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Grinnell Ends Posse Relationship


Nora Coghlan, News Editor & Eva Lilienfeld, News Editor

President Kington announced that Grinnell College will no longer accept students through the Posse program after the fall 2017 semester. Announced on Wednesday, April 13, the decision to sever ties with the Posse Foundation comes at the heels of two years of contract negotiations and the decision made earlier this year not to accept students through the New Orleans Posse program.

The Posse program selects students who show leadership and academic potential from urban areas. The College has previously accepted students through the program from Washington D.C., Los Angeles and, last year, New Orleans, meaning that the College has accepted ten students from these cities each year and offered them full tuition scholarships, a nine-month preparatory program and on-campus mentorship.

According to Kington, the decision to cut ties with the foundation was framed in the context of larger institutional changes aiming to increase student success school-wide.

“We’re thinking more about a systematic approach to admissions and success and when we look at the program in that context, we have to ask whether it makes sense to have a separate track over here — no matter how great the students are — when we are trying to change our entire system of student support,” he said.

Over the course of the next several years, Kington, along with other administrators, plan to develop other programs, both in admissions and on campus. The department of admissions will develop new methods of outreach to specifically target students.

grinnell and posse graphic version 1Administrators say they will continue to enhance student life by implementing programs to increase student success, such as tracking early indicators of academic or personal struggles that may lead to students taking leave or dropping out. They also aim to help support low-income students by continuing to provide and increase access to programs with additional costs, such as music classes or study abroad opportunities.

“The question is not ‘Is Posse a great program?’ Posse is a great program. The question is [of] Posse meeting the needs of this institution and our students now,” Kington said. “We’ve learned a lot from Posse. We’ve learned the importance of mentoring. We’ve learned the importance of pre-enrollment interventions and preparation, of the importance of social support. There are lots of things that we’ve learned. But we can’t scale up Posse as Posse if we want to apply those lessons to entire student body, and especially to all of those students who might be more likely to face challenges with the transition to Grinnell.”

Current Posse scholars were informed of the decision shortly before the campus memo was sent. According to Posse mentor, Steve Andrews, the opinions of Posse mentors and scholars were not taken into account before the decision was finalized.

“Consulted would be the wrong word,” Andrews said, addressing the role of Posse mentors and scholars in the College’s decision. “It was explained to us what might happen and why. Along with everybody else, we didn’t know with certainty what would happen until yesterday.”

The decision has been met with much resistance from both current students and alumni, particularly by students arguing that the Posse program does not simply recruit a statistically diverse student body but also mentors and develops the scholars in a way that affects the rest of the campus.

“[The Posse program] affects lots of different layers of the campus: faculty, staff, other students in addition to the Posse students themselves,” Andrews said.

Jesse Romo ’16 who came to Grinnell with the Los Angeles Posse of 2010 agreed that Posse is more about supporting ten select students in a way that will contribute to the community as a whole rather than simply recruiting minority students to Grinnell.

“I think that the Posse scholars have demonstrated that Posse is about a lot more than diversity,” Romo said. “But it seems like over and over each year that’s … the narrative that’s being put out there from the school that … Posse recruits … working class people of color from urban areas, which when you look at the numbers … that’s true, but that’s not what Posse is all about. Posse is so much more than just bringing numbers to the school. lt provides a support network for people who are traditionally overlooked in the admission process or who … don’t have an ‘in’ on it in the first place, and gives us the training, nine months of rigorous training prior to coming to Grinnell starting in senior year of high school, giving you a support network, a team, a Posse.”

Students and alumni have drafted a letter to present to the Grinnell administration requesting a more detailed description of how Grinnell will continue to support students who would losing specific support networks through the Posse program.

“More troublingly for us, the memo provides very little insight into how the College will continue to recruit excellent students from urban areas and support these students. The memo alludes to a ‘more comprehensive approach to achieving our goals for diversity,’ but it fails to explain what this approach entails and does not specify the nature of the goals,” the letter read.

When the S&B went to print, the letter had been signed by over 300 Grinnell College alumni and Posse scholars.

“I know that this is a difficult conversation for a lot of people,” Kington said. “I know that there are deep emotional ties to Posse, but this decision is about the fit between Posse and where we’re going as an institution, and it’s a reflection of a good thing — a more comprehensive approach to our institutional commitment to student success.”

In light of the emotional response from the greater Grinnell community, Romo feels that this decision provides an opportunity for students to speak up about their beliefs.

“I think right now is one of those moments where I don’t think people should be looking at this and feel[ing] powerless in the face of what has just happened,” Romo said. “It’s moments like these where we have the opportunity as students to really live up to the activism that we’re always talking about. We have the opportunity now to organize and show that we’re not going to accept this, we’re not going to be complicit in the whitening of this school, not that it’s just that, … I know that there are enough people out there who feel like this is the wrong decision that if we believe that we should do something about it.”

While the topic of the future of the institution is at the front of this conversation, Andrews expressed more concern for the well-being of current students and the implications of this decision.

“My worry is more immediate. … If you talk to the students of color on this campus, many of them are unhappy with the quality of the experiences that they have. At least in my experience in talking with my scholars and other Posse scholars,” Andrews said. “They understand that they have great opportunities here, but they also understand that they may not experience this place sentimentally in the way that people from other cultures might.”

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