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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
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Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm
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Grinnell drops L.A. posse, adds New Orleans

After 11 years of recruitment from the Posse program in Los Angeles, Associate Dean of the College for Diversity and Inclusion and Posse Liaison Poonam Arora announced on Tuesday, April 1 that Grinnell has decided to change one of its two Posse branches from L.A. to New Orleans, while continuing to recruit Posse scholars from the Washington D.C. area. The first class of New Orleans Posse students will arrive on campus in fall 2015, and support programs for L.A. Posse students will continue until the graduation of the last L.A. Posse member.

The switch comes at a particularly important time, as President Raynard Kington wrote in a recent campus-wide email that “students have expressed frustration with the College’s current diversity efforts and demanded that we do more to foster an inclusive campus.” Given the campus climate, it seems likely that the recent Posse announcement will have an amplified significance in conversations concerning inclusivity and diversity for Grinnell’s future.

Administrators cited a high amount of competition in the Los Angeles region and the successful precedent of the L.A. Posse as two of the primary motivations behind their decision to recruit from New Orleans.

With a focus on cities in the South, where Grinnell has traditionally been weak in enrollment, the College considered programs in Miami, Houston and Atlanta as well as New Orleans.

“There are only two schools currently in New Orleans recruiting from Posse, one is Tulane and the other is Bard College,” Arora said. “We will reach out to qualified students who need the opportunity that Posse provides and provide help for those who get missed through the regular college selection process, so we think it’s a win-win.”

Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Joe Bagnoli explained that the confidence the College felt behind recruiting from the New Orleans Posse stemmed from the continued success of the program in L.A.

“What inspires us to believe that we can achieve similar outcomes by redirecting our attention and enthusiasm for something similar in New Orleans is the precedent of the Los Angeles Posse,” Bagnoli said.

At a recent Posse scholars meeting in Harris Cinema, students and faculty came together to address their concerns and hopes for what the transition would look like.

A number of Posse scholars criticized administrators for what they thought were failures to include them in discussions concerning Posse and the final decision to switch to New Orleans.

“Although the administration did include student voices, none of the students were Posse scholars,” L.A. Posse scholar Jesse Romo ’15 said. “I don’t believe that the student voices represented the voices of Posse scholars.”

Romo also expressed the concern that Posse students—and in particular, Hispanic Posse members—were only recruited to bolster the College’s diversity statistics.

“One issue I have is the feeling that we are brought to this community and framed as an asset that makes the school look better,” Romo said. “I can’t help but feel that underrepresented students are treated like numbers.”

Romo and fellow LA Posse scholar Laura Huerta ’14 want to challenge the perception of Posse scholars as being ungrateful for the benefits they’re received.

“It’s been said that we’re ungrateful, and that hurts me because I’m incredibly grateful,” Romo said. “Just because I’ve been given something doesn’t mean I have to keep saying thank you, thank you. I’m still a human, and I have the right to speak.”

Some who attended the meeting argued that the communication of the process and its results were broken, which both Bagnoli and Director of Media Relations Stacey Schmeidel acknowledged was the result of a mishandling of the situation.

“Part of what we learned is if we did it over again, we would provide the community with more details as part of campus communication,” Bagnoli said. “We apologize then and stand behind our apology about any communication that was insufficient for engaging in Posse scholars.”

In addition, Posse scholars were concerned that moving the focus away from L.A. would deprive the College of diversity, and in particular a large number of Latino students.

“Posse brings in a lot of Latino students, and I don’t know how Posse is going to make up for that loss,” Romo said. “I don’t oppose bringing in New Orleans, but I oppose the idea that it’s coming at the expense of another.”

Administrators state that this would not be the case, as various plans and programs are in place to ensure that the number of Latino applicants and students will continue to grow in the coming years, a trend that the College is very proud of.

“We are meeting with first-year L.A. Posse scholars at one of their next two meetings to discuss how to sustain a presence in their school settings,” Bagnoli said. “One is asking them to help us spread the word about Grinnell through the program that we offer for underrepresented students to fly in, which will take place through nomination this spring.”

Huerta and Bagnoli said they believe that the diversity Grinnell will attract from New Orleans will bring about positive diversity overall, with an emphasis on diversity in contexts other than race.

“I think taking the time to discuss Posse and what we have brought and continue to bring to the campus not just in terms of diversity, but in perspectives and leadership can be productive,” Huerta wrote in an email to the S&B. “I would like to see Posse continue on this campus regardless of the city because that means that students are getting the opportunity to engage with higher education.”

“Diversity of perspectives within the Hispanic community is incredibly important to consider, such as place of origin, diversity of culture, diversity of experience, socioeconomic diversity,” Bagnoli said. “While we’re happy to continue recruiting in L.A., our interest in diversity guides us to look at different areas such as New Orleans.”

Students questioned why Grinnell decided not to welcome three Posses onto campus, which administrators attribute to significant economic hurdles.

“It’s a very expensive program,” Arora said. “There are very few schools that can afford two Posse cities … I don’t know of any that recruit from three.”

Beyond institutional considerations, the painfully slow reconstruction of New Orleans played a large role in the decision to welcome a Posse from the area. According to Arora and Bagnoli, the transition to New Orleans goes beyond the College’s interests: it acknowledges the struggles that students and school systems have experienced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“The people who left have not come back and the public schools are amongst the weakest in any major city in the country, so schools like Grinnell don’t automatically go there even though we should,” Arora said. “Katrina is not an event that just came and went … it fundamentally transformed our understanding of poverty, development and their intersections with race and class in and around Louisiana.”

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