On Mentoring: Multigenerational Reflections with James E. Blackwell
This article is an autoethnographic narrative about mentoring that features reflections and quotes from an interview with Dr. James E. Blackwell, founding President of the Association of Black Sociologists. Both Dr. Blackwell and the author have advocated for the use of mentoring as the best way to acclimate new academics to the discipline and profession. The scholars differ however on the mentoring approach. Dr. Blackwell encourages the use of the traditional 1:1 mentoring relationship while the author encourages the use of peer work groups and skill-focused interactive professional development sessions at discipline-specific associations, organizations and societies.
Dr. James E. Blackwell, sociologist, founder of the Association of Black Sociologists, and mentor extraordinaire, made an invaluable difference in the professional and personal lives of many, including this author. Dr. Blackwell defines mentoring as the “process by which persons of superior rank, special achievement and prestige, instruct, counsel, guide, and facilitate the intellectual and/or career development of persons identified as protégés” (Blackwell 1989). This is not just a textbook definition; he has lived this definition of mentoring others. Like Dr. Blackwell, I study mentoring and professionalization of African Americans and other people of color during their graduate school and early academic careers. I, like Dr. Blackwell, conducted a survey of emerging academics and developed a mentoring scale/continuum. And again like Dr. Blackwell, I am an advocate of mentoring as the best way to quickly acclimate new academics to what is expected of them, the culture of their new department, and the duties and responsibilities of the professoriate. What I find incredibly fascinating is that we both wrote about mentoring, some fourteen years apart, through the lenses of our own lived experiences with mentoring. Unlike Dr. Blackwell, my grounding as a black feminist is reflected in my commitment to a more inclusive approach to mentoring—one that is collaborative in nature and primarily led by peers. As a result, the ways in which we think about and advocate for mentoring are dramatically different but no less devoted. This essay will explore those differences and their origins.
I write in the tradition of narrative inquiry. Narrative inquiry emerged as a discipline from within the broader field of qualitative research in the early twentieth century and was pioneered by Dr. F. Michael Connelly and his former student, Dr. D. Jean Clandinin (Connelly and Clandinin 1987, 1988a, 1988b, 1990). Connelly and Clandinin’s work are anchored in John Dewey’s philosophy that all experience is relational, temporal, and situational and, if intentionally explored, can be educational (Connelly and Clandinin 1987, 1988a, 1988b, 1990, 1991, 1995, and Clandinin and Connelly 1987, 1990, 1996, 1998, 2000). Specifically, narrative inquiry asserts that it is not until an experience is deeply reflected upon, subsequently reconstructed, and shared in a narrative form that meaning can be made and lessons learned. As Connelly and Clandinin describe it, narrative inquiry is the process of mutual storytelling and “restorying” that teaches lessons. Here I will do exactly that—tell mine and Dr. Blackwell’s stories of our personal experiences with mentoring as a way of extrapolating valuable lessons that can then be used to develop mentoring models that reach larger numbers of marginalized graduate students and junior faculty.
Narrative inquiry uses a variety of texts including conversations, life experiences, field notes from interviews, oral traditions, family stories, journal entries, formal and informal records, letters, autobiographical writings, photographs, and other artifacts as units of analysis to research and understand the way people create meaning in their lives. This method also uses abstractions such as the subject’s and researcher’s personal/guiding rules, principles, metaphors, and personal philosophies as field text. Narrative inquiry has been used as a tool of analysis in a number of disciplines including sociology, educational studies, anthropology, organizational studies, cognitive science, knowledge theory, and medicine. While narrative inquiry can be used in conjunction with quantitative data to illuminate statistics, it has also been proven to be a successful stand-alone qualitative tool for data analysis because it offers a way of organizing human knowledge, rather than merely collecting and processing data. Narrative inquiry is unique from other forms of data analysis because it implies that the knowledge itself is valuable, even if only one person knows it.
