Both the achievements and tribulations of the first Posse at Colby are best appreciated if one first understands how far and fast many of the students have come.
Some, like Chen, are children of immigrants, first-generation college students breaking new ground, both at Colby and within their New York communities and families. Some (Williams, Downs, and Chen included) are students of color, living for the first time on a predominantly white college campus in a rural, predominantly white state. Some had to adjust to an academic setting for which they felt inadequately prepared by cash-strapped New York City schools.
Jia Chen '06 (second from left), a member of Colby‰s first Posse, gives family members a tour of campus during Commencement weekend.
Photo by Fred Field
One Posse student saw her first science lab at Colby. Some went to schools that didn't develop writing skills. "It doesn't mean they're less able,— said Joe Atkins, a faculty member in psychology who also serves as coordinator of multicultural programs and support and as mentor to the Posse scholars when they are first-years and sophomores. "It just means that [some] are less prepared.—
And that they had lots of ground to make up in a short time.
Case in point: Chen, a cheerful presence on campus, grew up in southern China, moving to New York's Chinatown with her parents when she was 13. "In middle school [in New York] I didn't learn a word of English,— Chen said. "A hundred percent of my classmates were Chinese.—
Chen went on to Manhattan International High School, where again all of the students were immigrants—but from all over the world. English was the only common language and Chen soon added it to her repertoire.
She excelled in high school but, because she didn't feel she could afford to attend a good college, considered bypassing college altogether to follow in the path of self-educated Chinese entrepreneurs she'd read about and admired. A counselor persuaded her to continue her education and Chen was selected for Colby's first Posse. She quickly expanded her range of interests and skills.
Soaking up knowledge, Chen developed an independent major in administrative science with an emphasis on marketing, accounting, and corporate finance. That was accompanied by enthusiastic excursions into computer science, classical music and guitar, and Japanese. "And then my English professor Cedric Bryant, he really inspired me,— Chen said. "He's a great writer and a great professor. I said, 'Oh, my god. I just want to be like him.'—
Her post-graduation plan: to take LSATs in the fall with the intent of going to law school in California.
The first Posse is replete with students who grew and blossomed while at Colby. Several were leaders in organizations centering on multicultural issues. Williams, an independent major in science, technology, and communications, was active in campus efforts to join Colby with the Waterville community. Zen Glasser '07J spent a year in France and coupled her French major with a minor in Jewish studies. Claire Jimenez '06 and Shapel Mallard '07 explored the world of "spoken word,— a growing genre of performance poetry.
Posse students worked with the Bridge and Project Ally, promoting awareness of gay and lesbian issues. They were among the organizers of a statewide diversity conference that drew students from Bates, Bowdoin, and beyond.
"They brought a new perspective. 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.—
Associate Professor of American Studies
Their interests are far ranging, leading them to scatter into the Colby community and form what Chen called "our own little Posses.—
"We are all very much individuals,— Williams said. "We're not very group oriented.—
That would seem to contradict the intent of Posse—that the pre-formed, small, tight group provides support to get everyone through the rough spots in the transition from home to college and integration into a new community. "They're not a warm and fuzzy group,— Russell Langsam, director of Posse New York, said of Colby's Posse I. "They didn't provide a lot of satisfaction to Posse staff in terms of our investment in them as a group. I think working with them individually was a different story.—
But Posse I members say they were there for each other when needed. And there were those times.
For some of the students it was simply the adjustment to Maine, to Waterville, to living without buses and subways. "Just being frustrated that I couldn't have things delivered,— said Downs, smiling at the recollection. "I couldn't get anywhere, snow was everywhere. Everything was very inconvenient. It was petty things like that.—
But there were more serious and fundamental adjustments to be made.