Hamilton commemorated its 15–year partnership with the Posse Foundation by holding a Posse Plus Retreat on Feb. 6-8. The retreat is hosted by the Posse Foundation, a scholarship program that seeks to increase cultural and racial diversity in private colleges by sending students from minority-dominated cities to college together in “posses.” This year marks Posse's 25th year in operation and it has partnered with Hamilton College for the past 15 years. Hamilton’s Posse scholars come from Boston and Miami.
Each year, the Posse Foundation hosts a themed retreat with just under 200 scholars, their peers, and professors with similar goals of addressing hotbed current event issues. This year’s theme was crime and punishment. These themes are intentionally broad, as they allow students to think about many different issues as well as to focus on what’s important to them. In addition, because of the diverse populous it attracts it everyone has a different background.
These differences proved crucial in understanding current issues such as racial profiling, police brutality, and white privilege holistically. As Mike Berrios ’16, (Miami Posse 3) explained, “PPR is a once in a lifetime experience. No matter the topic, the result is invariably a stronger, more united Hamilton community.”
Each day of the retreat was highly structured with small-group discussions and activities that helped students think critically about very serious issues. Discussions started with general questions about what punishment was, what it should be, and what types of justice systems could exist. Gradually, discussions moved to more personal, specific topics as participants talked about current laws and punishments, and their own personal experiences with law enforcement. This approach allowed students to feel comfortable revealing very personal and emotional stories with each other. In some cases people told these stories among the small groups, but toward the end of the retreat an increasing number of students shared these stories in front of everyone, despite the fact that, for many, the room had been full of complete strangers before the weekend started.
As David Dacres ’18 (Miami Posse 5) explained, “I’d like to think of my current and future experiences at Hamilton as building a house. My Posse is the foundation of this house and without them I would crumble.” Maura Torres ’18 (Miami Posse 5) refers to her Posse as “[her] family” and as “the most beautiful, creative, inspiring individuals.”
The last day focused on brainstorming ideas on how to create lasting change. People suggested everything from writing letters to representatives and law enforcers, to hosting dinner conversations with small groups of people, to encouraging “Mix-it-up Mondays,” whereby people would sit with strangers every Monday.
There are already steps on campus being taken to encourage discussion and aid in finding solutions to these issues such as intergroup discussions among different races (a six-week long program meeting once a week starting soon), a social justice publication called “The Monitor,” and the beta testing of free online classes focusing on prison writing and sacred objects through Hamilton beginning in March.
Ultimately, the goal of PPR is to go beyond just increasing awareness of issues. The retreat aims to ignite a fire of passion relating to issues that students find important, and to carry that fire back to campus to enact lasting and important change.