The Walters-Bressler Legacy
BY REBECCAH BARGER
In the fall of 1963, Gary Walters decided to enroll in the introductory course, Sociology 101. It wasn’t an unusual choice, by any means, especially since Walters, four long years away from this initial experience with sociology, would go on to earn a degree in psychology. But there was something about that class that Walters wouldn’t find again in his remaining time at Princeton, and it had almost everything to do with the man who paced the staged, giving lecture, and taking puffs from his pipes whenever he hit a key point in his speech.
His name was Professor Marvin Bressler, who, like Walters, began his own career at Princeton the fall of ’63. The two would connect again on the basketball court, where Walters was a point-guard as a student, later as an assistant coach in 1967, and eventually the Director of Athletics in 1994. Bressler became the unofficial adviser and friend to the basketball players. Through his sincerity and respect for the athletic and cognitive ability of the players, Bressler helped to merge the dual identity assigned to them as student-athletes. Bressler’s spirit and close relationship with Walters sparked the Academic-Athletics Fellows program.
The Academic-Athletics Fellows program has continued where Bressler and Walters left off. Fellows work to achieve a greater harmony between the academic and athletic cultures, whether by advising athletes on coursework, providing letters of recommendation, giving social support on campus, and more. The program now includes approximately 150 faculty, administrators, and staff members. Princeton football alone has 19 supporting members of the faculty and staff, all of whom are listed here. The team assigns a fellow to each position group, but there are also fellows who provide overall support to the team.
“What’s important is that [student-athletes] see themselves as contributing, enthusiastic, passionate members of the academic community, and they see themselves along with every undergraduate at Princeton as part of this larger community,” Dov Weinryb Grohsgal, who oversees the university program, said. “That’s how we should be thinking about the student-athlete experience here – that it’s woven in with the undergraduate experience.”
The Academic-Athletics Fellows program, under Weinryb Grohsgal, is now looking to develop cross-team relationships with fellows. This will provide an even broader experience in terms of who athletes will be exposed to in the program. Princeton is also the only Ivy League school to provide paired fellows to their student-athletes, and the university is continually seeking to expand the program.
Football wide receiver faculty fellow and Sociology Professor Patricia Fernandez-Kelly also puts emphasis on providing a voice for her student-athletes in the larger community environment.
“I personally think that athletics brings something important to our university and athletes, in particular, bring a lot of assets and background and interesting personal journeys that enhance our educational environment,” Fernandez-Kelly said. I want to always make sure that people in my courses understand that these are students who are here to make important contributions not under false pretenses. I think my own sense of this is consistent with Princeton’s mission as a place that is interested in increasing diversity and creating an educational environment in which everyone is welcome.”
Stan Katz, a Professor in Public and International Affairs, partners with the quarterbacks and is new to the program this year. Amidst the Chicago sports paraphernalia in his office, Katz also has a sheet of paper with the head shots and names of Princeton’s quarterbacks hanging from the bookshelf near his computer. Despite working with football, he has also provided many other students-athletes guidance over his 38 years at Princeton.
“I think the main thing is that a small number of students come to see me on a regular basis, and they may take advantage of mainly academic counseling,” Katz said. “I think one of the advantages [of the program] is to make it easier for students who are athletes to relate to faculty members. I think of the great legacies of Gary [Walters’] administration has been the improvement of coaches who are good in relating to student and who are thoughtful about that.”
Junior quarterback Nick Peabody has often interacted with Katz as a faculty fellow and has the opportunity to connect with him individually as well as in his seminar this semester, Civil Society and Public Policy.
“Professor Katz is really involved. He’s really outgoing and a super well-known professor, but he’s very accessible,” Peabody said. “We talk to him about everything. Our faculty fellows are some of the most well-known staff in their fields, and we get to build a great relationship with them, so even though they’re intellectuals, they’re still interested in athletics.”
The program also helps to build relationships not only with professors who are involved with a team, but bridge divides student-athletes face with other professors in the academic community.
“I think the professors here are definitely aware and helpful, but the fact that we have these faculty fellows makes it that much easier for professors to understand what we’re going through and what our agenda is,” senior defensive back Durelle Napier said. “Being able to meet with a faculty fellow, whether it’s your specific faculty fellow or any faculty fellow in our program, and talk on a personal level and establish a bond with them is amazing. The placement of a faculty fellow helps a lot.”