More colleges sign on for the 'ripple effects'

Wherever posse scholars tread, they change the landscape, starting new organizations, getting people talking about topics once taboo, breaking down stereotypes.

That's one reason the New York-based Posse Foundation has recently won grants to add Boston and Chicago as recruiting sites, and has attracted several new partner colleges.

Although Posse is not the first group to focus on scholarships and support for urban youths, it fills a special need at "small, liberal-arts colleges [which] can have a very homogenous population," says Reginald Pryor, director of the office of multicultural affairs at Boston University. From what he's read about the support network Posse provides, he says "it's a good idea if there is not a significant number of minority students ... and that institution is having a hard time recruiting."

One major contribution the scholarship recipients make to campus each year is their "PossePlus Retreat." They facilitate discussions among students and faculty (typically about 100 people) on such topics as race, gender, activism, and sexuality.

At DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., the retreats cause "many ripple effects on campus," says Maria Flores-Mills, a Posse mentor. They have inspired other students at the predominantly white liberal-arts school to consider new activities, she says, such as service trips during winter breaks.

"We invite people who will stir a ruckus," says mentor David Perez of the retreats at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., which hosted the first Posse in 1989. Individually, too, posse members seize on opportunities to support diversity on campus. At Vanderbilt, members have been student-body presidents and started the first Hispanic association, a date-rape survivors group, a gospel program, and community service groups.

Each year, partner schools get a new posse, so their collective influence grows. "I'm excited about the first group going to Bowdoin; I don't doubt that they're going to set the same foundation," says Mr. Perez, himself a former Posse member.

The Posse Foundation has had its share of adjustments. At two schools where it is no longer active, an engineering organization had forged the relationship and brought posses onto the campuses. From that experience, founder Deborah Bial says she realized it would be better to only partner with schools where Posse staff had established a direct relationship.

The on-campus mentoring also came about a few years into the program. "We were constantly flying to campus to problem-solve with the kids, and they said it would be so much better if you were here on campus," Ms. Bial explains.

The Posse Foundation is funded by grants from private sources and the US Department of Education. In addition to Vanderbilt, DePauw, and Bowdoin, the partner schools that supply scholarships are Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.; Wheaton College in Norton, Mass.; Middlebury College in Vermont; Dickinson College in Carlisle, Penn.; Hamilton College in New York; and Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania, the first women's college to sign on.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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