As a Princeton undergraduate, Paul Sittenfeld ’69 felt that the eating-club social system at the time was geared toward a relatively homogeneous student body. Realizing that the student body no longer was made up primarily of white, Christian, wealthy private-school graduates, he co-founded and served as the first president of Stevenson Hall, a University-sponsored eating-club alternative.
Now, 40 years later, he is raising a similar issue for alumni. The vice chairman of the Alumni Council Committee on Alumni Relations and Communications, Sittenfeld is spearheading the committee’s effort to find new ways to meet the needs of alumni who haven’t been able to connect with Princeton via traditional avenues.
“I want to engage the people who wish to feel a closer tie to the Univers-ity, but who don’t see where or how that might happen — perhaps those who don’t feel that there is a real role in the alumni structure for them,” Sittenfeld said. “The alumni body, inevitably, is far more heterogeneous than it was a generation or two generations ago. The Alumni Council is responsive to lots of people in lots of ways. But I would warrant that it isn’t responsive to everyone. I’d like to see if there are ways in which we can connect with people — not instead of, but in addition to, what the Alumni Council does now.”
Sittenfeld became aware of the need for additional ways to reach various constituencies through his work as secretary of his class — a position he has held for more than three decades. As the years went on, he observed that some classmates did not seem connected with Princeton. The reasons varied, he said, ranging from financial difficulties in attending Reunions to isolation wrought by medical issues. Class Notes columns, he found, tended to focus mainly on awards and promotions, with little information about the challenges and successes of daily life.
Eager to help address the situation, Sittenfeld presented his idea to his Alumni Council committee and, with the committee’s backing, to the Executive Committee of the Alumni Council in January.
“He wanted to get this idea out and see whether other people were seeing this,” said M. Kathryn Taylor ’74, director of special projects for the Alumni Council. “And, of course they were — it immediately touched a chord. Everybody started to share anecdotes.”
Though the effort is still in the early stages, the volunteer leadership of the Alumni Association is exploring how best to address the issue. Taylor pointed to the Class of 1957’s Going Back Committee as an exemplary model. The committee, which received the 2007 ACE Award for Excellence in Communication, was created to identify classmates who had not participated in Reunions and then contact them individually and help them attend their 50th reunion. The project was successful, and the alumni relations committee intends to make the Class of 1957’s work available to other classes planning similar outreach efforts.
The next step will be to gauge the reaction of the larger alumni body. “I could be dead wrong, but I have been given the belief that there are a large number of people who would like to feel a closer tie,” Sittenfeld said. “I want to see what kind of suggestions, responses, and enthusiasm the basic notion stimulates.” He invited alumni to contact him with comments and suggestions at psittenfeld@rwbaird.