Narrative inquiry is central to “knowledge transfer,” a theory that seeks to explain the transfer of unquantifiable elements of knowledge, including experiences. Knowledge transfer is based upon the premise that while knowledge in and of itself is good and useful, it becomes useless if it is not communicated. Dr. Blackwell recently celebrated his ninety-second birthday, and it is important to chronicle his historical and evolved knowledge about mentoring in order to transfer his collective lessons about mentoring to future generations of academicians.
In this essay, I take an auto-ethnographically based approach. Autoethnography places the self centrally within the context of the study (Ellis and Bochner 2000). Autoethnographic texts are often written in the first person and connect the autobiographical and personal with other components of the research data. While this study is not auto-ethnographical in the purest sense of Ellis’s definition, I use narratives written in the first person as sources of data in this writing.
Black feminist scholars have often used alternative research methods such as narrative inquiry and autoethnography as data collection tools to gather perspectives from populations that have traditionally been marginalized. As a researcher, I draw heavily upon the black feminist writings of the sociologist Patricia Hill Collins, who contends that black female scholars occupy a unique, privileged, and precarious position in the academy—they are both insiders and outsiders at the same time (Collins 1990). They enjoy the enviable privileges and vast freedoms of academic expression and inquiry and are simultaneously outsiders because their blackness and femaleness are continually challenged within the academy. This unique vantage point allows them to experience both the benefits of participation in the academy as well as marginalization and exclusion from its power centers. As an administrator in a prestigious predominately white institution, I assert that this is true for other underrepresented minorities and other persons of marginalized identities and statuses in academia. While we often enjoy professionally fulfilling careers and many of the benefits accrued by being professors and administrators, those of us who are underrepresented minority, LGBTQ, first-generation academics (persons who are the first in their families to obtain college and graduate degrees who transition into academic careers), and people with other marginalized identities (adjunct faculty, academics who work in staff positions, etc.) continue to experience similar tensions. We often feel outside of the mainstream culture of the college or university and struggle to become acclimated. Dr. Blackwell and I believe that mentoring is the best way to socialize marginalized graduate students and junior faculty into the academy.
Dr. Blackwell’s writings and ideas about the “ideal” mentorship relationship type was informed by the very close one-to-one relationships that he had with several older white male mentors. Throughout his academic career, he was fortunate to have been identified as someone with promise and offered the opportunity for intensive mentoring. These mentoring relationships were long term and focused on developing in him the practical skillsets of research, scholarship, teaching, and navigating departmental politics. While I had access to a few one-to-one mentoring relationships, the majority of my ideas about mentorship were influenced by my participation in and organizing of peer-led work groups and professional development workshops and seminars. In this essay, I will weave together both of our experiences with mentoring and offer some practical lessons about mentoring.
I interviewed Dr. Blackwell about mentoring by telephone on February 4, 2016, and we subsequently reviewed the draft of this article in person on October 19, 2017. Dr. Blackwell had requested that I serve as one of four panelists to discuss his life’s work on a panel entitled “The Life and Work of James E. Blackwell.” The session was organized by Rutledge M. Dennis and Wornie Reed for the 86th Annual Eastern Sociological Society meeting held March 17–20, 2016, in Boston, Massachusetts. I remember being intimidated when Dennis called to ask me to serve on the panel by saying that Dr. Blackwell had asked for me personally. The other members of the panel (Dennis, Wornie Reed, and Howard F. Taylor) were so incredibly accomplished as scholars and teachers and all had known Dr. Blackwell far longer than I. In retrospect, I am probably the last mentee from the Association of Black Sociologists that Dr. Blackwell actively recruited before he stopped coming to the meetings in 1992. Our mentor-mentee relationship has been forged over years of meeting at the ABS annual conferences, countless telephone conversations about my work and career, his generous sharing of his research papers and notes about mentoring from the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, and many handwritten letters, cards, calls, and visits to his home in New Orleans, Louisiana. Despite my fears of gross inadequacy, I agreed to be on the panel. How could I decline someone who had personified my definition of the word “mentor”—someone who unselfishly and actively shared his wisdom, experiences, and resources with a mentee without ulterior motive and with the single purpose of developing the mentee so that she can achieve her goals?
