Wellesley Students Attend Posse Foundation Summit on the State of Our Union

Two students sit on a panel
September 10, 2019

Imagine if 5,000 college students from diverse backgrounds, selected for their leadership potential, were given the opportunity to voice their ideas, experiences, and hopes for their communities and for the nation. What would they identify as the most pressing issues facing their generation? What solutions would they propose? How would they start conversations and build consensus with people who think differently?

Nallely Esparza ’21 and Charity-Temitope Daramola ’22 were among those invited to reflect on the state of our union, the theme of this year’s PossePlus Retreat, held annually on one of the campuses of the Posse Foundation’s partner institutions.

For the first time, the retreat was followed by a national PossePlus Summit at Deloitte University in Westlake, Texas, in early June. The special event marked the 30th anniversary of the Posse Foundation, an award-winning organization that has granted over $1.4 billion in scholarships to diverse individuals with extraordinary leadership potential. More than 150 student delegates, college presidents, and philanthropic, corporate, and community leaders convened over two days to share and build upon the conversations from the PossePlus retreats. The conference featured guest speakers, interactive workshops, community-building sessions, and a town hall streamed live by NBCU Telemundo.

Daramola and Esparza, selected as summit delegates by their fellow Wellesley retreat participants, exchanged stories and viewpoints with other Posse scholars and Posse “plussers” (non-Posse students invited to attend Posse events) on topics including immigration, racism, inequality, education, and climate change.

“I learned about issues I never thought about,” said Daramola. She said her thinking about climate change, for example, has shifted, leading her to view the issue with greater urgency and with an awareness of the role of corporations in exploiting the environment and influencing consumer behavior. She said she has also begun to think more deeply about the historical links between colonialism and racial inequality, and contemporary issues such as gentrification. “When viewed through the lens of colonization,” one sees that gentrification doesn’t just displace people, it destroys the cultures created by people of color, she said.

Daramola was inspired by “meeting so many people dedicated to helping their communities.” From creating a buddy basketball program with local police officers to assisting high school students with the college application process, Posse scholars are addressing the divisions and challenges facing their generation in creative ways. Daramola intends to focus on her passion, education, by helping high school students of color and low-income students in her hometown apply to college, find scholarship opportunities, and access mentors, summer programs, and support systems.

Posse scholar Esparza sees the state of our union as “worrisome” but is likewise encouraged by her peers: “With our generation leading the way, we can rest a little easier because we are more aware and accepting of the existence of critical issues such as climate change, and equal rights.”

Esparza was struck by “the power of communication in a safe space.” To ensure respectful and productive dialogue on controversial topics, summit participants were encouraged to listen and try to understand others’ points of view. “I am trying to be a more intentional listener—to listen to understand and not simply to respond,” she said. “It’s not easy, but it’s something concrete anyone can do to effect positive change on campus and in the larger community.” 

The Posse model is rooted in the belief that a small, diverse group of talented students—a posse—carefully selected and trained, can serve as a catalyst for individual and community development.

Wellesley began partnering with Posse in the fall of 2017 because “we share the foundation’s philosophy,” said Joy St. John, Wellesley’s dean of admission and financial aid. “When you bring together a diverse group of potential leaders, prepare them, and give them the resources to succeed individually and collectively, they will enhance and lead the Wellesley community, and they are likely to return to their home communities to do the same.”

Photo: Nallely Esparza ’21 (left) and Charity-Temitope Daramola ’22 (right) attend the PossePlus Retreat and reflect on the state of our union.