The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the editor: Rethinking the change to Posse Plus Retreat

Social justice conversations concerning identity politics, patriarchy, systematic oppression and the like are very much part of what makes Grinnell College unique. There are scores if not hundreds of students interested in talking about controversial topics because they are important to them. Which brings me to my current issue with Grinnell’s administrative body. There are few spaces that exist solely for the purpose of allowing community to speak their minds without fear of being ostracized. One such place that exists is the Posse Plus Retreat (PPR). PPR is held over one weekend once a year in Des Moines, usually soon after winter break. Posse scholars and their invitees come together to discuss a predetermined topic. As a senior, I have been to three retreats already and am extremely excited to attend my fourth on Crime and Punishment. However, my eagerness is tainted by the reality that many of the voices that I would like to hear, or would never expect to hear, will not be in attendance because Grinnell College has permitted scholars to only bring one student and/or one faculty member. In past years, students were permitted to invite two people regardless of their relationship to the College—for instance, two students or two faculty members. The brief explanation concerning the change goes something like this.

Given that several of those invited do not go to every session, and that there have been complaints about the lack of diversity of opinions and guests year to year, as well as the constant lack of faculty presence, Posse scholars should be incentivized to invite guests more carefully. I believe that such constraints are blatantly inconsiderate of what the Posse Plus Retreat requires. In order to have a good discussion about controversial topics you first need participants. Due to the demands of a Grinnell education there will ALWAYS be a few people who do not attend a session or two because they simply have too much work to put it off until Sunday when they return. Otherwise, said persons take full advantage of being in attendance and actively involve themselves in the workshops to the degree that suits their personality. Several people who are invited and intend on attending do not end up going because of unforeseen circumstances, a sudden increase in homework that requires them to stay on campus, or the very real and non-sinister possibility that they simply forget. Reducing the number of students that can be invited will not change this, it will simply mean that if a similar percentage of people opt out of a session there will be fewer people involved.

If it were possible, I would insist that Grinnell provide a way for all interested students to participate in a capacity that is suitable to their personality, but instead I will simply voice my opinion that people should not give up their opportunity to participate in PPR without a fight. We should be expanding to share this unique experience with as many people as we can. Yes, there should be 100 percent attendance at every workshop event. Yes, there should be more variation in the people attending. Yes, there should be more faculty voices heard in our discussions. But no, constraining Posse scholars to the possibility of one student and/or one faculty is not going to make that happen. Scholars will still invite their friends because the prospect of talking with likeminded individuals who you know will be interested in participating in challenging discussions might have something to do with why you became friends in the first place. If Grinnell College does not revisit the issue of expanding the participation capacity to two students plus one faculty, I for one will have a hard time believing that we attend a school that is concerned with encouraging its students to discuss issues that are important to them.

I understand that an immediate concern might be finances, but am unconvinced that, even if Grinnell could not afford to waste any money, events such as PPR are a waste. If anything, exporting the brand that is Grinnell College might be best served by providing a way for more people to share in one of the more unique aspects of attending this small town liberal arts college. There have been several other instances when Posse scholars have felt Grinnell’s administration has failed to reach out and include current scholars in its decision-making concerning our relationship with the College. I can only hope that this letter will reach someone who might be more inclined to ask the current pool of scholars if such a decision is to their liking. For many students, the Posse Plus Retreat represents a unique opportunity to talk about issues that are important to them.

Let us talk about what is important to us with the people we choose.

—Marshall Botto ’15

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