I will end this introduction just as Dr. Blackwell did in our conversation and the way I imagine he would if he were talking to each of the readers. I encourage everyone, if not doing so already, to commit to actively mentor someone else and continuously lobby for the recruitment of people of color into colleges and universities at every level—as undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral and professional school candidates, faculty, staff, and administrators. Dr. Blackwell and I both agree that besides family, the greatest legacy that any of us has can be found in the lives that we have touched.
Dr. Blackwell began our conversation by telling me, “In 1948 I read a book by Robert S. Lynd, Knowledge for What: The Place of Social Science in American Culture. In it, he said that knowledge is not of any importance unless you are able to share it with others in a helpful way. You have to help!” When you talk to Dr. Blackwell and read his writings on mentoring, (Blackwell 1983a, 1983b, 1987, 1989) it is obvious that he is a staunch advocate of very traditional mentoring models. These models imagine a wise, seasoned, and well-connected older mentor who identifies a promising younger mentee. While the pairing is often initiated because of shared research interests, common academic lineage, or some other commonality between the two, it is very hierarchical, with the mentor and mentee being very different in age, experience, and status. The information flows mostly in one direction—from the mentor to the mentee. While the mentor does receive some benefits from the relationship, those benefits are often described as feelings of satisfaction. The majority of what is provided is instrumental support for the mentee. Dr. Blackwell is very clear in his writings that in the case of graduate students and junior faculty, this instrumental support should consist of very practical skills such as authoring and coauthoring manuscripts; reviewing of manuscripts prior to submission for publication; help in securing independent research funding; recommending mentees for teaching and research positions; and guiding them through tricky departmental/university politics. He talks at length about being helped by sage mentors who were very instrumental in his own development as a scholar. In addition to providing practical skills, they also provided invaluable socio-emotional support. Effective mentors, he says, encourage their mentees to believe in their innate abilities and professional training; publicly introduce mentees to influential others; and help mentees to develop the “soft skills” of the profession that increase their research productivity. Some of these soft skills include time management, conflict resolution, and effective communication with peers and superiors. The mastery of these skills and increased research productivity ultimately lead to increased satisfaction with their role in the academy.
This intensive one-to-one mentoring is very reflective of Dr. Blackwell’s own experiences. He recounts, “I went to the Adelbert College of Western Missouri University in the 1940s—I was the only black in my graduating class. I had two psychology professors who saw something in me and my abilities—they encouraged me: Daniel Levinson, author of The Authoritarian Personality, who studied prejudice; and William S. Huntley, the dean of students. William Huntley admitted me because I went up to him and said I really wanted to come to this school. He looked at me and said, ‘You’ll probably do well here.’ Daniel Levinson saw that I was a good student. I could talk to him about anything. If something went wrong in class, I could talk to him about it. He helped me get through the university. I’ve also had other mentors, James F. Short, Jr., former president of the American Sociological Society, was my sociological mentor. He was my mentor and advisor at Washington State. The thing that is memorable about [all three of] them is that they believed in my abilities and I could talk to them about anything and they could tell me how to handle it. This was very important because I was only about the fifth black person to get a PhD from Washington State.”
