Should minority mentees be matched only with same minority mentors?
In today’s society those in the public eye are coming from more diverse backgrounds than ever before. Many can site people like Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey, Deepak Chopra, and Arnold Schwazenager as those who inspire them in their daily lives. With this phenomenon being ever so common, it begs the question of whether minority mentees be matched only with the same minority mentors?
Strolling down the corridors of my local university and alma matter, the faces of professors, faculty, and students often represent those who are predominantly anglo, and predominately male. Those students who shared the same ethnic pool on campus as myself took up less than 1% of the student body’s population. This racial distribution did not disturb me much as I was accustomed to being the true minority throughout my upbringing in the Southwest. My main intent was to earn by diploma and to take some knowledge along with it
Nonetheless, on campus it was not uncommon for me to come across professors who truly believed a minority student’s presence on campus was owed to a system of affirmative action, which was a notion often fraught with the stigma of inferiority in intellect, motivation, and talent. On the other side of the coin, I would often come across an equal number of Anglo male professors who did believe in whatever talent I had, and any of their students possessed. Though the number of negative professors were equal to that of the positive mentors, such negative experiences can impact the minority student in a way that is vastly different than those who are non-minorities.
Now find yourself strolling down the corridors of this nation’s great institutions of government or even prominent public businesses. Notice the faces and one will see notice a dominant and recurring trend. This trend may be overlooked upon first glance but becomes clearly obvious that those who compose of these institutions are often powerful, knowledgeable, and highly esteemed Anglo-Saxon males. These individuals in high places achieved such positions through hard work, determination, experience, a thorough education, but most importantly were escorted on their road to success by mentors who were most likely of similar background and race. For a minority, strolling along the same corridor of such institutions reminds them of how absent their presence is in global scheme of things. Not having a relatable mentor who resembles them, often suggests a grim notion that success is not within reach.
It was not till my later years of college that I found a mentor who looked like me and someone I could intuitively relate to. She was a no-nonsense African-American female who worked at one of the nation’s top research university as a faculty professor within the school of medicine. Not only was she a professor but she also did cancer research. As an undergrad I have worked in research before and enjoyed it, but never was I more excited to be able to work with any one specific individual than I was with her. Through her I learned what was necessary as a minority to earn respect in the field. I also learned of the setbacks as being a researcher and also being a minority researcher such as lack of funding especially on research focused on minority health issues.
I am certain I would not have gained such insight and guidance under the wing of a mentor doing cancer research who happened to be non-minority. I say this not because I could not have learned the technical ins and outs of cancer research from any non-minority. However, many non-minority PhD’s or MD’s would have ever considered such issues as what this bright, capable, minority female mentor was confronted with on her path to success.
A stronger example of the positives of having a minority mentor for a minority mentee of the same ethnicity would be of my own family. My father was raised in the South where he was exposed to education at an earlier age due to his relatives being faculty at a predominant black institution of higher learning. He learned by example from other black intellectuals that he too can attain greatness as he and his other family members have matriculated and attained professional positions of law and politics, just to mention a few. Without my father and mother’s leanings and emphasis on education, most likely I would end up like many of my high-school classmates who did not go to college or a university despite being from a predominately white neighborhood.
I would never discredit the joy and support provided of my mentors who did not share my ethnic background because their knowledge and influence have opened up many of doors and avenues for me and have created the person I am today. In addition, if someone is ambitious and dedicated enough, they can be successful despite the color of their mentor. However, to edify that it is possible for one’s ambitions to be painted into reality it is important to have mentors who resemble you and your goals to complete the full picture of who you are in that scene called reality.