Op-Ed: Debunking Posse myths

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending my fourth — and last — PossePlus Retreat (PPR). If you aren’t familiar, PPR is an annual, weekend-long retreat where Posse scholars, mentors and administrators, as well as PossePlussers — members of the Lafayette community who aren’t affiliated with Posse but are invited to join — come together to discuss an important campus issue.

This year’s PPR, which was entitled “Truth or Consequences,” urged participants to think deeply about the multiplicity and irrefutability of truth, trust and knowledge. The retreat moved me to be more intentional and empathetic about how I engage with not just my own truth, but also other people’s truths. So imagine my disappointment (but not my shock) when I came back from PPR to discover anonymous users on YikYak spouting racist and classist jabs at Posse.

I don’t want to use this op-ed to merely repeat the litany of incredibly insulting and bigoted rhetoric that I found scrolling through YikYak. Instead, I want to clarify and refute some misconceptions embedded in this discourse.

First: yes, the Posse scholarship is a full-tuition, leadership-based scholarship. No, Posse scholars and PPR are not the reason why Lafayette’s tuition is so high. Although Posse is not need-based, those who receive Posse are disproportionately non-white and members of a lower income bracket compared to the rest of Lafayette’s student body. When we scapegoat our fellow students, we divert blame away from the stakeholders who actually profit from Lafayette’s grossly excessive tuition.

Second: Posse scholars are not “bottom of the barrel,” to quote one anonymous YikYak user. Posse scholars are some of the most thoughtful, kind-hearted and critically thinking students I’ve ever met. Implying that they are not intelligent solely because of the way they speak, for example, is undeniably racially charged.

And yet, third: Posse scholars shouldn’t have to be the best students in the tri-state area to gain your respect. Posse isn’t necessarily a merit-based scholarship; we are chosen not merely because of our academics, but also because we bring a unique perspective and worldview to schools that are otherwise homogenous. Holding Posse scholars to such a high standard means requiring underprivileged students to work twice as hard to get half as far.

My fellow Posse scholars, I urge you to avoid falling for this myth of meritocracy as well. Yes, you have worked hard for this scholarship — but that doesn’t make it okay to put down other students who didn’t qualify for scholarships or other types of financial aid.

I’m willing to bet that not all of these anonymous YikYaks are by wealthy students paying full tuition. I am not telling you that you need to extend sympathy to bigots — I do think the underlying racism and classism of these YikYaks need to be addressed and held accountable. However, please remember that your anger would be best directed not at those other students being screwed over, but at the systems screwing us over in the first place.

To anyone who is still skeptical about the value of Posse and PPR: next year, please ask a Posse scholar or mentor for an invite to PPR. I promise it will be worth it.

To the rest of my Posse nation: stay strong and stay awesome. Posse love, forever.

Shirley Liu ’23 is a senior Posse scholar.