Looking back at the Atlanta Posse's first year
Published: Monday, February 6, 2012
Updated: Monday, February 6, 2012 22:02
Our first friendships at Brandeis are often with people who happen to be in our orientation groups or are extra-friendly in our UWS class. As a midyear, I quickly befriended other midyears. However, there is a group of University students who arrive on South Street with an already existent set of friends—a "posse." The Posse Foundation has had a presence on campus for the past 11 years, but last semester was the first that the University welcomed a Posse from Atlanta.
The Posse Foundation, founded in 1989, is a scholarship program that "identifies public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes," according to its website.
Posses are made up of around 10 students, all of whom are granted a full-tuition scholarship for all four years of college as well as an invaluable support system. Unlike other scholarship recipients, Posse scholars enter universities as just that: a posse, or a group that acts as a support system. The Posse Foundation has posses from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York and Washington D.C. at universities across the country.
"The model used by the Posse Foundation, is there are a number of schools that have two, sometimes even three Posses, and the typical model is that you pull one Posse from one city and one Posse from another city," said Dean of Academic Services Kim Godsoe in an interview with the Justice.
Godsoe is the Brandeis Posse liaison and explained that the University originally started its relationship with the New York Posse in 1998, and because of that relationship, the University initially continued to pull Posse Science students from New York, a group of students selected specifically to study science at the University.
"So when the opportunity to have [a] liberal arts Posse back on campus [came], we wanted to make sure that we were following the national model," Godsoe said about the decision to add a Posse from Atlanta.
There are 11 members of the Atlanta Posse, all first-years: D'Andre Young, Zion Griffin, Jessica Hood, Kofi Hodge, David Wheaton, Jemesh Hunter, Jill Martin, Ajai Scott, Stacy Finley, Karina Ayala Casanova and Malika Imhotep, who were pulled from an extremely competitive group.
"I was nominated by a mentor of mine who teaches at the middle school I went to, and that was like my entrance to the Posse program," said Malika Imhotep.
Imhotep did not know much about Posse before the nomination because she went to a private high school and the Posse Foundation usually reaches out to students in public schools. After her nomination, she went onto interviews but wasn't too invested in the program until after the second round of interviews, when she was stuck on the choice between Boston University and Brandeis. She chose Brandeis because its small size was comparable to her high school's size. Imhotep also had an interest in social justice, but she had not really heard of Brandeis before the college application process.
"I think I might've read it in passing reading about Angela Davis, but that's it," she said.
D'Andre Young also had not heard much of the University before his Posse nomination and was more drawn to larger universities.
"I don't think I chose Brandeis. Brandeis more chose me because [I was] nominated, and … got to the second round, and they were, like, pick your top schools, and BU was my top school, … but if Posse feels like that may not be the best fit for you, they'll turn it around," explained Young.
On campus, Godsoe is the Posse scholars' academic advisor and is the scholars' "eyes and ears everywhere," said Jessica Hood. But Godsoe's involvement and investment in the scholars began in Atlanta long before they ever arrived in Waltham.
"Kim Godsoe is a godsend for us. Even before we came to campus, she flew to Atlanta twice just to help us transition to help with the post-acceptance," Young said.
Not only did Godsoe meet the scholars after they were chosen, but during the application process, Godsoe, Associate Dean of Student Life Jamele Adams, Dean of Admissions Mark Spencer and some professors interviewed the scholars during the third round of the Posse application process.
"It was between meeting the deans, hearing about student life, hearing about the stuff that Brandeis does, ... I was just like completely head over heels in love [with] going to Brandeis," said Imhotep.
Beyond the East Coast and certain circles, the University is not as well known as other universities of its caliber, and these personal connections during the application process changed perceptions of the school for some of the scholars.
"We didn't know what to think. Like I told people that I [got] a scholarship. They were like, ‘Brandeis? I hope you can't wait to celebrate Hannukah,'" said Young.
Hood, who hopes to study Studio Art and Psychology, was uncomfortable with going to a university that she felt few successful professionals in Atlanta knew of.
"In Atlanta, if you aren't a teacher, a principal, or a higher business [person], you didn't know about the [University]. So, it was like, ‘Oh my God, it's going to be serious,' but when you get here, … there are so many other things besides academics," said Hood.
The program is interested in selecting community and high school leaders for the scholarship, which is perhaps why the Atlanta Posse scholars are so involved in extracurriculars after just one semester on campus.
"I'm the [Intercultural Center] rep for [the Women of Color Alliance], treasurer of the [Black Student Organization], ... I work for the Phonathon, and I'm interested in joining the [Brandeis Academic Debate and Speech Society]. My main project that I really want to get involved with is the Student Union," said Ajai Scott '15.
Scott is not unique in her great participation after only one semester; all of the scholars are actively involved in clubs ranging from the poetry slam team to WBRS. The scholars said that their instinct to involve themselves on campus just comes naturally to them in the same way that their friendliness does.
Imhotep went to a small private school that was predominantly white and Jewish. She also noted that the school's students were quirky and awkward, just as Brandeis students tend to be.
"I didn't have major culture shock, but the most shocking thing I had to get used to was the whole Northern, kind of snarky, fast-paced thing. Things just operate so quickly," Imhotep said.
"In the South, it's laid-back, and you walk down the street and you speak to the person who's walking toward you. Here, you walk away. … At first I thought it was just rudeness, but that's how [Northerners] are," added Hood.
For Scott, in addition to her frustrations about holding the door for people who then do not thank her, her observations of the differences between the South and the North have been eye-opening. People commonly think that there are strong differences between Northerners and Southerners, broadly speaking, but Scott believed that there would be more similarities between Northern and Southern African Americans before her arrival.
"Black people up here, totally different than the South. I mean incredibly different," said Scott, who has met many students of African descent at the University for the first time after only knowing African Americans.
"[After] growing up in the South with African Americans who have the same accent as I do, [going] to the North is an entire 360 [degree change], but it's an eye-opener," she continued.
Not only is the experience an eye-opener for Scott and her Posse, but one for the University community.
"People perceive the South [in] certain ways and I think having us here kind of humanizes what the South is to the Brandeis community," Imhotep said.
Despite the adjustments to college life, which all first-years must go through, and culture shock, the scholars are happy with the decision to attend the University that they made over a year ago. New scholars from Atlanta have already been selected and have committed to the University for the upcoming academic year. The now-seasoned first Atlanta Posse advises them to make the most of their short time here in Waltham.
"Breathe," advised Hood, "You notice everyone is double majoring. … Their pace is a lot faster. Just relax, breathe, have fun, [but] make sure you're responsible."
Imhotep, who is looking forward to the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational competition in Los Angeles and her role in the Vagina Monologues later this month, advises the new scholars to branch out and make the campus what they "need it to be."
"Our biggest fear was just kind of adjusting to the New England winter. It seems like it all worked out," said Godsoe.