This is the influential quote that started The Posse Foundation in 1989, designed to give high- achieving students a “posse” or support group to cope with the struggles one may face in college. According to Grinnell President Raynard Kingston, “with Posse’s aid, about a quarter of each freshman class are ‘students from underrepresented backgrounds,’ “ providing the campus with diversity and students of different experiences from all walks of life. Posse is an important part of Grinnell’s history, encompassing the time frame from when Grinnell enrolled its first round of students in 2000 to its last group, in 2016. A significant number of Posse students fill leadership positions at Grinnell, from SGA cabinet roles to club cabinet positions, and introduces diversity to elite private schools that are largely white spaces. The program was ended for reasons undisclosed to many students and faculty, but it undoubtedly deserves proper recognition. I will use faculty meeting minutes, interviews, and online articles as supporting evidence for this project.
According to Posse creator Deborah Bial in a previous interview with Tom Walsh in 2004, Posse isn’t “a minority program, [nor] a need-based program,” but a program that awards “merit-based, leadership scholarships to extraordinary young people who come from extremely different backgrounds who … bring a lot to these campuses and will get a lot from these campuses.” She again reiterates that contrary to what one may believe, Posse is “ a strength-based program, not a deficit-based program.” Posse was created in 1989, and recruits students in ten cities: Atlanta, the Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York or Washington, D.C. It is available to all students regardless of background. Each Posse group consists of ten students, and recipients of scholarships receive leadership training in the spring semester of their senior year of high school. Posse also has an impressive 90% nation-wide graduation rate.
According to director of postgraduate transitions and former assistant dean, Doug Cutchins, “mentoring Posse students was a highlight of his 15 years at the College” (Boone). Former sociology professor Chris Hunter said he was “convinced that Posse is one of the most important programs the College has initiated during my 38 years at Grinnell” (Boone).
Considering the high praise this program received from college professors and faculty in 2014, it is surprising, to say the least, that the college stopped admitting students from this program two years later; especially since dean and vice president for academic affairs Michael Lantham, said that “Saving money was not part of the motivation for the change,” but would actually cost “substantially more” (Logue). My goals are to further explore the impact of Posse for the short 14 years it has been a part of the campus, and seek to understand why it is no longer a part of Grinnell.
Nearly all of the Grinnell Posse members I interviewed had strong emotions for Posse, ranging from sadness to anger to appreciation. All of the Posse members held their Posse members in high regard, and repeatedly spoke of how much coming to Grinnell with a large support system waiting for them helped them adapt to Grinnell. Several students even went as far to say that they never would have felt like they belonged here if it weren’t for their Posse, and would have transferred colleges. Many teachers who were previous Posse mentors also helped the students, and served as a useful network for the students. Posse brought many people of color on campus, but they seeked out students with unique skills and leadership qualities. Many of the students said that Pousse gave them an advantage in providing pre-collegiate training (PCT) and for giving them a group of people to rely on. One student said that she wasn’t actively taught how to adequately defend against racism, sexism, or anything in terms of activism, which were all things she faced in her first semester.
Many of the students also expressed anger with the school for not being transparent with students as to why the program was cancelled. One of the students I interviewed actively tried to convince Grinnell to continue working with Posse students from New Orleans, but was told by a faculty member that the members of the only New Orleans posse on campus weren’t performing academically or showcasing the behavior expected from a Posse scholar. Another student heard that Grinnell was going to require Posse scholars to take two years of community college before attending the college to prepare students, but Posse refused. Raynard Kingston was apparently considered ending the program for some time, but never gave a specific reason as to why. Many students guessed that is was because of cost, or because the school claimed to have better ways to bring diversity on campus.
After Posse was cut, many of the students felt like they weren’t wanted on campus. One of the Hispanic students compared it to the same feeling he got from Trump winning the election, and seeing how many people didn’t want people like him in the country. One of the other students said that she probably wouldn’t be as radical in her views toward race, class, and gender, and described it as one of the reasons she felt traumatized at Grinnell. This decision made it harder for some students to believe they did deserve to be on campus, and several students lost trust in the school for making a huge decision like this, without explaining to students and staff why. Only one student said that she felt they did this to actually increase diversity, due to seeing more students of color now than ever before.
To read some of the Posse Student Interviews, click on one of the links below
- Posse Project_ConsentForm_Questions CarlosPiedrasanta
- Posse Project_ConsentForm_Questions EdithGregory
- Posse Project_ConsentForm_Questions KhadijaToumbou
- Posse Project_ConsentForm_Questions RayonnRobinson
- Posse Project_ConsentForm_Questions TaylorGaskins
Boone, Dana. “Posse Scholars Enhance Campus, Leave Legacy of Leadership and Service.” Grinnell College, 20 Sept. 2014, www.grinnell.edu/news/posse-scholars-enhance-campus-leave-legacy-leadership-and-service.
Cripps, Karla, and CNN. “The Nomination Process.” The Posse Foundation, www.possefoundation.org/recruiting-students/the-nomination-process.
Logue, Josh. “A College Rejects Posse.” Inside Higher Ed, Inside Higher Ed, 18 Apr. 2016, www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/04/18/grinnell-severs-ties-posse-foundation.
Walsh, Tom. “Posse Helps Students Make It at Grinnell.” Grinnell College, 15 Dec. 2004, www.grinnell.edu/news/posse-helps-students-make-it-grinnell.