Rainbow Children: What Grad Students Should Know About Interracial Mentoring

January 6, 2014

I am a senior history professor specializing in immigration studies at an eastern research university. Immigration scholars study the movements of peoples of different racial groups throughout the world. We also study racial and ethnic identity. Students, I had assumed, chose me as a mentor because of my expertise in those topics.

But I began to think differently after further discussions with my graduate students. How, after all, did a white professor from a European immigrant background come to “mother” these rainbow children? Some of the conversations took me to places I had never before explored, with delicate lead-in questions like: “Well, would you have preferred to work with a professor of your own color? Of your own ethnicity? Do you think you would have done better with him or her?”

I remained puzzled by their answers. What seemed particularly paradoxical was the mix of students within my group. I soon realized that it is not simply a matter of their individual choices of a mentor, but the existence of these students as a collective—as a group reflecting what will at some point be the norm among doctoral students—that bears greater scrutiny. Despite their different racial and ethnic identities, I now believe that as a group these students share an agenda and specific needs. That is what drew them to the same mentor. As we face a vastly transformed American nation and student population, there is something encouraging and positive in that.

Read the article in Vitae.

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