Magazine article Liberal Education

Cross-Cultural Mentoring: A Pathway to Making Excellence Inclusive

Magazine article Liberal Education

Cross-Cultural Mentoring: A Pathway to Making Excellence Inclusive

Article excerpt

Cross-cultural mentoring involves an ongoing, intentional, and mutually enriching relationship with someone of a different race, gender, ethnicity, religion, cultural background, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, or nationality. Generally more experienced, the cross-cultural mentor guides the intellectual and personal development of the mentee over time. At its best, this relationship is built on a foundation of what I call "the three Vs": values, virtues, and vision. The identification of values that are held in common, even across difference, leads to the development of trust and understanding. The cultivation of virtues-the abilities and ways of knowing that enable one to deal with various personalities, cultures, and experiences-enables one to maintain individual and institutional I boundaries and to overcome barriers between people. The commitment to a vision of inclusive excellence inspires one to clear educational pathways and help others overcome obstacles and limitations.

A sense of trust and understanding between mentor and mentee is a crucial element in the relationship. While my focus here is on crosscultural mentoring, the overall purpose of all forms of mentoring is to find commonality and common ground among individual values, virtues, and visions. It is in doing this that a special sense of trust, care, guidance, and support can grow. But before discussing cross-cultural mentoring more generally, let me begin by sharing my own experience of its importance.

From the warmth of the South to the cold of the Midwest

The oldest of four children, I was born in Alabama on the campus of the Tuskegee Institute (now known as Tuskegee University). Although I grew up in a highly segregated and stratified community, under the cloud of legally sanctioned segregation, I, like many African Americans, benefitted from the love and support of a closeknit community. This love and support cultivated in my family, friends, and me a passion to grow and excel despite the hurdles we faced. And in time, due in part to a relationship between my father and "Mr. R," a white Southerner who came to our home and who worked side by side with him, I began to see the possibility of relationships that were unconditional, revolutionary, and evolutionary. What I had witnessed as a child, though I didn't have the words for it at the time, was a cross-cultural mentoring relationship.

At the age of twenty-one, I left Alabama and entered the larger world, joining several Tuskegee classmates on an exchange program at the University of Michigan. When my plane landed in Michigan, I looked out the window and got the shock of my young life: there was a foot of snow on the ground! That was just the first of many changes. In addition to the weather and the landscape, the peopleregardless of their color or ethnicity-were different. The culture was different. It was the most diverse setting I had ever been in. It was also the most baffling. How, I wondered, could I relate to people who had such different life experiences? How could I ever find something in common with them? Perhaps I thought of my father's mentoring relationship with Mr. R, who had come to our house and gotten to know us; yet, how could I get to know, trust, and understand people who didn't serve grits and bacon at breakfast and collard greens and combread at dinner?

After my classmates returned to Tuskegee, I remained at the University of Michigan, where I had the privilege of making personal and professional connections with individual educators who had different cultural and racial backgrounds but similar values, virtues, and visions. By including me in their lives and becoming my mentors, these educators helped me feel less disoriented and less isolated. I felt that I was surrounded with care, support, and trusting relationships-all elements of good mentoring. The gratitude I felt created in me a lasting passion for cross-cultural mentoring.

At all the institutions we've been a part of, my husband and I have made ourselves available to students as mentors. …

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