Williams arrived on Mayflower Hill in the fall of 2002 with nine other members of Colby's first "Posse,— a group of students chosen by the College with the assistance of the New York-based Posse Foundation. In May he and five other members of the group graduated; three others in the group who took time off along the way expect to graduate next year. Together they were Colby's Posse I, described by Associate Professor Margaret McFadden (American studies) as "actual, real pioneers.
"Though they all approached it [Colby] in very different ways, collectively I think they really did make a difference in the College,— said McFadden, who advised several of the students with independent majors and honors theses. "And they made it a better place for those who will come behind them who are also members of underrepresented groups.—
While many members of underrepresented groups have attended Colby, the decision to contract with Posse New York in 2001 was a new and different attempt to bring more diversity to the Colby community. The national Posse program helps 26 (as of June) affiliated universities and colleges to recruit students from public high schools in the country's biggest cities.
George Williams '06 and his mother, Morine Brown, of Bronx, N.Y., share a joyful moment at a reception for graduating members of the first Colby Posse at Lunder House Commencement weekend.
Photo by Fred Field
Selected from hundreds of candidates, all successful Posse scholars receive full scholarships that are based neither on race nor on financial need. Coming from public high schools in New York City, many of which have large minority and immigrant populations, the Posse scholars include many ALANA (African-American, Latino-Latina, Asian-American, or Native American) students. Coming from the Bronx, Brooklyn, and other New York boroughs, the students also are thoroughly urban—and probably unfamiliar with the culture of colleges like Colby, Middlebury, and Bowdoin, all of which have been or are part of the Posse network.
Anticipating culture shock, the program puts students in posses, small groups that train together for months before they head off together to college. The idea is to provide a ready-made support network—and to make it more likely that the students will succeed.
"I know I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Posse,— said Chelsea Downs '06, a Staten Islander and daughter of a teacher and a social worker.
The program's place at Colby has become more apparent with each passing year—and the arrival of each new Posse. Twelve students are expected to arrive this fall as members of Posse IV. And, as of this writing, a possible second agreement between Colby and Posse New York was being negotiated, according to administrators. Meanwhile, the Posse pioneers say their successors have found and will find the Mayflower Hill trail already blazed.
As Posse I member Jia Chen '06 put it, "We survived. They can, too.—
Members of the pioneering Posse at Colby did more than survive. Overcoming obstacles that even their pre-Colby Posse preparation could not level, they have achieved in different ways. The group includes well-known campus activists, musicians, a spoken-word poet, and organizers of forums on challenging topics of race and difference.
Some of their achievements were personal; others, challenging the status quo or simply contributing to community initiatives, had a campus-wide impact and will leave a permanent legacy.
"They brought a new perspective,— McFadden said. "They are not afraid. They were willing to say what they thought, and they often thought quite differently from other students in the class. And that was always productive.—
But not always easy.