Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The True Meaning of Mentorship: One Professor Recounts How Women Scholars Helped Her Navigate the Academy

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The True Meaning of Mentorship: One Professor Recounts How Women Scholars Helped Her Navigate the Academy

Article excerpt

"JOSEPHINE, IF I WERE YOU, I WOULDN'T INVEST TIME IN HELPING KANDACE SECURE THIS POSITION. She was not one of our strongest students, and we typically only assist those students who we believe to be stellar. You should be careful!"

Those are the words a full professor at Indiana University spoke to Dr. Josephine Harris, * a new senior faculty member who showed interest in mentoring me almost from the moment she began working at the university. Those words ring out to me each time I hear of a student struggling to complete a degree or embarking on a job search.

When I was a doctoral student at IU, I learned that having a mentor was critical for Black and other ethnic minority students. According to Wikipedia, in Greek mythology, Mentor was the son of Alcumus and, in his old age, a friend of Odysseus. When Odysseus left for the Trojan War, he asked Mentor to have charge of his son. Thus, a mentor today is one who serves as a teacher, counselor, guide, protector and friend. The need for mentorship is even greater for minority students about to launch their first job search or graduate students moving to the next level of their professional life.

I entered my doctoral program immediately after earning a master's, but without the blessing of the department faculty. The program chair at that time made the decision to admit me and override the rest of the faculty's "no" votes. From that point, I was left to navigate the process solo. As I proceeded to the dissertation stage, a Hispanic junior faculty member agreed to be my chair. She was in the process of tenure and promotion review the year I was to write my dissertation. The outcome was not good--she was not granted tenure, which meant I needed to quickly get my research completed and the dissertation done. Ultimately, I finished the dissertation and graduated with Ph.D. in hand, but no job prospects in sight. The problem was that I had not been mentored to understand the process of career development to be prepared for work in the academy. Most members of my cohort were busy presenting at national conferences and working as research assistants during our time of matriculation. Meanwhile, while I worked at the Gap, drove a limousine and was a grader for a faculty member in another college. …

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