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The 2018 Grinnell Posse Plus Retreat

An alum who works with the Posse Foundation asked me to reflect on the retreat.

Each year, at the beginning of spring semester, the Posse Foundation holds a retreat for Grinnell Posse Scholars and other folks from Grinnell’s campus [1], known as the Posse Plus Retreat [2]. Although Grinnell’s association with the Posse Foundation is gradually winding down [4], we will continue to offer Posse Plus retreats. Since the particular details of each Posse Plus retreat are carefully crafted by the facilitators, I think that reporting carefully on those details would infringe upon their intellectual property [5]. The particular details of what participants said are also supposed to be confidential. But I think it’s still possible to say useful things about the retreat.

This year is my second year attending Posse Plus. The first time was about a decade ago [6]. Given my memory [9], I recall very few details, except that it had a large impact on me. This one did not feel quite as impactful. It may because I’ve now spent many more years thinking about these issues and discussing them with students. It may be that the state of the country makes me less hopeful. It may just be that it’s my second retreat. But it was still worth the twenty-two or so hours I spent on the retreat, as well as the weekend away from family.

Perhaps most importantly, Posse Plus reminds me of how fortunate I am to work at Grinnell. Our students continue to impress me with their thoughtful approaches to complex matters, their willingness to challenge assumptions [10], and their willingness to work toward change. My colleagues (faculty, CLS, Student Affairs, and more) are even more amazing. And our Posse scholars are what Posse promises: People who can step up and take leadership roles and effect change [11].

So, what does the Posse Plus retreat look like? The retreat includes a mixture of sessions. We do some activities in small groups and other in large groups; in many, but not all, cases, the small-group activities can involve some reporting out to large groups. Some of the small-group activities encourage sharing of personal experiences. Some folks share naturally in other situations [12]. Some activities had us look at images or read texts. Others asked us to reflect more generally. There are also meals, start-of-session activities to get people up and moving, some points for self-reflection, and more.

I appreciate the opportunity to talk to a wider range of students [14]. I appreciate the chance to have some in-depth discussions with colleagues about meaningful matters. And I really appreciate how much all attendees, but particularly our students, are willing to share about themselves and their experiences.

As I look back on my career, it is the stories that students share with me that may have had the most impact on me [15]: the frustration many of our lower-income students feel on the assumption of other students that they can just come up with $10 for something [16]; the way some students are treated by TSA [17]; the way repeated, off-handed comments in class have a real effect; and so many others.

I will admit that some of my favorite parts of the retreat center around the ways in which they have participants acknowledge each other. There’s a wall of warm fuzzies - Post-It® notes that you leave for other participants. And one of the last events involves 5/6 of the participants sitting with their eyes closed while a rotating 1/6 give gentle taps to acknowledge things like someone who inspired you or someone who makes a difference. Those light touches are incredibly powerful.

I will also admit to the occasional frustration. Some frustrations have to do with the big picture. For example, it is clear from many of the conversations we still have a long way to go in our support for diversity on campus [18]. But some have to do with small things. For example, I’m still not sure how to call someone out on a misstatement or microaggression, such as when I tried to correct a person who referred to an alum by the wrong nationality or when I am surprised to hear a colleague use a different pronoun for a student than the pronoun I use. I don’t want to be part of the Grinnell smackdown. But if I don’t correct people, I’m part of the problem.

For most of the retreat, the tone seemed much less positive than I recall; I heard the same from others. It is likely a number of things contribute to that tone. Certainly, our country feels less positive; while Posse Plus Retreats have always had to contend with systemic racism, rarely has that systemic racism been so visible. There’s also the sadness of seeing the end of Posse at Grinnell in sight.

However, our final activity allowed small groups to come up with ideas for moving the climate and conversation forward and to making Grinnell more inclusive [19]. My group identified ways to better communicate processes, which I hope will be an important change. Now I just have to write it up. I also came up with an idea related to my teaching, but I need to run it by a few students first. We shall see.

Grinnell has a public reflection on the retreat scheduled for Community Hour in a bit more than a week [20]. If you’re on campus, I’d encourage you to attend. Even if you don’t attend, I hope you’ll see positive changes on campus in the coming months and years.

There is much more I could write about the retreat. But I’ve written enough for tonight. Well, there is one more thing: Thank you! to the Posse Scholar who invited me. I appreciate the trust you have in me and your willingness to allow me to share in this event.

[1] I believe they hold retreats for every institution with whom they are partnered.

[2] A number of people refer to it as PPR. That’s too close to PBR for my taste [3].

[3] And I’m too pretentious for PBR to be to my taste.

[4] It frustrates me endlessly that there seems to be a big gap between the way Grinnell understood the relationship and corresponding expectations and the way Posse understood the relationship and expectations.

[5] That’s an ethical infringement, not a legal infringement.

[6] Why only twice in a decade? I don’t get invited all that often [7] and I sometimes have to say no: Saturdays in late January are often occupied by my children’s events [8].

[7] Amusingly, some Posse scholars tell me that I didn’t invite you because I assume you get invited every year.

[8] Most frequently, there’s a swim meet. There have also been Jazz band concerts and perhaps other activities. I’m 99% sure that I’ll have at least one conflicting event next year; this year that event was in Boone. I don’t think it makes sense to attend the retreat if I’m going to drive back and forth from Coralville to Boone.

[9] Or, more precisely, my lack of memory.

[10] They even challenged the facilitators on one major exercise.

[11] I mean effect and not affect.

[12] I so much appreciate what one colleague was willing to share over a breakfast discussion.

[14] Perhaps eight to ten of the ninety or so students have taken a class from me. I know about ten more from other contexts. But I don’t tend to know the other contexts students as well. And there were many who I have never met.

[15] These are not stories from Posse Plus. These are stories from other conversations with students.

[16] Too many tell me that they feel like their peers act if it’s not a problem to come up with only $10 for a department t-shirt, a contribution to a party, one piece of a gift to a research supervisor, or something similar. For them, it is a problem.

[17] I had originally described those experiences, which are foreign to me. Then I realized that describing the experiences would likely identify the students, at least to people who know them. So you’ll have to take my word that these students have an incredibly and inappropriately frustrating time just trying to take a plane.

[18] Diversity of race and class and gender and ability and ….

[19] And, in some cases, to make parts of the world outside of Grinnell more inclusive.

[20] At least I think it does. The Campus Calendar just says Community Hour.

Version 1.0 released 2018-01-28.

Version 1.0.1 of 2018-01-29.