Magazine article American Libraries

Mentoring on My Mind: It Takes a Family to Graduate a Minority Library Professional

Magazine article American Libraries

Mentoring on My Mind: It Takes a Family to Graduate a Minority Library Professional

Article excerpt

How does it feel to leave your family - your only support system - behind, perhaps for the first time, to go after your dream of a graduate degree, then to walk into class and be the only student of color in the room?

Most people will never know how it feels to be constantly reminded that one is a member of a minority community in a mostly white institution. Let me help you visualize those feelings. Close your eyes for a minute and imagine yourself walking naked into a classroom full of people. Now, that is exactly how it feels.

At an ALA Council meeting in San Francisco earlier this year, there was much discussion about the Spectrum Initiative (AL, Aug., p. 74+), which had been introduced by then ALA Executive Director Elizabeth Martinez. It appeared that some of my fellow councilors thought funds for the initiative should be restricted to scholarships. I would argue that there is a compelling need for funds in the Spectrum Initiative - or any other minority student scholarship program - to provide students with some type of support system to replace the crucial ones they leave behind.

In most minority groups, the family (and the extended family) is the most important cultural characteristic. The family is so important to minority students because it helps these young people develop and maintain self-esteem and self-confidence and to maintain their identity. Perhaps the essential difference between this experience and the experience of the white majority is that the white familial system is probably not the only effective support system available to these students. White community institutions - even churches - are much more likely to encourage outward movement. Motivation for minority students is most often rooted in the culture of their families.

From the family to the fire

It is this reliance on and trust in the family that influence many minority young adults in their decision making. It is often the need to be close to the family that determines a minority student's undergraduate college choice. But choosing an institution closer to home is usually an option because there are numerous choices available.

In deciding on an MLS graduate program, however, the choices are limited geographically. Since there are only 56 accredited MLS programs in the United States and Canada, it is unlikely that one of those programs will be in a minority student's community or even state. The apprehension students of color have about leaving their families to attend a graduate program is serious; often it is the primary consideration.

Because many minority students in undergraduate programs are first-generation college students, their families are more likely to be supportive of their attending college and completing a BA degree if the students choose colleges close by. …

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