My own experience with mentoring was a little different. I came to the University of Chicago in 1985 to study with William Julius Wilson. Shortly after I arrived, he left for Harvard University. I left just after he did to work full-time, get married, and start a family. I returned to the PhD program almost ten years later with no major professor to work with. Thankfully, Richard Taub, professor in Public Policy Studies and the Sociology Department, talked to me, saw that I was determined to finish, and agreed to serve as my dissertation advisor. The second member of my committee was Barbara Schneider, currently the John A. Hannah University Distinguished Professor in the College of Education and Department of Sociology at Michigan State University. At the time she was a senior social science researcher at the National Opinion Research Center and someone with whom I’d worked for a number of years. Serendipitously, my final committee member was also a mentor that I had met on campus and through my participation in the Association of Black Sociologists (ABS)—Edgar Epps. Epps was the Marshall Field IV Distinguished Professor in Urban Education and mentor to many highly successful researchers, educators, sociologists, and psychologists. Epps took me under his wing and provided me with much needed emotional support in addition to academic instruction.
I was fortunate when I reentered the PhD program to have been selected to receive an Illinois Consortium Educational Opportunity Program fellowship (ICEOP). The ICEOP was a program for underrepresented minority and economically disadvantaged students from Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana. The program’s mandates were to increase the number of PhDs from these neighboring states in an attempt to diversify those states’ colleges and university faculty ranks. Every year, the ICEOP convened a conference that brought together graduate student fellows in all disciplines. In the four years that I participated in the program, I met an amazing group of emerging academics. I also got a chance to see firsthand the differences in our access to mentoring and the marked difference in the training that we were receiving from our respective institutions.
I was continually astounded at the number of students in the program who received little to no training in quantitative or qualitative research methods; had no one to provide feedback on their papers, proposals, and dissertations; couldn’t interpret the statistical analysis of their own data; and knew very little about the scholarship of academics of color. In this regard, I was fortunate. I attended a resource-rich university, had access to a remarkable dissertation committee with impressive and diverse skillsets, and belonged to a discipline-specific professional organization of scholars of color whose collective body of work was enormous.
I had already at that point been an active member of the Association of Black Sociologists for thirteen years. While in ABS, I lobbied for and helped to organize yearly professional development sessions for graduate students and junior faculty—sessions that focused on making them competitive candidates for jobs and increasing their research and writing productivity. These sessions were highly interactive; they included concrete examples rather than theoretical principles; they offered the participants opportunities to receive critical feedback in a safe space; and they gave emerging scholars an opportunity to work closely with more seasoned academics. Some of the workshop topics included “How to Write a Journal Article,” “Crafting Your CV,” “Writing a Book Review,” “What’s Next: What Do You Do Once You Get Tenure,” and “Factors to Consider When Deciding on a Graduate School.”
Additionally, in my graduate program at the University of Chicago, I participated in a dissertation support group that was organized by Edgar Epps, but completely facilitated by graduate students enrolled in the Education, Sociology, History, and Linguistics Departments. We met weekly to provide critical feedback and constructive advice to each other as we completed our dissertations. All seven of us moved from proposal to completion of our dissertations within three years of joining that group and all of us defended our dissertations with no major revisions needed to our manuscripts.
So, when faced with peers in the ICEOP who needed help, I did as Robert Lynd and James Blackwell suggested—I began to help. I organized peer mentoring work groups with a small subset of students who met yearly during the annual ICEOP conference. We met in the evenings and began to teach each other research methods; recommend books and statistical packages; review each other’s data and offer interpretations; and critique each other’s writing. We stayed in contact during the school year and continued to provide each other with critical feedback and much needed encouragement. We supported each other through to graduation. It was from my experiences facilitating professional development sessions at ABS, participating in the dissertation support group at the University of Chicago, and providing peer group support at the ICEOP conference that my ideas about the usefulness of professional development sessions and peer work groups emerged.
The mentors in the groups I belonged to were very different than the mentors of the traditional mentor/mentee pairs that Dr. Blackwell advocates so strongly for. The mentees were the mentors. In my scholarship, I advocate for peer and near peer work groups. Peer work groups are small working groups of usually four to six people who meet regularly (either weekly, biweekly, or monthly) to share information and expertise, and to work collaboratively toward a collective goal. Peer group participants are all at the same rank—for example, female junior faculty within the first three years of a tenure track appointment. Near peer groups are defined as people whose ranks are within a close range or mixed group—for example, all underrepresented minority female graduate students enrolled in the social sciences division. Peer work groups are similar to study groups in that they allow the members to engage collectively in in-depth study, writing, discussion, and review of a selected topic. Research has found that people working in small groups typically learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same content is taught in other instructional formats (Rybczynski and Schussler 2011).
