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The Scarlet & Black

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A look at admissions practices in Posse’s absence

Jamal Poole ’19 (left), Carla Tenorio ’19 (center) and Connie Coleman (right)
at the Posse Plus Retreat on the weekend of February 16 where attendees
engaged in discourse and celebrated Posse. Photo by Jemuel Santos.

In the spring semester of 2016, Grinnell College stated its decision to terminate the College’s relationship with the Posse Foundation. They cited administrative difficulties between the College and the Posse Foundation. The news came as a surprise to not only Posse scholars and their mentors, but also faculty, staff, alumni and the Foundation itself. Nearly three years have passed since this decision was made. The decision raised the question of how Grinnell College would continue to ensure the diversification of the student body, as well as promoting the goals of what had been an institutional leadership scholarship on the campus.

“Posse was a package deal, right? You get many students of color, you get leaders and people that were qualified to get into the school in the first place. Whereas now, their recruitment efforts kind of have to be on their own and they don’t have the support of a decades-old institution like Posse to ensure that leaders are going to be coming on campus,” said Kevin Nguyen, ’19, a DC 11 Posse scholar.

In the all-campus memo sent out containing the news of the termination, College President Raynard Kington wrote, “This broader approach is consistent with our comprehensive approach to student retention. Through data analytics and better use of our advising resources on campus, we are moving toward approaches designed to improve retention and success for all Grinnell students.”

Posse is officially a leadership development program and scholarship opportunity. The program is intended to attract students who would otherwise be overlooked by in a traditional admission selection process within the intersections of race, class and gender. At the College, Posse was also noted by the administration to be a source of diversification of the student body.

In the time since the Grinnell College-Posse relationship ended, the College has mainly focused on this aspect of the program’s impact and ensuring that diversity continues to be a core value for Grinnell. Campus memos issued at the time of this decision, such as “Meeting the Diverse Needs of Students” from April 27, 2016, demonstrated the College’s perception of the issue as having two parts moving forward: supporting students of color on campus and “meeting the diverse needs of students.”

Joe Bagnoli, vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid, said that after the decision was made in the spring, admissions had one full year to determine how they would supplement classes with students who would help them fulfill their goals for class composition. He said that the College has five goals: academic promise, robust diversity, engaged citizenship, commitment to access and a group that as a whole makes an adequate financial contribution to the sustainability of the College.

“In response, we turned to other organizations and developed programs within the department here that would effectively allow us to identify students with similar sorts of backgrounds and potential,” Bagnoli said.

He said that admissions used the budget set aside for the recruitment partnership with Posse and began investing it into these new action steps. Some of the organizations Bagnoli mentioned include Raise Me, Cloud Peak Project, Chicago Scholars, Schuler Scholars, the Questbridge Program, College Greenlight and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Bagnoli said that the connection to some of these organizations began after the termination of Posse. For the organizations the College already had an affiliation with, Bagnoli explained that the school tightened these relationships with them as well as increased the budget allocated towards them.

Outside of official partnerships with these admission focused organizations, the College also supports domestic students of color admitted in regular decision by covering transportation costs of visiting the campus.

“We have an institutional commitment. It’s one of three primary commitments that the College makes. First being academic excellence, second being diversity and third being social responsibility. When we are constructing admission programs and initiatives, we have those three primary commitments of the college in mind,” Bagnoli said.

The partnership with these organizations has brought a few students to Grinnell over the last two years. The class of 2022 is the most diverse class of students based on race and ethnicity that Grinnell College has ever had in its history.

The termination also raised the question of how the College would continue to support Posse scholars on campus while standing with the decision of discontinuing the program. Some Posse scholars such as Nguyen wish the College were more transparent in its plans to fill the void that Posse has left and support the remaining Posse scholars on campus.

“It would have been nice for the administration to contact Posse directly because there is a healing process going on. And I would have felt much better if the institution were next to me saying, ‘Hey, listen, I know we cancelled your program. But we have this tangible A, B and C that is actually going to bring the same effects and at a better return of investment,’” Nguyen said.

Maure Smith-Benanti, Posse Liaison and Director of Intercultural Affairs, said that, after the decision, more staff was hired on her team in order to deal with and get involved with diversity, or lack thereof, on campus. ICA, with budgetary support from the Administration, expanded the Peer Connections Pre-Orientation Program (PCPOP) to be a yearlong program, in which students meet again once a month throughout the year to talk and the also get a mentor assigned to them.

“When people talk about the decision not to have Posse on our campus, sometimes along with that comes a negative assessment about diversity and inclusion that I don’t think is fair and devalues the work that we’re trying to do,” Smith-Benanti said. When asked about the efforts and progress made after his Campus Memo on March 10, 2016, Kington listed a series of changes made within the last three years to address the Posse issue.

In an email to The S&B, Kington discussed the include the institution of new procedures for faculty hiring to enhance hiring equity and outcomes, the development of the Common Read Program to promote First-Year Diversity Programming, the first multicultural alumni reunion in 2018, the revision of bias-motivated protocol and the changes made to the Multicultural Leadership Council — offering leadership and organizational development to multicultural student organizations.

Kington also noted the establishment of the Grinnell College Diversity and Inclusion Plan, which was instituted in the fall of 2018, and can be found in the College’s website. This plan outlines steps intended to promote a “diverse and inclusive Grinnell.”

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    BryanMar 5, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    It almost seems like the administration is pointing to every single D&I initiative they’ve taken in the last three years and saying that these were made possible as a result of discontinuing Posse. I wonder how many of these initiatives were truly only possible if Posse was discontinued. I’m sure that most of these changes are a result of our changing country / student needs, not ending Posse.