Standing Out Blending In
A pioneer group of college scholarship students reflect on adjustment and success during their first year away
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Glaude recently became one of two tenured African-American professors at Bowdoin, and he says Bowdoin's partnership with the Posse Foundation "shows a really amazing commitment at a time when there just seems to be a backlash against these sorts of efforts."Skip to next paragraph
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A tangible difference in class
One benefit for Bowdoin is that the posse students help change the tenor of discussion in many of their classes. "Some of them are refreshingly willing to ask kinds of questions and say kinds of things that typically aren't asked or said," says David Collings, an English professor who had two posse students in his poetry course last semester. Mr. Collings has taught at Bowdoin since 1987 and says it has not been uncommon to have all-white classes. But that's changing.
"If we are talking about questions around race or class or poverty or other types of concerns that have come up ..., it does make a difference to have a diverse student body," he says. "Academically, people are more responsible, more attentive, more willing to grasp certain realities if students in the classroom have experienced [some of what's being discussed]."
"The biggest impact that we have is in our classes," Lauren confirms. "People come up to us all the time and are like, 'Oh, that was a really interesting point that you made.' " Out of 12 students in her freshman seminar on racism, four were posse members. Their peers from small towns listened more than they talked because they didn't have first-hand knowledge of the issues, she says, and "we've seen how people's views have changed from the beginning of the semester."
Several of the black posse students notice, at times, that they are the only person of color in a class. Usually, people don't expect them to speak for an entire race, they say. But it can be awkward, Danielle adds, if she feels called on to explain things from a black perspective - during a discussion about racial slurs, for instance.
Administrators and faculty hope that as more minority students come to campus, that sense of isolation will fade. "Students [of color] who may not even need financial aid might consider coming to Bowdoin now, because we're hitting a critical mass," Collings says. The number of prospective students who came for minority-recruitment weekends doubled last year to 160.
Programs like posse garner faculty support partly because they emphasize preparation and mentoring. In the past, Collings says, "there were occasions in which we would have middle-class African-American students whose parents could afford to send them, but [who] were slightly less prepared than we would hope for.... There was no structure to get them up to speed, so they would struggle [at first]."
Normal college freshmen
The 10 students in the posse family always have one another's welfare in mind. But most of the time, the posse label is in the background. Their status as normal college freshmen occupies the foreground.
For a study break, Lenz maneuvers for goals on his roommate's PlayStation 2 video hockey game. Their room is littered with snack-food packages, and someone has tacked up the obligatory poster of a "Baywatch" babe. Lysol is kept handy so they can clean up when "the girls" come down a floor to watch "Survivor."
Over in another freshman dorm, Ginette and her roommate work on computers side by side, but don't get much done as a series of friends wander by.
Meanwhile, Omega stops in to see Smith about a paper she has to do for Glaude's class, and then makes a quick dash past waist-high banks of snow to the library's subterranean computer lab.
Between dinner and the posse meeting at 8 p.m., Eider Gordillo heads to Gibson Hall for practice with a world-music group. He plays guitar and helps translate Spanish lyrics for a Cuban song. Then he switches to the gun-gon drum as the group practices some complex African rhythms.
It's a scene that testifies to Bowdoin students' embrace of multiculturalism. Even the cardboard cut-out polar bear, watching over them from atop a cabinet, is splashed with a medley of bright colors.
This year, Bowdoin College hosted its first 'posse' - a diverse group of students who support each other as they negotiate a radically new life. This follow-up to an Aug. 29 story looks at how they're faring.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society