In so many ways, their ride on the first-semester-of-college
roller coaster was just like everyone else's: The struggles to
understand "professor speak." The sweet taste of freedom mixed with
a bitter tinge at the thought of missing the Sunday family dinner
back home. The negotiations with roommates. The all-nighters.
But the 10 students in Bowdoin College's first "posse"
scholarship group last fall were taking the dips and twists
together - and that meant the difference between settling for an F
and finishing the paper, the difference between flipping out and
starting a constructive dialogue when someone on campus made an
The first goal was to get adjusted to an environment that, for
most of them, stood in stark contrast to their high schools in
Boston. But they had another layer of responsibility to think
about: How would they fulfill the leadership mission that came in
tandem with their four years of free tuition?
After all, this multicultural group, selected from among several
hundred nominees, had been meeting weekly for months, and they were
well aware of the ways schools like Vanderbilt and DePauw had been
changed by hosting posse scholars. These groups are formed not only
to support one another's academic endeavors, but also to act as
strong threads in a school's efforts to weave a more-diverse
Some of the students' leadership roles at Bowdoin were
immediately obvious. A few weeks into the semester, posse member
Lenz Balan beat out six other candidates for first-year class
president. Lauren Flinn joined the rugby team and now sets up all
its games as "match secretary." But more subtle things - the
everyday interactions with friends and professors - are starting to
add up to a noticeable difference. As a result of the posse's
presence, and other new recruitment approaches and scholarships at
Bowdoin, students and faculty alike say education is enhanced and
the campus is more vibrant - "louder," as one professor puts it
with a smile of approval.
Loud is a fair description as the weekly posse meeting is about
to get under way a few weeks into the second semester. Lounging on
chairs in a rough semicircle, they tease one another about love
interests, moan about how much homework they have, and ponder
hypothetical punishments for the woman who's late.
A year ago, they were just getting to know one another at similar
meetings with the Boston Posse staff. Now they are veterans, running
the meetings themselves and beginning to plan outreach activities.
Over winter break, they literally passed the torch at a candle-
lighting ceremony for Boston posse scholars who will start college
next year. One group will join them at Bowdoin. The others will be
the first posses at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., and Bryn
Mawr in Pennsylvania.
The setting for posse meetings at Bowdoin - the Russwurm African-
American Center - highlights a piece of the school's history. In
1826, John Russwurm was the first African-American to graduate from
Bowdoin. He helped start Freedom's Journal, the first black
newspaper in the US.
On this night, the living room is an assembly spot for
candygrams, which the African-American Society is selling to raise
money for earthquake relief. Before they head to their meeting, a
few women help tie ribbons while they chat with a Muslim classmate
about the rules of her religion.
This home near the center of campus, with a big kitchen, a
library, and an Afrocentric decor, is "a comfortable place for us
to be, because we are stepping outside of our comfort zone every
day," says Ginette Saimprevil, one of the black students in the
Adjusting to a new environment
Despite all their training in fostering cross-cultural
understanding, the posse students' first few weeks of college
served up some surprising challenges. …