Academic journal article Family Relations

Feminism and Mentoring of Graduate Students*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Feminism and Mentoring of Graduate Students*

Article excerpt


A small body of mentoring literature exists, but how mentoring relates to feminist supervision of graduate students has not been explicitly addressed. Because mentoring typically socializes individuals into a preexisting structure that feminist scholars may be challenging, critiquing, and attempting to change, important considerations arise for feminist mentoring. Three established feminist educators' stories of mentoring are presented. Commonalities and concerns are identified, and implications for graduate pedagogy are presented.

Key Words: feminism, graduate studies, mentoring, pedagogy.

Feminist pedagogy in family studies is concerned with women's experiences in families (Allen, 1988); family diversity on the basis of characteristics such as structure, race, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation (Thompson, 1995; Walker, 1993); and continuing imbalances of power within families on the basis of gender and other characteristics (Allen & Baber, 1992). Understanding how the social structure affects personal experiences is key, as is working toward changing unjust social structures (Walker, Martin, & Thompson, 1988). Feminist pedagogical approaches such as reflexivity, self-disclosure, and classroom dialogue (e.g., Blaisure & Koivunen, 2003; Thompson) have been explicated, and various substantive resources have been described (e.g., Baber & Murray, 2001; Walker). However, this scholarship has focused primarily on undergraduate education, and such discourse may not be easily or necessarily transferable to the graduate experience (Kameen, 1995). Graduate education occurs in smaller classrooms, and in particular, through one-on-one relationships in which professors are "driven by contradictory combinations of personal and institutional desires" while students oscillate between the "originality and conformity" of their work (Kameen, pp. 449-450). The intense and complex nature of such exchanges sets the stage for mentoring relationships to develop. Yet, faculty members do not necessarily know how to mentor (Johnson, 2002; Luna & Cullen, 1998), and graduate students may not have the opportunity to think intentionally about professional issues involved in long-term graduate student-faculty relationships (Johnson & Nelson, 1999).

Moreover, although a small body of literature exists on mentoring, very little of it focuses on mentoring from a feminist perspective. The concept and process of mentoring raises interesting issues for feminist educators because mentoring is intended to socialize individuals into a preexisting environment (Cochran-Smith & Paris, 1995), intentionally or unintentionally reproducing systems of inequality (Colley, 2001). The purpose of this article is to explore aspects of feminist mentoring relevant to family studies graduate study. We use three feminist educators' stories of mentoring and being mentored to elucidate pivotal issues and challenges. We discuss their experiences, addressing themes of (a) self-disclosure, (b) power, (c) resistance to feminism, and (d) social change and advocacy. We extend these themes with recommendations for feminist graduate pedagogy and provide a brief annotated bibliography of feminist research resources (see Appendix).


Upon entrance into a graduate program, students are assigned an advisor. Although the same person may become a mentor, that is not necessarily the case (Peyton, Marton, Perkins, & Dougherty, 2001). Advising merely ensures that students meet the requirements for graduation (Cronan-Hillix, Gensheimer, Cronan-Hillix, & Davidson, 1986; Peyton et al.), whereas mentoring involves a personal relationship in which a faculty member guides, advises, supports, and challenges the graduate student toward the "development of a strong professional identity and clear professional competence" (Johnson, 2002, p. 88).

In Kram's (1985) seminal work, she suggested that mentoring consisted of two functions: career, preparing individuals for a career; and psychosocial, providing emotional support. …

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