In addition to the racial composition of your context, we hope that reflecting on other aspects of your context will make what we share about ours more useful to you, whether via similarities, differences, or some of each. Your context can include where in the world you are working, the specific organization, and also the way your role is structured.
What are the contexts—personal, institutional, structural —for your engagement with this guide and with the work it is about?
What are your assumptions about these contexts?
What are you not sure of about this context and/or about your role(s) within it?
We must remember that BMC is not only a PWI, but also a women’s college. So, not only must we consider the pressures of being students at a PWI, but we must also consider how being at a women’s college adds to this pressure. Not only did we attend one of the tops private schools in the country, we attended one of the top women’s colleges. This matters for young women from Houston who lack exposure to what either of these communities are composed of.
Context matters. Our identities and experiences do not exist in isolation with the world. We come from Houston. For many of us a place we call home and all we know. I personally had never heard of women’s colleges besides Spelman so of course I was in shock to be attending one. As a Black woman, my mother taught me how to navigate white spaces at a young age. This would become a benefit to me in college at Bryn Mawr. This skill mitigated the effects of imposter syndrome, but I later felt like an imposter within my own Blackness and womanhood.
I came from a single parent household. Never experienced what family looks like. This became a place of pain when Bryn Mawr would host family days. My family had become staff members from the college. People who would allow me to live in my Blackness and help me navigate my identities because they understood that context matters. - Jada Ceasar
Our needs for family support differ in many ways.
No one tells you how important family support is in college. One day you find yourself needing help, needing someone to talk to and you realize there is no one who you can turn to. This can be for many reasons. Maybe you are a first generation college student or maybe your familial relationships have been fractured. Mentors are important, not to replace our family, or mend the fractures, but to provide us with the support that we lack. For me Alice was my college mom, and so was, Jennifer Walters, Vanessa Christman, Stephanie Nixon, Ruth Lindenborg, Kimberly Cassidy, and Maureen Mcongile. Each in their own way was a mentor for me. They guided me when I needed guidance. They held me when I needed to cry. They fought for me when I needed an advocate. They were angry for me when I wasn't allowed to because of the fear of being stereotyped as an angry black woman. They bought me things that I couldn't not afford and did not have access to. They supported me in sickness and celebrated me in health. Just as your family will never stop being your family, your mentor should never stop being your mentor - Jada Ceasar
We originally met because the students were recipients of the prestigious Posse Foundation leadership scholarship. Through a highly selective process, Posse works with 63 colleges and universities in 10 cities in the U.S. to award full-tuition scholarships to high school seniors with significant capacity for achievement and leadership, whose achievement and capacity could, for a variety of reasons, be overlooked by traditional, and problematic, metrics for admissions.
Some Posse Scholars come from middle class families, and some have been financially supporting their families; some claim a mother tongue that is not English; some are survivors of trauma and dislocations of many kinds. Posse Scholars are BIPOC and white students. The fact that our Posse is made up of diverse individuals is not well understood even on our campus. More the credit to our Posse members for understanding and respecting one another’s differences with generosity, grace, and support.
Cohorts of awardees from the same city are admitted to a partner college or university, with the design of fostering mutual support and empowerment within the cohort. Each cohort is assigned a mentor at the college/university, which funds the scholarship. Following their college admission, each Posse Scholar joins a cohort in January of their senior year of high school, with weekly sessions in pre-collegiate training throughout winter, spring, and summer.
Posse is one of many types of “bridge” programs, and we are writing with an audience inclusive of these. We write out of our experience, rooted in Posse, and we want to be clear about this specific context for our experiences, critiques, and recommendations. We also seek to speak in a way that resonates beyond our individual stories. In sharing these, we have confronted our fear of being honest, recognizing the importance of sharing what actually happened so as not to assist in the perpetuation of ill systems.
We first met when, following national training as a new mentor in New York City, Alice flew to Houston, the city of this Posse where she had never been before, to begin our shared work. For the following two years, following Posse’s structure, we met for two hours weekly as a group on campus, and an hour bi-weekly for one-on-one, mentor-mentee meetings. The group meetings entailed a mix of ongoing community and relationship building, leadership development, support, and critical conversations in which we examined and questioned issues facing the students and considered how to take down barriers to their flourishing.
We followed Posse’s advice to make sure that each one-on-one meeting addressed students’ academics, life scene (social, emotional, physical and financial well being), experience of Posse, and career. For the second two years, the Posse program becomes more informal and the cohort and mentoring relationships student-directed. Our relationships continued and deepened throughout this time at the students’ varying initiative.