program changing Bowdoin community
BARBARA CONDLIFFE & JESSIE SOLOMON-GREENBAUM, STAFF WRITERS
Bowdoin is not known for its diversity. In fact, like
many small liberal arts colleges, Bowdoin is often cited as a "J. Crew"
campus. With the introduction of the Posse program, however, Bowdoin is
For thirteen years, The Posse Foundation has offered
urban public school students the opportunity to attend selective colleges
and universities. In addition to receiving an excellent education, these
students bring diverse experiences and strong leadership skills to their
Bowdoin's first real experience with these students
came last year as ten Posse students from Boston entered the Class of
2004. Due to the success of the Posse, Bowdoin has already selected Posse
members for the Class of 2005.
The need for a program such as the Posse group has been
apparent for years. Trustees, alumni, faculty, and students have been
concerned with the lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity at Bowdoin.
For a long time the admissions office has been trying to strengthen efforts
to recruit minority students.
Coordinator of Multicultural Student Programs Wil Smith
'00, explained that the traditional recruitment tactics were not working.
Part of the problem was that all of the top colleges and universities
were competing for the same select group of students.
For many of these students, the prospect of going to
a small, fairly homogenous school in Maine was not appealing. Furthermore,
Smith explained that many of the minority students were being sought out
simply because they "looked different," not because they brought a "different
perspective to the classroom."
In aiming to enhance the Bowdoin community, the College
was not only looking to raise the percentage of minority students, but
also to bring students of different experiences into the classroom and
into Bowdoin's social scene.
Starting off at Vanderbilt University, Posse has found
enormous success at Middlebury, Leihigh, DePaul, Rice, and Wheaton. Bowdoin
was impressed by Posse's reputation as the top talent-seeking program
and made the decision to select Posse students from the Boston area.
Posse is a highly selective, need-blind scholarship
program. Many people do not realize that it is not solely a scholarship
for minorities but instead focuses on reaching a wide range of urban public
The applicant pool last year for Bowdoin started out
with a pool of over 300 applicants who all excelled academically and as
leaders. Each applicant was recommended by a teacher, principal or leader
from his or her community. After narrowing the pool down to twenty-five
students, Bowdoin joined in the selection process.
Posse calls their recruitment efforts the "dynamic assessment
process." Smith said, "picking the ten finalists was one of the hardest
things I've ever experienced."
To pick the final ten students, the Posse recruiters,
Bowdoin admissions officers, and other members of the Bowdoin community
went down to Boston. In this intensive screening process, they focused
on the individual qualities of the applicants as well as their group dynamic.
Unlike most Bowdoin first years who begin their college
experience in August, the Posse begins meeting in January. They meet once
a week and participate in several different workshops emphasizing leadership,
writing, teamwork, and cross-cultural communication.
Their training continues throughout the year and is
run primarily by Smith, who acts as their mentor. This training includes
weekly, two-hour group meetings run either by Smith or by members of the
Smith explains that these meetings focus on whatever
is on the students' mind. Some of the issues covered include culture shock,
time management, and the dating scene at Bowdoin. Each member also has
a biweekly individual meeting with Smith.
The purpose of this ongoing training is to both aid
the transition into the Bowdoin community and to help the Posse members
reach their potential. The Posse motto is to affect the campus, the community,
and the world.
Smith elaborated by saying, "We are producing leaders…these
students will continue to lead by virtue of their individual, dynamic
Bowdoin is already feeling the effects of the Posse
program. This year's first-year class is the most diverse class ever,
with minority students constituting eighteen percent of the group.
Smith explained that the presence of Posse is already
helping to attract more diversity to Bowdoin. At Bowdoin's annual minority
recruitment weekend, The Bowdoin Experience, in April, minority students
were encouraged by Bowdoin's obvious commitment to diversity and by the
understanding that there were already ten minority students coming in
One of the major concerns originally voiced by Bowdoin
students and faculty about the Posse program was that other students would
feel excluded from this established group. Many expressed concerns that
Posse would be a segregated group on campus, and other minorities might
feel left out or overlooked.
Smith said that this question of segregation or cliques
is an institutional question at all colleges.
As the Posse members have branched out into the community,
though, much of this criticism has dissipated.
Smith also emphasized that Posse members should be looked
at as individuals. "They are all very different people; they are all leaders
in their own right."
Although Posse has been a great success, Smith hopes
that his office will be able to reach even more students in the future.
He does not think that other minority students feel excluded, but he does
wish that there were more support systems intact for them.
"I reach a fair amount of them, but there are those
that slip through," he said.
Smith said that he is very excited about the future
of diversity at Bowdoin, and that he believes Bowdoin did the right thing.
"The school was ready for [Posse]. The timing was right…the school was
asking the right questions, and they did the right thing."
Bowdoin is already committed to the Posse program for
at least the next two years. Smith's hope is that Posse "will influence
the environment such that Bowdoin will become an attractive place for
students of color."