The State of Our Campus: 2019 PossePlus Retreat

Participants hold signs during the retreat, one of which reads, “No human is an alien.” — Photo credit to Neomi Ngo

There were laughs, tears and hugs as the third PossePlus Retreat brought in a new group of students, faculty and staff together. Participants left from campus at 3 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15, travelling two hours by bus to Fort Worden State Park. On arrival the discussions began on the theme of the weekend’s events — the State of the Union.

Since 2016, the University of Puget Sound has participated in this nationwide retreat organized by the Posse Foundation, an organization dedicated towards supporting a talented and diverse student body all over the U.S. According to their webpage, since its founding in 1989, the Posse Foundation has “identified, recruited and trained 8,490 students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential.”

Students from high schools across the United States compete for the chance to become a member of Posse, an organization that prepares students for college by providing mentorships, workshops and, most importantly, a posse.

“Posse has been a support system for me. I definitely struggled my first year of college and it was my Posse mentor … who really helped me find resources on campus,” sophomore Posse scholar Gabriela Herrera said.

Each member inducted forms part of a larger group of students. Going through the program, they act as a support systems for one another throughout their college career. Values such as leadership and innovation are emphasized and nurtured.

“Posse … is off of merit; you have to be smart, well-positioned in leadership, internships and community service,” sophomore Posse scholar Jade Herbert said.  

First created by the Posse students of Vanderbilt University, the PossePlus Retreat was founded on the desire to bring the campus community together in meaningful, constructive dialogue.

Participants are invited by Posse scholars with the intention of creating a representative mix of voices and perspectives. As stated by their website, the retreat offers “a weekend of interactive and challenging workshops designed to tackle important national and campus issues.”

This year was especially noteworthy with the invitation of two Board of Trustees: Frederick Grimm and Sunshine Morrison, who were invited by sophomore Posse scholar Gabriela Herrera.

“I loved the chance to have real and candid conversations with students, faculty and administrators,” Morrison said. “It was a valuable insight into the student experience.”

Guided by retreat facilitators, students, faculty and staff discussed topics such as immigration, identity and socioeconomic status with the intent of understanding how these issues relate back to the State of the Union.

Questions were raised such as, Do the values expressed in the State of the Union reflect our own values? In what ways do race, income and migration affect access to education? And in what ways can we start discussions and help create change on a campus and community level?

“I hope people come out of this retreat thinking about how to make the University and higher education more equitable and more inclusive for those who have been historically marginalized,” sophomore Posse scholar Nicole Cariño said.

Activities during the retreat included group discussions, games and self-narrative poetry, each of them designed around educating participants on fundamental issues surrounding the people of the United States, as well as emphasizing a sense of community.

“When we talk about the Union we keep in mind what it means to belong to America and what Americaness means to each of us and how it affects each of us,” Cariño said. “Everyone is coming from different backgrounds and truths.”  

In the matter of a weekend, one could feel the connections made in the room and the relationships and insights gained.

“It’s energizing to be around this group and have these conversations,” Assistant Dean of Students Sarah Shives said.

The last event of the retreat finished up around noon on Sunday. The morning consisted of proactive planning, specifically on how students, faculty and staff can work towards creating change.

“The student community here just seemed so engaged and so committed to actually creating some change. … There feels like there is a true spirit and commitment towards growth as a community. … It’s rare to see,” Posse facilitator Rebecca Renard-Wilson said.

Participants divided up into groups based on themes such as, education, multiracial identities, women of color and resources on campus for a final discussion on how they can bring back to campus what they have learned during the retreat. Before loading the bus, participants linked arms and gave one last thanks.

“Students often feel that their voices aren’t heard and that the decisions being made on campus don’t reflect the ideas and the values that they hold,” Herrera said. “I hope students who feel they can’t speak up on campus felt like this was an outlet for them to speak, not only about campus …but about the nation in general.”