Exploring Affinity

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Photo by Dan Loh.

by Alumni Council President Bernadette McFadden Stout ’07

In my first column, I shared that Dickinson is the institution with which I feel the greatest affinity. As I look forward to the 100th anniversary of Dickinson’s Alumni Council in 2023, I believe we have an opportunity to redefine how alumni engage with the college. I’ll share more about our plans for the anniversary in future columns, but for now, I’d like to offer a bold aspiration: that every Dickinsonian feels at least as much loyalty to the college as to the other important institutions in their lives. Challenge yourself to think about where Dickinson stands relative to other organizations you care about. How does Dickinson rank compared to your graduate school? Your professional association or military service? Your community or volunteer involvements? Your children’s schools or your church? What will it take to move Dickinson into the top tier?

I’d like to offer a potential path to enable this aspiration. Those of us who work in a corporate environment are likely quite familiar with affinity groups. At my company, I’m a member of several: Dual Career Couples, Women & Families, the Social Interest Group and First-Generation Professionals, to name a few. Simply defined, an affinity group brings together individuals linked by a shared interest, experience, social identifier, purpose or goal. These groups strengthen our communities by providing support, engagement, connection and affirmation.

While planning Delta Nu’s 50th anniversary celebration this past fall, Julie Alexander ’80, P’19, and Barbara Pim Bailey ’73, among others, learned that, on average, current students are affiliated with eight different groups while on campus. When I thought about my own campus affiliations, I rapidly identified six: Blue Hats, Phonathon callers, caf workers, policy management majors, the yearbook and the Senior Class Gift Drive. These on-campus activities provided friendship, connectivity and purpose. When I go back to campus now, I still find fellowship with the caf workers, and I look forward to the Phonathon each fall so that I can chat with the caller and share my own experiences. In these cases, my affinity groups provide a natural connection to current students. For other alums, their affinity groups provide an avenue to engage with their alumni peers (and prospective students as well!).

As I have spoken to members of the Alumni Council about their own affinity-group affiliations, I have heard about continued engagement via athletics (from Claire Brawdy ’16, who supports the McAndrews Fund each year and attends cross-country meets to cheer on current athletes), academics (from Treasure Walker ’04, who routinely meets with current pre-med students), Greek life (from Jeff Murison ’93, who is the keeper of cherished Sigma Chi mementos) and study abroad (from Ron Waetzman ’71, who maintains an ongoing connection to the Bologna program).

And we cannot overstate the importance of affinity-group affiliations for underrepresented Dickinsonians. This issue of the magazine spotlights Dickinson’s African American Alumni Association, which Alumni Council member Kali Avans ’11 has supported since its inception. Similarly, Ron and others are spearheading the formation of an LGBTQ alumni group, which will include a Pride event during 2022 reunion weekend. (Read the article here.) Affinity groups alone are not a solution to the diversity and inclusion challenges facing educational institutions, but they can play a role in reducing the sense of isolation, discomfort and even marginalization among these students. Your engagement with these groups can empower and inspire a new generation of Dickinsonians to feel more at home and more connected with the college, knowing that you were there before them to light the way.

My husband, Alex Stout ’07, and I will be on campus in June for our 15th reunion. I look forward to seeing many of you there! Learn more and register online.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Alumni Council or interested in joining us, please don’t hesitate to reach out anytime: bernadette.m.stout+dickinson@gmail.com.

Read more from the winter 2022 issue of Dickinson Magazine.


Published March 2, 2022