Welcome to Race on Campus. As colleges continue to diversify their students at a faster rate than their faculty members, some professors will mentor students from radically different backgrounds. If you want this relationship to be successful, here’s some advice: Listen first, and don’t make assumptions. Katie Mangan offers more tips from longtime mentors.

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Ask, Don’t Assume

When Susan J. Corbridge began mentoring James Q. Simmons, she didn’t pretend to understand what it was like to be a queer, Black, male nursing student in an overwhelmingly straight, white, female profession.

But the clinical professor of nursing and medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago cared enough to ask the right questions. When Corbridge is working with students, “I want to hear what their concerns are and what barriers they’re facing instead of just assuming I know,” she says. “It’s important to start with that.”

Simmons appreciated that approach. “Growing up as a queer person of color in the Midwest, I had a certain skepticism about middle-class white people, but Susan never pretended she’d understand my lived experience,” he says. Instead, she helped connect Simmons with opportunities to publish and encouraged him to integrate his activism into his career planning, particularly in examining how race and sexuality are tied to health disparities.

Ten years later, the two remain close, and Simmons’ career as an acute care nurse practitioner and health podcaster has taken off. Meanwhile, Corbridge, now executive associate dean of the college of nursing, is taking the lessons she’s learned from mentoring nearly two dozen students from underrepresented groups to make inclusive mentoring a priority at her nursing school.

Be Open and Empathetic

Across the country, colleges are diversifying their student bodies faster than their faculty ranks. That means that more students of different races, genders, and religious backgrounds will be mentored by faculty members who’ve enjoyed relative privilege getting to where they are.

To be effective, cross-cultural mentors need even more openness and empathy than usual, says Phoenix A. Matthews, a clinical psychologist who last year became the Illinois nursing school’s associate dean for equity and inclusion.

Matthews and Corbridge have been collaborating on training programs that will help other faculty members better understand and support their mentees. They might start by asking students what their experiences at the nursing school have been like and asking, “In what ways have you experienced challenges that I may not be aware of?”

Matthews, who uses they/them pronouns, says a student who they didn’t realize was undocumented suddenly dropped out of an exciting research opportunity because a background check was required and she feared for her family. After doing some research, Matthews was able to intervene, get the requirement dropped, and help the student rejoin the group.

Recognize the System’s Biases

Michael J. Carter learned early on that good mentors ask first and don’t assume they know the answers. Carter, who founded Strive for College, which pairs college students with high-school students in failing schools, recalls mentoring a Latino teen living outside of Ferguson, Mo.

“When I went to help him with his college application and asked, ‘What activities are you in?’ the student was like, ‘I don’t do any activities.’ As a mentor, at first, I’m trying to figure out how we fill this out.”

Carter, who is also Latino but grew up financially well-off, then asked the student what he does on a typical day after school. He said he made dinner for three younger siblings, helped them with their homework, worked on his own, took out the trash, and made dinner for the grandparents who were caring for them when they came home from work.

“It was one of those moments when you realize college applications are typically set up for people who have time to build houses through Habitat for Humanity or participate on the debate team,” Carter says. There’s no easy way to get credit for running an entire household while maintaining a 3.5 GPA.

“I told my grandfather when I was growing up that everybody has equal opportunity in America,” Carter recalls. “He called me a menso which, in Spanish, means moron.”

When, in his junior year of high school, he transferred from a private to a public school where each adviser served nearly 1,000 students, he realized his grandfather was right, but that it was a problem where he could possibly make a dent.

Diversifying the Graduate-Student Pipeline

At the master’s and Ph.D. levels, what does it take to both recruit more minority students as well as retain them? Hear from a panel of experts on Thursday, April 29, 2 p.m. Eastern. While universities have been focused on this issue for years, this hour-long discussion will examine what promising new approaches are emerging in today’s virtual environment to complement existing ones. Register here.

Read Up

  • Last year was big year for fundraising at historically Black colleges and universities. MacKenzie Scott donated $160 million to HBCUs and Black college groups in July. Prairie View A&M University received $10 million in November. But Texas’ two public HBCUs, Texas Southern University and Prairie View, have historically received less funding compared to other state colleges. (The Houston Chronicle)
  • Last week, a Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Columbus, Ohio, after she lunged at someone with a knife. Her death has brought attention to other police killings in the city. (The New York Times)
  • Esther Lim knew that she couldn’t end racism. Instead, Lim printed free booklets, titled “How to Report a Hate Crime,” in English, traditional and simplified Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese, to better inform victims. (The Los Angeles Times)