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Dear BI Career Consultants:

Dear BI Career  Consultants:

What are some points that African American faculty and administrators should consider when mentoring students of color?

Clayton Cobb
Director of Multicultural Affairs
Carleton College
Northfield, Minn.
The psychosocial factors inherent on college and university campuses tend to impede the ability of students of color to achieve their educational goals. The duration of their academic careers at times may consist of dissatisfaction with the services afforded them, the environment, the curriculum and a lack of diversity and relationships. Supportive services must be provided to create an atmosphere that fully allows students of color to participate in and benefit from their educational experiences. One of those services should be the inclusion of mentoring programs for students of color.
African American faculty and staff are often called upon to perform a kaleidoscope of services to students of color. The roles include advocate, friend, counselor and mentor. These positions are interrelated and yet cannot be viewed as the same. When African American faculty and staff take on the role of mentor to students of color we must understand that these additional responsibilities require an insurmountable time commitment from both parties. These duties require the professional to assess the student’s concerns, and let the student know that they have been heard and they have a strong support system on campus.  The issue of advocacy and intervention often comes into play when helping the student of color in the formation of a solution. When discussing success through service and the college or university’s commitment to educational access, it is important to emphasize helping the students acquire the skills necessary to eventually continue their academic careers independently.  The key is to get students involved and connected both academically and socially.
Students of color depend on us to help them with their problems and work with them to succeed. Providing advocacy and active intervention methods to our students on a variety of personal and academic issues can be a difficult task for professionals of color. Often it becomes difficult to clearly understand the boundaries between assisting and enabling the student. The professional who is not well versed in the use of supportive and empowering intervention methods may be unable to assist the student.
These intervention strategies must take into account the following points: an understanding of the student’s family, class, cultural and ethnic background; an understanding of the student’s personal goals and desires; the student’s personal sense of identity, self esteem and power; and the realization that each student is an individual.  We must also be cognizant and willing to admit that students of color face numerous challenges.  These challenges tend to be higher attrition rates, caused by family or financial responsibilities and work, which are not supported by strong peer and faculty relationships or academic experiences.
It is apparent that faculty and staff members of color provide outreach that is key to the academic and personal success of the students of color that at times may be neglected by the institution.  Through intentional proactive mentoring of these students, we guarantee the future of students of color in academia, and in their pursuit of life long learning.

Gazella A. Summitt,
Director of Human Resources and Affirmative Action Officer
Vincennes University
Vincennes, Ind.

African American faculty and administrators should learn about a student’s background — cultural advantages and disadvantages, a general knowledge of family history and support — in order to know how one’s mentoring skills can be used to the best advantage. I would encourage a contract of commitment between the mentor and mentored. This helps to set the expectations and parameters of the relationship.
We must recognize the value of good listening skills because for some sessions all that is needed is to allow the student to share concerns. The tendency to tell the student our own war stories may prevent open communication. Do not wait for the student to contact you. We must be proactive in seeking out the student.
Empathize, but encourage and be firm when necessary. Try to provide opportunities for the student to have exposure to new social and cultural experiences. Offer to arrange job shadowing if the student does not have clear career goals. I believe it is also important to encourage the student’s communication and technology skills. Provide opportunities for practicing interviewing skills to assist the student in applying for scholarships, for leadership in campus organizations, graduate school and beginning a career.
Mentoring is challenging but rewarding. It takes a commitment of time and effort, and it is not to be taken lightly. To give a student the gift of time spent mentoring him or her toward a successful career is certainly worth the sacrifice.

— Compiled by Joan Morgan

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