My guest blogger this week is Jordan Seman ’16. She attended the PossePlus Retreat in Silver Bay, New York, which was devoted to talking about class, power, and privilege in America. Like most people who participate in these intense weekends, Jordan was moved and changed by the powerful, frank discussions and exercises, and returned to campus hoping to bring the essence of the retreat back with her.
—Shirley M. Collado
On Friday afternoon, March 1st, I got on a bus full of students I didn’t know, many of whom I only recognized as being Posse scholars but had never interacted with at Middlebury. During the ride, I overheard bits and pieces of conversations in which students said they hoped the retreat would be “worthwhile.” I even heard the PossePlus Retreat described as “emotionally exhausting.” Not knowing what to expect, I soon realized that my experience on the retreat depended on my willingness to engage on a personal level with many students I’d never even seen before on this campus. That was an intimidating thought.
In sharing my concerns with other students and administrators there, I began to understand that feeling uncomfortable is part of the reason PPR is so successful. The activities we engaged in made me aware of the wide range of backgrounds that Middlebury students come from and allowed us to bring the topic of this year’s retreat, “class, power, and privilege in America,” closer to home.
In doing so, I was forced to reflect on my life of privilege, which I feared would not be accepted by many of the students who came from radically different home situations than I came from. I remember distinctly when the retreat leaders asked students to stand up if their families own more than one home. Only four people in the room stood, and one of them commented that, although his father works hard for what he has, he wasn’t sure that “having two homes was fair when so many in the room did not even have one.”
I think many people look at these types of experiences with an abiding cynicism and think that the bonding that occurs is shallow. When relating my experience at the retreat to another friend back on campus, she commented that it sounded like a “big pity-party.”
While retreats such as this one often get very emotional, I think the main purpose of it was not to feel sorry for one another, but to recognize how our backgrounds and life experiences shape the social makeup here at Middlebury. Through learning about others’ hardships and reflecting on my own upbringing, I began to think a lot about our campus and how wealth, class, and privilege shape our experiences here.
Now that I am back from PossePlus, I want to bring these conversations to this campus. If anything, I learned that there is much to be done to make our college community a more open and inclusive environment for students of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. So, I invite Middlebury students to reflect on their experiences here and to question how the social scene is shaped by wealth and class, if at all. Think about the activities that students partake in, the culture that exists, and the types of students who tend to hang out together on campus.
After my own serious reflections on this topic, I am surprised by how little we talk about social segregation at Middlebury, and I would like to see the conversations taking place here rather than just at the PossePlus Retreat.