Posse Plus Retreat provides space for frank conversations


Posse has held retreats for years (pictured: PossePlus 2015). Contributed.

Last weekend, Posse scholars, their invitees and invited faculty attended the PossePlus Retreat, which took place over the course of three days in Coralville, Iowa. The retreat is a way for Posse scholars and invited guests to get away from campus to talk about pertinent issues that affect Grinnell College.

“You wanted to pick someone you could challenge your ideas on, but not to the point that you were completely outside your element,” said Victor Phimphachanh ’18, a Posse scholar.

Posse is a college access and leadership development program that identifies talented students to attend institutions like Grinnell College. Posse scholars are given various support networks before, during and after college to help them reach their potential. Controversially, the College has discontinued its partnership with the Posse Foundation; the Posse scholars in the class of 2019 will be Grinnell’s last.

The PossePlus Retreat is an event held across the nation by various Posse groups, at which Posse schools around the nation hold their own retreat with the same topic. What makes the Grinnell College PossePlus Retreat unique is that it was the first retreat to take place in the U.S.

The topic of this year’s PossePlus Retreat was Hope, Hate and Race in America. Discussion included how both international and domestic students feel about race, how it can be difficult to address the issue of race on campus and how the discussion of race needs to go beyond the classroom at the College.

“We kind of ground the conversation outside Grinnell, but it’s also really helpful because it’s ground in the Grinnell context. What can we do, what problems do we have on campus, do we need professors of color, things like that,” said An Hoang ’18, an invitee.

Phimphachanh and Hoang are fourth-years, so this was their final PossePlus Retreat. For both of them, this last retreat was a time to inspire others to continue the legacy of Posse and not let the conversation end.

“For us, this year is more like a ‘pass the torch,’ kind of giving back our perspective, and provide an experience for people who haven’t had an experience [like PossePlus Retreat before],” Hoang said.

The phasing out of Posse was touched on during the retreat, but some participants wished that the conversation had been more extensive.

“I talked about it before [the retreat]. … I cried and I said ‘this is happening, this is real.’ … And I [said], ‘we can’t let that be what the legacy is for Posse. We should end strong, we should end with a good standing, and [show] that there’s all this that you’ve missed out on because of Posse,’ rather than give them all the more reasons to say that Posse just didn’t work for us,” Phimphachanh said.

“We did have one discussion at breakfast — it was just faculty and staff, about our concerns that there’s not going to be anything to replace it. We feel that there hasn’t been enough discussion about how we’re going to meet students’ needs in a way that Posse has when there is no Posse. It is my opinion, if there are things being done we are not aware of them,” said Professor Jean Ketter, education, a Posse mentor.

Other discussions included how the senses shape perceptions of race and racial identities, interracial couples and struggles that people have with their racial identity. The idea of the “Model Minority” was also addressed during the conversations.

Different activities were used as ways to help tackle the difficult conversations. Such activities included the human barometer. Attendees at the retreat met in various different groupings. These included “family” groups, the entire group and groups of one’s racial identity.

“It’s a lot of different people who you get to know who you wouldn’t have crossed paths with on campus and get to see, yeah you’re both Southeast Asian, but your experiences might be different, whether you’re international or American,” Hoang said.

“From this retreat, it was refreshing to be with other people that share similar identities as I do, since it allowed us to develop collective frameworks and vantage points of our identities and its concomitant relations to others,” said Alex Sorosa ’20, a Posse Scholar, in an email to The S&B.

Students at the PossePlus Retreat also established a game plan of what they intend to do to continue the conversation of race at the College. The other components of the game plan will be discussed at the PossePlus Retreat recap on Tuesday Feb. 6 at 11 a.m. in JRC 101. This meeting is open to all students on campus.

Posse has held retreats for years (pictured: PossePlus 2015). Contributed.