Comparing Alternative Voices in the Academy: Navigating the Complexity of Mentoring Relationships from Divergent Ethnic Backgrounds

Sep. 01, 2014

Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 22, No. 4, 338–353, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this paper, the authors explored the mentoring experiences of two women in higher education who are working at different levels within a research institution in United States.

An auto-ethnographic structure is employed to explore convergent themes that emerge from the authors' unique experiences.
The participants in this auto-ethnographic study include an American Indian female junior faculty member and a white female, first-generation college graduate doctoral candidate at a research-intensive university. Both participants are fully immersed in the academy as a life-long career choice.
The authors began by making audio recordings of their recalled experiences in graduate school and the professoriate. They then collected the most recent four years of their existing work activity and personal journal entries and aligned them into individual chronological documents for comparison and analysis. As a third data source, they collected a body of literature that discussed the struggles faced by women scholars and scholars of color.


This study was intended to explore convergent themes of mentorship that have surfaced in the academic experiences of an American Indian woman working in higher education and a white, working-class female doctoral candidate pursuing her education. Traditional mentoring relationships which pair graduate students or junior faculty with a single mentor matched by gender, race, research interest, or department have not produced unilateral success for dedicated protégés. Rather, these mentoring relationships tend to favor protégés who are either formally or informally paired with White male faculty. Traditional mentoring does not address the needs of diverse individuals or the barriers they face as part of a minority group, particularly those who have no desire to align with mainstream Academe.

Alternatives to traditional mentoring including peer mentoring/networking and collective mentoring have produced positive results for participants through supports which better match the needs of women and minority graduate students and junior faculty. Yet, few organized efforts to develop, support, and share successful alternative approaches to traditional mentoring exist.

The authors argue that exemplary mentorship should be acknowledged in tenure and promotion processes rather than viewed as a side task with which senior faculty are burdened, particularly given the importance of the unique and individual contributions each person makes. In other words, whether in peer-type mentoring relationships )i.e. new faculty and graduate students) or more traditional mentoring (i.e. senior faculty and junior faculty), each mentor brings a unique insight based upon personal and professional experiences that is beneficial to the mentee.
This study also encourages the authors to look towards ways in which they can provide greater support and guidance as they recruit new graduate students into cohorts or programs that encourage peer-mentoring. Last, researchers who explore the institutional resistance to improved mentoring may lead to more equitable institutions of higher education in which access to mentoring support is the norm rather than the exception.


The foundation upon which the authors approach mentoring lies deep within them and requires continual assessment as their foundation influences their work as scholars. None of the themes brought forth are static, and each is open to interpretation based upon each scholar’s unique experience. Within this interpretation, it is also understood that cultural differences can become an extraordinarily heavy burden, because culture cannot be checked at the door. In this respect, the authors are forced to confront an institutionalized system that requires non-dominant cultural groups to conform to the dominant group while there is no requirement for reciprocity. Challenging the status quo of mentoring relationships and institutional approaches to mentoring holds the promise to improve the experiences and promote retention of talented emerging scholars by fostering improved departmental climate and inclusion.

Updated: Mar. 20, 2017