Middlebury Posse scholars attended the PossePlus Retreat this past weekend, March 4-6, in Silver Bay, New York. Held every year, the retreat aims to address national and on-campus issues often involving race, class, gender and power. The events are attended not only by Posse scholars, but also by College faculty, staff and fellow students invited by the Posse scholars.
The Posse Foundation is a nonprofit organization that identifies and recruits students with leadership and academic potential from public high schools in urban areas, forming these students into 10-12 person “posses” which then attend a given college or university as a group. Posse scholars are awarded four-year, full-tuition scholarships from the foundation’s partner institutions of higher education. Middlebury has been one of the foundation’s partner schools since 1998, and today works with Posse students from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
The theme for this year’s retreat was “Sticks + Stones: Language and Speech in a Diverse Society.” Attendees discussed the contention between the right to free speech and the right to limit offensive language, a dispute which has sprung up on campuses nationwide. Activities over the weekend ranged from larger group discussions to smaller circles about the power of language and what speech should be considered acceptable in online forums, apps like Yik Yak, social media sites and college newspapers. Students discussed the problematic use of certain types of speech on college campuses and possible solutions that ranged from trigger warnings to Administrative responses.
Posse Scholar Daniel Amar Pena ’16 said this year’s event, the third he has attended, was a successful if imperfect experience.
“This was my third retreat and personally I have seen improvements compared to the first retreat I attended,” he said. “While the topic this year was very broad and not enough energy was focused on the issues occurring at Middlebury, the retreat was an overall success.”
“The retreat provided a space for each scholar, their Plus Ones and faculty/staff to engage in conversations both on the macro and micro levels…I am hopeful that going forward, the Posse Foundation and Middlebury will be able to bring the conversations that happen on these retreats back to campus and the administration,” he added.
Michael Garel-Martorana ’16 attended the event as a guest, and feels strongly about Posse’s role on campus.
“Posse plays an important role in these discussions because Posse Scholars are not afraid to speak their mind, to put things into action,” he said. “They are strong, resilient individuals. The retreats put on by the foundation tackle topics that people need to engage with and learn about.”
Pena felt that this year’s focus on speech was especially timely. “Personally, I feel that this issue is becoming relevant to every campus across the nation and conversations such as the ones facilitated by the Posse Foundation are necessary,” he said. “Both academic and personal instances of freedom of speech on campuses have garnered much attention by media outlets, campus administrators and the student body. While the standards for freedom of speech do vary between public and private institutions, I believe that freedom of speech, in certain contexts, can be damaging both emotionally and psychologically to a campus community and the victims of hate speech. I am a strong believer that the retreat was only the beginning of larger group discussions regarding this topic that need to occur on campus.”
Garel-Martorana noted that the retreat serves as a powerful educational tool. “No one can hear the stories, see the powerful support system that marginalized students provide for each other, and engage in the discussions at PPR, without recognizing that there are problems all too real for so many of us on campus, and that change is not up for debate.”