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650 Words is not Enough: Web Event 2

EmmaBE's picture

About this time last year, I was being considered for the Posse scholarship. If I was awarded the scholarship, the Posse office in Houston would train me in workshops for developing leadership skills and then pay my tuition at Bryn Mawr for four years. And what was the purpose of this scholarship? In the Posse Foundation’s mission statement, they say they have three goals:

“1. To expand the pool from which top colleges and universities can recruit outstanding young leaders from diverse backgrounds.

2. To help these institutions build more interactive campus environments so that they can be more welcoming for people from all backgrounds.

3. To ensure that Posse Scholars persist in their academic studies and graduate so they can take on leadership positions in the workforce.”

When I got the scholarship, I was in the unique position of having to explain why a white Jewish girl was being offered money to diversify Bryn Mawr’s campus. Many of the other people with whom I’d been competing for my position in the program and who had assumed they had been rejected because they were not “diverse” (read: non-white) enough demanded an explanation.

Luckily for me, the Posse foundation takes more than one part of a potential scholar’s identity into account when choosing from their pool of candidates. I wanted to write this paper on considering intersectional identities in the college admissions process mostly because I see their work as a practical example of the way institutions can diversify without compartmentalizing the complexity of identities.

The standard college admissions process usually starts with you filling out the Common App, which asks you questions about your family, grades, financial situation, extracurricular activities, and job experience, and then has you write a personal essay responding to one of five generic prompts. Some schools also require supplemental essays and/or fees from around $10-$80 that may be waived if your financial situation is considered dire enough that you cannot afford to pay this fee. This process reduces a college’s candidates to which boxes they check on a form: they are judged by their position in our country’s social/economic strata. Standard admission policies attempt to gauge your success at school from the way you look on paper - which identities you fit in and which you don’t, how productive you have been judged in the past without any context as to what you were experiencing during that time.

However, the Posse Foundation considers each applicant holistically and gets to know them from more than just words on a page. The Posse foundation conducts what they call a Dynamic Assessment Process to select its candidates out of the students nominated for the process. This process whittles down the number of applicants to a group of ten students per school through a large group interview where students are split into smaller groups and are observed as they accomplish certain tasks, such as completing puzzles or leading micro-lab discussions; a one-on-one interview with a Posse staff member; a final smaller group interview after which about half of the candidates will be eliminated; and going through the standard Common App college admissions process for your selected college. In all of the interviews you are expected to be truthful and as open as possible about anything you have struggled with in your past or present circumstances. They make an effort to get to know the student and take time to understand each applicant’s background. Posse does judge you dynamically - they look at the way you have grown and will grow, and how you respond to change. For instance, if a candidate had experienced poverty as a young person in a way that affected their education, but was in a wealthy tax bracket at the time of college admissions, they would be judged as a person from that wealthy tax bracket by a standard admissions process, but would be able to explain to Posse how their circumstances made them who they are today. Being able to tell that story brings a whole new dimension of your personality to the admissions process. There is simply not room on the Common App to explain yourself - even though they increased the word limit to 650 words. Posse does take into account that people from marginalized identities will have experienced institutional oppression, but tries to understand it from your point of view. For instance, as a queer person growing up in the South, I know I could have had a much more difficult educational experience than I did, and I expressed that when interviewing for Posse. They did not have me only say that I was queer and then extrapolate what they assumed to be my experience from that.

Posse’s alternative admissions process is formed with the purpose of bringing a truly diverse group of people to the table - I was told after I got into Posse that the diversity they were looking for was a diversity of ideas, opinions and backgrounds rather than specifically ethnic or racial diversity, and this has stuck with me through the whole process. Ideally, if everyone was admitted under these standards, students with many different paradigms would be able to express their points of view and diversify classroom discussion. The question would not only be what the college has to offer people who identify with marginalized groups, it is what these people have to offer the college.

I know Posse is not perfect, and I would not purport them to be so. They have problems with access - for instance, one needs transportation to make it to the interview, let alone all the required Pre-Collegiate Training meetings. However, unlike other institutions, they crip their assessment process in untraditional ways - they assess leadership capability and interpersonal skills in many different formats, such as in large discussions, one on one, presentations, written work, and more. Unfortunately, due to practical reasons, the time and pace for the DAP sessions are set.

The nonstandard admissions process, the ideal process, would look queered/cripped. It accommodates for individual difference, which may or may not be medicalized/standardized. A holistic admissions process such as Posse’s accepts that all identities are intersectional/nonstandard - everyone has a story to tell.


Celeste's picture

Prior to reading your web

Prior to reading your web event, I had not heard of the Posse program at all, and was very interested to learn about an oppurtunity like this being offered.  An earnest search for both inclusion and intersectionality seems so rare in the scholarship search these days--more often than not, providers seem to be screening against students, rather than examining why they could be worthy of it.  I'd like to know more about the group dynamic.  As students of diversity in more ways than the benchmark indicators of individuality, how do you interact? What has your experience been with the group and the way it interacts? 

Anne Dalke's picture

Dynamic Assessment

This project is so different from the very literary one you did last month; I appreciate the sharp shift in focus.

I was on the Admissions Committee many years ago when BMC first decided to affiliate with the Posse program, have participated in retreats, and enjoyed working with many scholars since then. So it’s a particular pleasure to read your account of Posse’s “nonstandard admissions process,” re-read as a “cripped/queered” version of the standard forms of assessment. I agree that Posse offers a concrete example of intersectionality in action, a “way institutions can diversify without compartmentalizing the complexity of identities.”

What you highlight, in your report, is the holistic nature of the process: one that doesn’t limit self-representation to “way you look on paper,” but “judges you dynamically - they look at the way you have grown and will grow, and how you respond to change”; “they assess leadership capability and interpersonal skills in many different formats.” Also very important is the notion that they diversity they look for is not only racial or ethnic, but “a diversity of ideas, opinions and backgrounds.”

Granting the problems still remaining with access, you do a nice job of showing how Posse “accommodates for individual difference, which may or may not be medicalized/standardized. A holistic admissions process such as Posse’s accepts that all identities are intersectional/ nonstandard - everyone has a story to tell.”

And that’s the spot where I’d nudge you to go further. Your account is entirely about the individual achievement; what is also quite distinctive about Posse is the way in which they compose a group of students—the Posse—who are accepted together, get training together, arrive on campus together, meet together weekly, and generally function as a sisterhood of support for one another. That was key to the conception of the program, as I’m sure you know—that a single scholar on his own could not flourish in a culture that was as new and strange as the university can be; he needed his “posse” to back him up.

How I wish that all applicants to BMC had not only the option of dynamic assessment, but could arrive here w/ the sort of support that is available to your posse.

Are there downsides to that sort of communal construction of what it is to be a student here? Can you talk about them?  (As nia.pike talks, for example, about the problems of sisterhood at BMC?)

I’ve put you in a writing group with EP and vhiggins, who are both addressing issues of class; please read their papers and come to class ready to share ideas with them…