Mentoring practices allow you to guide your students as they take on questions larger than the specific course at hand, helping them navigate the university and think about their academic trajectory, goals for the future, career plans, and more. Inclusive mentoring means being sure to open the door to all your students, highlighting resources that not all might know about, helping them help each other, treating them like scholars, and maintaining clear boundaries. Know that this isn’t something you have to take on all by yourself; in a multi-mentor model, different people play different mentoring roles for a student.
Mentoring is teaching. Just as we would with any other teaching task, we suggest starting with backward design: elucidating key goals for the mentor/mentee relationship (possibly in concert with the mentee), and being transparent about these goals with students/mentees. For mentoring to be inclusive and explicitly anti-racist, consider the content, pedagogy, assessment, climate, and power dynamics of your mentoring practices, and how to change and adapt your practice for your students. We strongly suggest that mentors use the rest of this toolkit and apply the strategies where appropriate to their mentoring practices.
As mentioned above, many students seek out mentoring relationships with faculty that they feel share their identities, whether that be faculty of the same race, gender, sexual orientation, or other background. This strategy is oftentimes justified when students come from marginalized groups, as studies have shown that mentors with unexamined privileges can be ineffective and even harm students that are already marginalized in academia (Spencer, 2007; Duron et al, 2020; Brusma et al, 2016; Ensher and Murphy, 1997). This does not mean, however, that cross-identity mentoring should stop or be discouraged. As in all other aspects of teaching, good mentorship requires training. This includes social-political consciousness (racial consciousness) training (Freire, 2005; Vargas et al, 2021; Sanchez et al, 2021; Johnson, 2003) and discipline-specific mentorship strategies. Effective mentoring should also be thought of as requiring multiple members of the community, not only because it helps the mentee, but because it provides mentors the opportunity to learn from one another (Chapman, 2018; Johnson, 2003). For instance, we recommend that departments discuss the progress and mentorship of their graduate students each year, in order to both benefit the student and to help one another develop better mentoring strategies (Whitebeck, 2001; Finch & Fernandez, 2013).
Many students are unaware of how a university operates, and what resources are available for their needs. With its many unknowns, college campuses can be stressful spaces, especially for marginalized students, who are sometimes less likely to seek out resources and help (Lipson et al., 2022). Faculty can help students by sharing the unspoken norms of higher education—sometimes this is called the “hidden curriculum”—sharing campus resources and introducing students to professional connections they might not have already had. Such actions enable students to feel empowered to navigate stressors and rally the university and professional support that they need to achieve their goals, which can lead to greater persistence and success (Gable, 2021; Hurd et al., 2018; Le, Hsu, & Raposa, 2021; Raposa & Hurd, 2021/18; Stanton-Salazar, 2011).
A felt sense of connectedness between students predicts more student participation, greater investment in the course, and even increased learning (Booker, 2006; MacLeod et al., 2019). When faculty encourage supportive connections between students, students become more confident learners (Fayram et al., 2018; Rendón Linares and Muñoz, 2011). And sharing the mentor role with students means more opportunities for everyone to find the guidance they need, as well as potential collaboration partners (Edgcomb et al., 2010). More advanced students (“near-peers”) are particularly well-suited to take on this role, helping newer students see a path to success, while themselves learning the material better by teaching it (Edgcomb et al., 2010; Wai-Ling Packard, 2015). Peer-to-peer and near-peer-to-peer connections can happen during class, via group conversations in office hours, or at other times. In fact, they can even happen successfully in an entirely online environment (Fayram et al., 2018).
Instead of viewing students as learning about a field, you can, even from the beginning, explicitly view them as participants in the field. Faculty members often recognize a student’s aptitude in a given field before the student is able to recognize it in themselves, and have the opportunity to bring that aptitude to the student’s awareness and involve them in work in the field. That kind of explicit recognition can help students see themselves as having a future in the field, and motivate them to pursue it, whereas a lack of recognition can serve as a barrier (Carlone & Johnson, 2007; Wai-Ling Packard, 2015). When students engage in research—especially when it's collaborative—or see themselves as professionals, they're more likely to persist in a given discipline (Belanger et al., 2020; Estrada, Mica, et al., 2018; Hagler and Rhodes, 2018; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine et al., 2019; Wong et al., 2019).
Witnessing their own successes validates students’ sense of themselves as skilled learners who belong (Rendón Linares and Muñoz, 2011), and specific encouragement focused on student strengths bolsters motivation and investment in the field (Sidelinger & Booth-Butterfield., 2010;Wong et al., 2020), perhaps especially when students have marginalized identities (Yeager et al., 2014)—but both positive and negative feedback improve student confidence, motivation, and academic growth, as long as the feedback is constructive (Auguste et al, 2018; Wai-Ling Packard, 2015), in the sense that it “aims to promote improvement or development of the person receiving feedback” (Duffy, 2013). Sometimes this involves giving critical feedback to a student in a different identity group from one’s own, which can encourage student perceptions of instructor bias—but research shows that this problem can be prevented if the critical feedback is framed in such a way as to underscore the value of rigorous standards and emphasize the student’s ability to meet those standards (Cohen et al., 1999; Gallup, 2014; Wai-Ling Packard, 2015; Wong et al., 2020).
Professors and students have different levels of power in the institution and the discipline, and such power differentials in mentoring relationships can, unless treated with care and transparency, lead to violations of boundaries, biased behavior, and even abuse (Kow et al., 2020). The mentor’s boundaries matter, too, and faculty from overtapped groups (e.g., women, faculty of color) may need to guard their time especially carefully (Padilla, 1994). It’s important to recognize that no single mentor can provide mentorship in ALL areas that a student needs or requires. Help your mentees find and build multiple mentoring relationships with different members of our community that can each work to help them succeed (Chapman, 2018). This approach also means that successful mentorship of each member of our community is the collective responsibility of our entire community, and the burden is not on a single faculty member.