College students find support in 'posses'

Associated Press | 11/18/2009, 2:13 a.m.

Matt Rivera, 20, said his posse helped him and other members through the culture shock of leaving their Chicago-area homes for selective DePauw University, set amid cornfields in Greencastle, Ind.

“Everyone calls it a bubble,” said Rivera, a junior. “There’s nothing for 45 miles.”

Some Posse scholars say their presence has spurred some uncomfortable but needed conversations about race and class on campus. Jenny Rickard, a Bryn Mawr administrator and Posse liaison, said the program has been mutually enriching for the school and the students.

“The scholars have really energized the environment at Bryn Mawr, really creating a culture that is more inclusive,” Rickard said.

Both DePauw and Bryn Mawr say Posse students are active campus leaders and have graduation rates on par with or higher than that of the general student body. Overall, Posse officials say their students have a 90 percent graduation rate, compared with a 58 percent rate nationwide for bachelor’s degrees within six years.

Bial, whose work with Posse earned her a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 2007, said the ultimate goal is for scholars to take their diplomas from the Main Streets of college towns to the boardrooms of Wall Street and beyond.

“We’re creating a new kind of leadership network in the United States,” said Bial. “It’s not a good-old-boys network, it’s not the Greek system. You’ve got young people who represent the real diversity of this country.”

(Associated Press)