This past weekend, about one hundred K students and faculty loaded buses and traveled to Angola, IN to embark upon a weekend of discussion, workshops and making connections they would have never made on campus. Each year, The Posse Foundation and Posse Scholars hold a weekend long PossePlus Retreat in which members of the student body, faculty and administration are in attendance to discuss issues and historical events chosen by the Posse Scholars.
The Posse Foundation was founded in 1989 and they are partnered with 30 colleges including Kalamazoo College. Posse Scholars are students from public high schools who exemplify academic and leadership excellence. Here at K, there are four groups of Posse Scholars from each year and K has been in partnership with the Posse Foundation for the past eight years, with the ninth group of Posse Scholars arriving on campus in the fall.
“Being a posse scholar reaches beyond the scope of ones own personal growth in ethics, academia and life. Being a posse scholar bears the weight of impacting those around you through propelling the ripple of change within the campus and community,” said Aaron McKay ’17 from Kalamazoo Posse 5.
The PossePlus Retreat (PPR) began with the Posse Scholars at Vanderbilt University. They wanted to make a positive difference on their campus and worked with their Posse mentors to create the PossePlus Retreat. This was a weekend of collaborating and discussion through workshops designed to tackle important national and campus issues that were encountered on a daily basis such as race and politics. The retreat was a safe space for discourse among students, faculty and administration who are not ordinarily in interaction with each other. This safe space still exists today at the retreats as they have begun to involve pressing social, cultural and political issues.
The four K Posse’s along with their invited guests tackled the topic of “Us vs. Them? Division, Community and Identity in American Society.” The groups that are usually pitted against each other in a negative manner in media and society such as groups like Republicans vs. Democrats or Whites vs. Non-Whites were brought to the table to be analyzed and discussed as to why they are so oppositional. Students had mixed emotions in the beginning, as the topic can be sensitive.
“Going into the PPR I was a little nervous. We’ve had these types of conversations before on campus and I don’t think they were very productive. They always turn into a people of color versus white people discussion. And that’s exactly what this PPR was so I was a little disappointed. There’s just so much potential for the Us vs Them topic to be limited to race. But the PPR definitely provided moments where I was able to be really self reflective about how I approach conflict and communication,” said Erin Byrd ‘17 also from Kalamazoo Posse 5.
Students, faculty and administration alike were placed in uncomfortable and enriching situations.
“As a faculty member and first time attending the PPR, I found it to be a great experience. I was so encouraged to see so many students engaging in deep conversation about an issue and topic so relevant to today. I am very thankful for my participation in the retreat and hope that future retreats continue to rise awareness about critical issues facing our world and bring students together to work on potential solutions,” said Dwight Williams, Professor of Chemistry at Kalamazoo College.
This retreat served as the tip of the iceberg for the discussion of relevant and pressing topics. Those in attendance at the retreat are encouraged to take what they learned and not let this be the end of discourse but the start of empowering conversations.