Posse Retreat Spurs Dialogue and Discussion

By Emilie Munson

On Friday March 1, 54 current Middlebury Posse scholars and 76 of their student, faculty and staff guests, called “plussers,” traveled to Silver Bay, N.Y. for the nationwide PossePlus Retreat. The PossePlus Retreat is an annual program in which the Posse Scholars of all 44 participating colleges and universities gather in various locations with guests of their choice. Over the course of a weekend, the scholars and their invitees discuss a topic that Posse scholars name as one of importance to them. This year’s topic was “What’s Your Worth? Class, Power & Privilege in America.”

Jennifer Herrera, retreat organizer and special assistant to the dean of the College, described the purpose of the retreat as promoting diverse discussion and interactions among community members in regards to a significant subject.

“The PossePlus Retreat is a dynamic way of bringing together students, faculty and staff in an effort to create critical dialogue about an important issue,” explained Herrera. “We hear all the time that this retreat can be life-changing and that it often creates social networks, dialogue and activity that may not have been there before.”

Scholars and their plussers and mentors departed from the College Friday afternoon for a weekend which Tara Affolter, Posse mentor and visiting professor of education studies, described as “grueling.”

After arriving in Silver Bay, participants took part in emotionally-charged activities until nearly 11 p.m., and then awoke early on Saturday for a complete day of discussions and activities until late Saturday night. On Sunday morning, participants completed a final round of activities before departing for campus around noon.

The weekend’s activities centered around the ideas of revealing the functions of wealth and power in today’s society and identifying the misconceptions and stereotypes which accompany them.

Posse-plusser Jordan Seman ’16 felt enlightened by the weekend’s activities, especially one in which participants identified various locations on campus that can be associated with class.

“The activity was incredibly eye-opening for me because it revealed many of the stereotypes and social-stratifiers that occur in our college community daily,” explained Seman. “It led to very worthwhile discussions about class associations and privilege and how they play out at Middlebury.”

To Posse scholar Ashley Guzman ’13, exploring the rapport between one’s home life and life in college was most elucidated by the retreat.

“By being at Middlebury, I’m afforded a certain amount of power and privilege,” said Guzman. “But in hearing everyone’s stories about where they come from and being [a senior] who’s leaving, it’s very interesting to think about what it means to come to Middlebury and then go back to where you came from and how that can play a role in your experience at Middlebury.”

The message of the significance of one’s background resonated with Posse plusser Ian Rhee ’15 as well. “The most meaningful part was seeing how different a life I lead from the majority of the people on the retreat,” reflected Rhee. “I really got to see how privileged and fortunate I am, and it really made me grateful for my parents and how hard they’ve worked to provide me with everything that I have.”

Student Activities, Programs and Events Manager Dave Kloepfer who attended the retreat as a Posse faculty guest believes the topic of class, power and privilege is universal. “This topic hits home with everyone on some level,” said Kloepfer.

Many participants, both Posse scholars and guests, identified the retreat’s comforting atmosphere as beneficial to poignant, meaningful conversation. “The most meaningful part of the retreat was having the ability to share personal experiences and opinions in a very safe and open space,” said Seman. “We participated in many activities that allowed us to step out of our comfort zones and express ourselves in ways that we normally might not.”

Guzman attributes her increased vocalization about social issues to the atmosphere that the retreat promotes. “I’ve become more confident through these safe spaces that the retreat promotes in calling things out and expecting more of people,” she said.

Furthermore, Guzman hopes that these safe spaces can be brought back to campus through the sense of community generated at the retreat. “You immediately feel this comfort [at the retreat] that I don’t immediately feel on this campus,” said Guzman. “I just would really hope that the plussers and everyone who was invited just felt so included that they might now transfer that sense of community to [the College].”

Affolter entrusts this community of PossePlus participants, in particular the Posse scholars, with the task of increasing such powerful social dialogue as that which occurred on the retreat at the College.

“It’s important to do these focused moments,” said Affolter. “But these conversations really need to be threaded across our educational experiences and not just this isolated conversation. […] That’s the hope.”



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