Stand if you are the first person in your family to attend college.
Stand if you have ever been racially profiled. Stand if you have a family member who is or has been incarcerated. Stand if you have ever been bullied. Stand if you can marry the person of your choice. Stand if you would go to jail for something you believe in. Stand if you would die for something you believe in.
The Crystal Ballroom at the Best Western in Lancaster, Pa., on a snowy February weekend was filled to capacity with Bucknellians — 230 to be exact. They came together for a weekend-long retreat. They are students, many of them members of Bucknell's 12 Posse classes, and guests of those students, known as "plussers" in the Posse vernacular: fellow students, faculty and staff members.
Except for the voice of the facilitator who read the "stand if" statements, the room was silent. As participants stood and sat and stood again, each person came to realize and appreciate the complexity, depth and expanse of the inner lives of the people surrounding them. From time to time, someone gave a reassuring squeeze or hug, and more than one person fought back tears.
The PossePlus Retreat (PPR) is an annual event that happens away from the campuses of the foundation's 51 partner institutions around the country and is designed to take on relevant national and campus issues. This year's retreat was titled "Revolt? Reform? Rethink?" and focused on social and political movements in the 21st century.
One of the group exercises focused on defining what a movement is. Oswaldo Galicia is a senior majoring in engineering. He is Latino, from Los Angeles and openly gay without much family support because of his sexual identity. He said that he was surprised to see that some people don't consider the battle for LGBT rights a movement. "While it was shocking to learn that people I've known for years don't hold the same opinions about LGBT that I do," he said, "I also came to understand that it doesn't mean that these same people can't be supportive. The PPR is a place where you can voice your own opinion in a safe environment. I realized that you don't have to agree with someone to respect them."
Tyler Julius, a Bucknell sophomore majoring in political science and religion and a "plusser" for the weekend, was attending her second PPR, which she said, "is a weekend that can change your life." Though she had been through the Stand exercise before, it was no less powerful for her. "You can learn so much about a person. You don't have to talk, just watch, listen and learn."
Professor Deborah Sills, civil and environmental engineering, is new to Bucknell. She returned to campus feeling great about the University and wanting to tell all of her students to attend the next PPR. "I am interested in connecting engineering with real life," she said. "My environmental engineering course is connected to real-life situations. Issues of privilege and cultural competency came up in the course, and the things we discussed at the PPR related to those. I can see how I can be more brave about bringing these issues into the class."
Running a retreat for 230 people is difficult but not impossible. Facilitators from New York City led the group, which was further broken down into family groups comprising five to seven people. It was within the smaller groups that the most meaningful bonding took place; Sills plans to have a reunion with her PPR "family."
An even more intense experience is the dyad, where individuals are paired up and given a sheet of questions to ask each other. Many people talk for over an hour and never get through the entire list. Helen Vu, a sophomore majoring in education and psychology, said that for her, the dyad was the culminating moment of the weekend. "I connected with someone I never thought I could because these questions aren't asked on a daily basis," she explained.
Julius agreed, and added, "The connections that you make at the PPR reflect the importance of the weekend. People share things that they don't normally do in their everyday life at Bucknell. We tend to not ask or want to know the background stories of people."
Vu, a Posse scholar from Washington, D.C., wishes that more people on campus understood the Posse program. "Outside of PPR, people have the misconception that Posse is a minority scholarship. It's not," she explained. "It's a leadership scholarship. This retreat brings non-Posse scholars and Posse scholars together in a way that allows them to discuss relevant issues and problems. We can then bring this conversation back to campus and start talking to each other in a more meaningful way."
Bucknell has partnered with the Posse Foundation since 2006 to recruit qualified students from urban areas. Posse operates in nine cities, and Bucknell has classes from Washington, D.C., Boston and Los Angeles. At the beginning of the 2013–14 academic year, the University reached its full complement of Posse scholars, 124, 10 in each class year from each of the three cities.
Mark Davies, Bucknell's assistant vice president for enrollment management and director of partnerships, has been involved with the University's Posse partnership since the beginning. "We have worked for years to impact diversity on this campus, but until we invested in Posse, we hadn't really made any real strides," Davies explained. "It's fantastic to have 124 students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, life skills and ethnicities come here and flourish. The PPR then allows even more students to be involved. It's a great connector for people."
"This weekend offers you perspectives you don't get on campus," Julius added. "It's magical."
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