Positive change through Posse

Sarah Baldwin and Libby Darrell

Students across the nation often feel powerless among pressing issues that they face not only at their respective institutions but also as citizens of America. For those students wishing to engage in discussion about difficult or stigmatized topics, the act of finding a proper forum to do so can be a challenge. Thankfully, programs such as the PossePlus Retreat (PPR) – which is sponsored by The Posse Foundation – exist to inspire participants to create positive change in their lives both on- and off-campus.

Posse’s Origins

According to PossePlus Retreat facilitator Antonio Rodriguez, the Posse Foundation “believes that the leaders of the 21st century should reflect the country’s rich demographic mix.” In order to create awareness about this lack of diversity in leadership positions and inspire necessary changes, The Posse Foundation aims to engage with younger generations. The organization works with a number of universities to recruit and offer scholarships to high school students of exceptional merit.

“The organization’s larger mission is to identify and train these young leaders,” Rodriguez said, which the Foundation does by supporting their Scholars before, during and after college. Whether that be through the Pre-Collegiate Training program or regularly scheduled meetings with an assigned mentor, The Posse Foundation aims to ensure that its Scholars are supported throughout their educational careers.

What is PPR?

Aligning with the goal of The Posse Foundation, the PPR was created to provide a space in which Posse Scholars could connect with other campus communities and engage in discussions about critical issues that occur across the nation.

“The retreats offer opportunities for scholars to lead their campuses into very challenging issues and emerge with a deeper understanding and, sometimes, with plans for action,” Rodriguez said – an opportunity which he feels is a rarity in a university setting.

Howard dePass Jr., a Posse alum and Senior Posse Trainer from Boston, echoed these sentiments. “PPR is important because it’s one of the few times where all Posse Scholars and their guests can create dialogue around one issue and, hopefully, generate some action on how to build their campus and communities,” he said.

This Year’s Theme

In the past, PPR topics have focused on issues such as race, gender and sexuality. This year, the retreat, which took place from Feb. 7-9, focused on “The State of Politics.” Students, staff and administration engaged in conversations about a variety of political topics such as anti-blackness, immigration and environmental injustice, among others.

In addition to its goal of empowering attendees, this year’s retreat offered a space where participants’ voices could be heard and where they could relate their concerns to others.’ “When thinking about politics, most people think it has to do with the House of Representatives and the President,” Sophia Spears ’23, a first-time attendee at the retreat said. “But it really controls many aspects of our [lives]. PPR was also a way to hear about problems that don’t affect us personally.”

Retreat Events

Throughout the weekend, students at PPR participated in various activities that encourage discussion on relevant social issues. “One of the goals of this PPR was for participants to think critically about how to communicate with others who have different ideas, opinions, and perspectives. I think another goal, for the Bucknell’s PPR specifically, was to create space and opportunities for participants to develop concrete action plans for issues that are on campus,” dePass Jr. said.

One of the staple activities during the PossePlus Retreats is the dyads, where attendees are put in pairs and encouraged to engage in a dialogue with someone — often someone with whom they have never interacted. 

“I had a discussion with someone on the pros and cons of capitalism and communism,” Nana Appiah-Padi ’20 said about his first PPR. “We started the discussion on different ends of the spectrum, yet we still had a really fruitful and respectful conversation. In the end, we didn’t agree on what was best, but we both left with points to think about.”

Sandra Madanat ’21, who also attended the retreat for the first time this year, felt similarly. “My partner and I talked for about an hour, if not longer, and that gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about them that I hadn’t known before. In addition, it helped me realize a lot of things about myself that I didn’t see before,” she said.

In addition to the dyads, students were given the chance to split into groups and discuss a variety of issues, ranging from food insecurity and politics to media representation and economic gaps. At the end of the discussion, students posed solutions to these problems, which they could bring back to campus. 

“My favorite aspect of the retreat was getting to voice an issue that I am really passionate about. I got to find people that thought similarly to me and reach out to those who didn’t know it was a problem,” Spears said of her discussion on food politics and animal rights.

Esmely Muñoz ’20, a Posse Scholar who has attended the retreat four times, added that she loves the consistent support that PPR fosters continually. “This one was unique given the difference in the physical location, but the love and camaraderie were the same. PPR has always been a space to share our frustrations and hope for a better Bucknell,” she said.

Having facilitated these retreats for the past twelve years, Rodriguez said that, “this retreat was particularly rich.” It was unique, he said, because “the community was full of ideas to explore and feeling to process. They held space for one another with encouragement and care. It was an honor to help that happen.”

Looking to the Future

Although several agree that this year’s PPR was unique because of how the activities allowed students to strategize action plans on their respective campuses, the entire Posse Scholars Program at the University is a special experience for those who participate and engage with the beneficial program. In fact, the program is so special to students that they find it not only fulfilling, but also bittersweet when it comes to an end at graduation. 

“Every year, there is a tradition that some call the ‘senior sentiment,” Muñoz said. “It is really just an acknowledgment of all the work and commitment the senior Posse scholars have put into our Bucknell community and into Posse as a whole. It is an extremely emotional experience to realize this is our last year at Bucknell and our last PPR.” 

“It is bittersweet to leave Bucknell, but knowing the positive impact that I have had on my successors is encouraging and fulfilling,” she said. 

With the reminder to engage in discussion with others from The Posse Foundation’s PPR, students can be more conscious of the ways in which they can and should speak to others about issues in their communities. After all, the University has plenty of organizations and forums for students, so there is no excuse not to!

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