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The Scarlet & Black

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Letter to the Editor: Posse Scholars’ campus-wide impact, success propelling Mellon Mays Fellowship


letter to the editor graphic

On Sundays, as a kid, if I wasn’t on the soccer pitch, I was watching football with my dad. My parents, both football lovers, never watched together because Daddy preferred professional play-by-play to Mom’s color commentary. So, Dad and I watched together — not really saying much, but enjoying one another’s company. It was from watching football with Daddy that I learned about a common but not necessarily coveted position in football: the Monday morning quarterback.

Monday morning quarterbacks have plenty to say after the fact. They use insight gleaned from hindsight to evaluate, to critique and sometimes, to judge.

I am that Monday morning quarterback.

I am a Monday morning quarterback in Grinnell College’s current conversation about the Posse Scholars Program and our decision to discontinue our relationship with the Posse Foundation. I didn’t participate in the decision-making process — I was not a player in this game. But now that a decision has been made, all I have is my position on the sidelines from which to offer my two cents.

On Wednesday, April 13, a special Campus Memo notified the college community that we would be discontinuing our relationship with the Posse Foundation. As Posse’s website explains, for 26 years, “The Posse Foundation has identified, recruited and trained 6,983 public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential to become Posse scholars. Since 1989, these students — many of whom might have been overlooked by traditional college selection processes — have been receiving four-year, full-tuition leadership scholarships from Posse’s partner institutions of higher education. Most important, Posse scholars persist and graduate at a rate of 90 percent and make a visible difference on campus and throughout their professional careers.”

I’m writing because for the past seven years, I have personally experienced and delighted in Posse’s presence on campus. In fact, as the Faculty Coordinator of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program (MMUF), I can honestly say that I am not certain that Mellon Mays would have survived without Posse.

I joined the Grinnell College faculty in 2008 and became Faculty Coordinator of MMUF that same year. We welcomed our first cohort of fellows in 2009. Since then, Grinnell’s MMUF program has selected 36 Mellon fellows. Of those Mellon fellows 16 of them, or 44 percent of all fellows selected, were Posse scholars and 54 percent of our Black and Latin@ fellows are Posse scholars.

In essence, Posse has been the lifeblood of Mellon Mays, a program that, in its early years, struggled to gain traction on campus. Even though MMUF has been in existence and has thrived on the campuses of other elite institutions for over 25 years, the program has existed at Grinnell for a mere eight. Without Posse, Mellon Mays would have experienced no sustainable success. I owe much of Mellon Mays’ success to pools of Posse scholars who self-selected and applied to the program, and to the dedicated Posse mentors who invited Mellon fellows to their Posse meetings and encouraged their Posse scholars to apply to Mellon Mays.

Here’s one narrative behind the numbers. After graduating from Grinnell in 2012, Los Angeles Posse scholar and Mellon Mays fellow Lizeth Gutierrez applied and was accepted to graduate school at Washington State University. A member of our second cohort, Lizeth is on track to earn the first Ph.D. of all Grinnell College Mellon fellows combined. She was recently awarded a competitive Dissertation Grant from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and was selected as an honorable mention in the Ford Foundation’s Dissertation Fellowship competition. I have no doubt that she and others will go on to become faculty and administrators at colleges and universities. Even more so, I know they will go on to transform those institutions just as they have changed Grinnell, and for the better in all ways — not just in ways that can be tallied or measured, like diversity numbers.

In his letter to the campus community, President Kington discusses Posse primarily in terms of diversity. He explains how “Posse has helped [Grinnell] to pursue our goals for diversity and student success and grow as a diverse institution.” But I know that Posse scholars, and the program for which they are named, have done much, much more. They have made their mark on Grinnell, changing it in as many ways as it has changed them.

Simply stated, Posse is, and was, about more than diversity. Posse is a pipeline program that brings students who were trained to self-select for rigorous scholastic opportunities, taught the benefits of the cohort model and groomed to negotiate higher education, to colleges and universities, to Mellon Mays. Posse scholars have been visible, important and necessary to me — and to Grinnell — and in ways that can be hard to quantify.

My hope is that like Peter King, the author of the sports column “Monday Morning Quarterback,” my words will reach those who care and those who matter. I make my comments public with the hope that allies will join the fight to make sure the College’s diversity plan considers more than the numbers and deliberates with a broad range of stakeholders.

I am a Monday morning quarterback because that was the sole position afforded to me. I will, however, take President Kington at his word when he says, “We will be increasing our human and financial resources dedicated to diversity, and we will be asking for your help as we work on it.” I’m here. I’m ready to work.

Put me in, coach. I’m ready to play.

—Professor Shanna Benjamin, English

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