I love being a mentor but I am uneasy about the slide into a one-way, top-down notion of authority. I like the idea of friends as co-mentors, mutual learning, an egalitarian, feminist approach. It’s true that a mentor with more experience in a given context can de-mystify and foster access, and that’s important. A mentor experienced in a context can normalize challenges in the given context, helping the mentee recognize that their struggles are situational, not simply or primarily personal. Not explained by personal deficiency.
At the same time, as another person, a mentor is also in a process of growth and change, learning from the mentee and, often, learning about the context they share through the mentee’s eyes and experiences. This aspect of the relationship is not well marked in conventional approaches to mentoring. As well, sometimes people can mentor one another without reference to contextual savvy, drawing on other wellsprings of wisdom, and supporting each other’s evolution as well as that of the systems in which they work.
I am taking these observations into a research project to investigate how mentoring can create a bridge to institutional change. First, I am going to figure out what I learned about the possibility and difficulty of creating this bridge as a mentor during the 4 years I did it intensively through Bryn Mawr College’s partnership with the Posse Foundation. Then, I will develop a methodology with which to learn what people in this role at other institutions learned and how and what, if anything, they (their learning) changed.
Whom do you mentor and who mentors you?
Do you experience a connection between mentoring and changing — as a person, yes, but also as a person seeking to change structures and systems?