked for short-term and long-term goals,” Doyle said. “So if a student elaborated on that, that was a criteria that we could match students on."
Some students expressed positive attitudes towards the program. Freshman Eduardo Campillo Betancourt said that, although he hears that some relationships fell apart quickly, his was a rewarding one. He wrote to The Gazelle:
“For me, it was really helpful to have Jorge [Zárate] as a big brother because he didn't just answer any school-related questions that I might have but he really cared about how I was doing and helped me throughout the whole semester. So, I don't know about others, but for me I can assure you that this program made me gain an incredibly valuable friend.”
While some students have expressed concern that Brothers and Sisters aims to force them to be friends with certain people, the program takes into consideration how involved an applicant wants to be with the program.
"Ultimately, we want students to be happy ... We encourage the big sister and brother to take the initiative, as they know ropes of this university and have been here longer. This year, we are more academically focused because we have seniors who have knowledge to help freshmen about internships and grad schools, who are beginning to undertake those challenges — all those things that seem mysterious and vague right now," Doyle said.
Some older siblings had issues with the way the Student Government pairs people up and leaves them to figure out the program and its incentives. Sophomore Dóri Pálfi said that:“I have to admit that although I was really excited about the program in the beginning and I pictured doing all different kinds of activities with my sister, we ended up only having a breakfast together. This might have been because I felt like she didn't need that much my ‘mentoring’ and I didn't want to force her do something she was not interested in.”
Some students have also explained that their older siblings never approached them and thus have little faith left in the workings of the program.
A freshman who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity out of respect to her sister said that she only met her once or twice in the elevators.
“I feel like there should be more initiative on the older sibling's part because I think the program has potential ... there should be a minimum level of commitment required that people want to put in the relationship."
Doyle says that Student Government is aware of this concern. According to the annual report, 76 percent of participants confirmed that the program strengthened inter-class interaction and friendship and 57 percent of participants reported that the program succeeded in developing a family-like structure. Doyle talked about the story recently published in the Student Government Newsletter of freshman Toma Pavlov and Senior Tamás Csillag who were paired as brothers in Fall 2013.
"It's only our second semester; we need to improvise on [it]. We know not everyone clicked. But stories can happen. As Officer of Communications, I am interested to continue to improve and really institutionalize it so it's a key feature as to what it means to be a freshman at NYUAD," said Doyle.
"I think in the future, one thing that I would like to explore is how, in a program like this, to engage students who are studying abroad. Right now we have New York students, but what about Shanghai students who will be coming in? I am definitely excited. For me, community really matters, and I feel it's important to build these relationships."
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Tamás Csillag's name. 
Khadeeja Farooqui is deputy features editor. Email her at
gazelle logo