Lisa stepped into the lecture hall of her first college class where she anxiously took a seat waiting for the lecture to start. She looked around at all the students who also wait to be taught by one of the most prominent professor in the field. She looked around again, to realize that she sees all the broken promises of diversity that the university promotes in all their brochures all the broken promises of mentors who knows what she has been through, and who can give her hopes of a brighter future.
That is one of many similar stories from first generation minority students in college. Many minorities ask, Why isn’t there anyone like me?
Looks shouldn’t matter when it comes to choosing mentors or mentees. All mentors provide guidance through use of their wisdom and knowledge from the paths they independently sculpted. None of us can choose, however, how we look. Our race, our gender, our sex, our image, is part of who we are and they bind us to the consequences of its history. We never chose the neighborhood we grew up in. We never chose the socio-economic condition we grew up in. We never chose to be the minority.
When a minority mentee is placed with another minority mentor, many people would call that discriminatory and unproductive. This is actually the opposite because the mentees would be more proud of their heritage and background. The minority mentee would also hold on to the lessons they learned from overcoming adverse obstacles, bringing to the majority a diversity of heritage, of experiences, and of voices that would not normally be heard by the majority.
Although minority mentors being matched with mentees should be based on compatibility and similar backgrounds, the automatic pairing of minorities only based on their status as minorities instead of looking at them holistically as a person actually impedes the advancement of minorities. We all know that is called discrimination. A balance between pairing up minority mentees with other minority mentors and diversity is to have multiple mentors: a network of mentors. Most importantly, the needs of the mentees must be taken into consideration to adequately pair them with mentors. If a minority mentee is paired with another minority based on need and a holistic assessment, then let it be.
Sometimes what is needed is to know someone personally, who has a similar background, become successful when society doesn’t allow them to. When a person breaks above the status quo of society, that is what is called inspiration. Just like in the historic election of Barack Obama, it sent a message of hope to millions of young African American men that they too can become president of the United States. He will be inspiration of many more generations of African American men.
For Lisa, she luckily found a community of mentors whom have accepted and understood her. She too, now knows what it means to have hope in a successful future through her network of mentors, who are just what she just needed.