During this self-isolation and social distancing period, I have come to the realization that I did not fully know myself as much as I thought, and that was a notion that was frightening yet ethereal.
I was raised by my mother, aunt, and grandmothers, whose mothers raised them during a time when a “hot girl summer” would often leave them outside on the porch clutching a bag of clothes with dreams of ‘hiting the road’. As a Black female Millennial, I am what you call “winning”. I have completed my bachelor’s, master’s, and am currently a doctoral student working off of two hours of sleep and a prayer. I have an excellent job and have established healthy relationships both on and off the college campus; however, the craving of wanting more, distancing myself from Generation Z, and continuously adjusting myself in both Black and white spaces has become a constant challenge that I try to negotiate every day. And, it is these negotiations that have made me reflect on the importance of mentoring.
Thus, the question becomes; how did I survive college? The importance of education was ingrained in me. So much so, that it was my goal as an educator, to pass on this principle to my students—particularly my female students of color. However, despite how much I desire to share with my students, there are often disconnections that persist. In an attempt to meet them halfway, I have a few suggestions that I share that I find helpful in my journey as mentor. These suggestions that I have picked up along the way have helped me in the past to survive college, and provide guidance so that I may find myself again, should I ever become lost.
- “Not everyone is meant to be your mentor, including rap artists and social media.”- Sometimes, young women do not have healthy relationships or guidance during their first or second year of college; therefore, they rely on unhealthy methods to cope or find a sense of belonging. We cannot all be a “savage” like Meagan the Stallion or marry rich or “be a boss” like Cardi B. So, I suggest finding three things that are most valuable to you (i.e., loyalty, honesty, faith) and try to envision putting all three things within that goal. If all cannot fit inside that goal, it probably shouldn’t be a goal. It is also important to establish a goal that is realistic. A pot of gold is not going to suddenly appear in your dorm room, nor is success.
- “Everyone cannot be your friend”- Granted, many of my students (Gen. Z) believe this mantra of not having friends or being a loner is the best way to be happy and prosperous in the future, or so they say. However, I find their façade of not wanting to cultivate relationships is quite the opposite and have observed that they try without fail to impress the wrong crowd. I consistently encourage and remind my Black female students that people last a season, reason, or a lifetime. We yearn for acceptance and to be understood; however, it is our job to discern between those who contribute to our success and those who do not. That roommate who was terrific that first semester and now no longer keeps in touch, or that friend who gossips and shares your deepest secrets to others, is what I define to my students as opportunities to learn and determine what it is they want in positive and healthy relationships for the future.
- “Everything that you say before the word ‘but’ is irrelevant”- Sometimes, I wonder if my intelligent and bright students are out plotting against me by turning in their assignments late, but frequently it is just a priority issue. I encourage my students not to give excuses, rather own up to their mistakes. Usually, when an explanation is about to be made, they admit the error followed up with the word “but,” and an excuse typically follows. I remember in college that I was the Queen of Excuse Land, and I also remember cutting myself short by not capitalizing on so many opportunities that were allotted to me that would have made it a lot easier for me to succeed. So, for these women of color, I share with them that to thrive in spaces that are not accommodating to them, they must accept their mistakes, learn from them, and thrive.
- “Have a cheerleading squad in your corner at all times”- This was maybe the hardest lesson that I had to learn while getting through college. Having a network of women who support you at your lowest and celebrates you at your best is most important. Society has conditioned women to compete with each other for the top spot but left out the critical piece that there are multiple top spots and numerous opportunities for success. It takes a village to raise a child; therefore, Back women especially need to be affirming each other on campus. I always suggest to my students that they find one random person on campus and compliment them. A compliment can go a long way, so imagine the effect it will have on women of color if this was done frequently on and off-campus.
Let’s be consistent in telling our Black girls and young Black women that they do not need just anyone to get through college; they need each other. And while I am not far removed in years from Generation Z, I have come to realize the suggestions and how I advise my students to be vital in higher education.
Ashlee B. Daniels is a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership program and lecturer in the Languages and Communications Department at Prairie View A&M University.