My experience with the Association of Black Sociologists was incredibly rich. Every summer I spent three to four days in the company of the most incredible black scholars—some of whose work that I had read and admired and others with whom I had only become acquainted with during the meeting. Some were giants in the field of sociology, others were phenomenal teachers. Some were new and emerging academics just beginning their scholarly careers and others were in the twilight of their careers. Regardless of who they were, they were all committed to research, teaching, activism, and scholarship and they were willing to talk to me, a graduate student who was the first in her family to go to and complete college and the first to attempt to complete an advanced degree. My exposure to the members of this national professional society made all the difference for me because it not only provided me with knowledge of the work of black scholars, but also access to an expanded cadre of mentors, collaborators, and cohort members with whom to strategize and commiserate as we embarked on academic and administrative careers. This was in stark contrast to many of my contemporaries within the ICEOP who were often isolated as one of a few people of color on their campuses and who had not been exposed to the scholarship of researchers of color.
Dr. Blackwell recalls similar experiences with graduate students and junior faculty on some of the campuses where he worked. He says with an incredulous chuckle, “When I was teaching at UMass–Boston, I met students at Harvard who had never even heard of W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois went to Harvard! He graduated from Harvard!” Dr. Blackwell goes on to say that while he worked at the University of Massachusetts–Boston, he not only actively worked to increase the number of black faculty, but also tried to increase the number of black graduate students. He encouraged talented students to consider the professoriate as an option and to pursue graduate and professional degrees. He used his wide network of blacks in higher education, garnered from working in both Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and predominately white institutions (PWIs), as well as his membership in the Association of Black Sociologists, to recruit people to Boston, and to other universities as well. During our interview, he was especially proud as he talked about hiring a number of bright and promising scholars who went on to enjoy highly successful academic careers at some of the country’s most prestigious universities. And his pride was anchored not just in those people who went on to be academic superstars. He was equally happy to have mentored people who went on to become successful physicians, dentists, lawyers, and businesspeople. He says that his goal was to encourage as many people as possible to earn post-baccalaureate degrees. He talked about mentoring being one of two important tools that could help people of color transition successfully into the professoriate or other highly skilled careers.
The other tool he mentioned was the development of pipeline transition programs that began with undergraduates and supported them financially, academically, and emotionally into and through graduate school and into their chosen field. Dr. Blackwell told me how he regularly involved undergraduates in data collection, analysis, and coauthoring drafts of manuscripts. When he could, he paid them through research grants. Even when he had no money to pay them, he always acknowledged them in his published work and publicly during talks. He did this to pique their interest in research, an interest that could be used as the basis for subsequent conversations about graduate school and the possibility of a career in higher education as a professor. He recalled fondly his experiences working closely with a number of students throughout their college years and into graduate and professional schools.
In addition to pipeline programs and intensive individualized mentoring, Dr. Blackwell aggressively lobbied the president of UMass–Boston to hire faculty of color and actively recruit graduate students of color during a time when these individuals were rarities on college campuses. He would say to me several times during our conversation, “People have to have a chance, you see. Mentoring gives people a chance to prove what they can do themselves.” As someone who was one of the first to integrate several schools as a student and faculty member, Dr. Blackwell was keenly aware of the value of having a seasoned person who had successfully navigated the space to provide not only a welcome, but also strategies for success.
He continued by saying, “I fought hard to help to identify blacks who could be on the faculty in departments of sociology and in other fields. At one time, I was the only black full professor on campus in Boston. On many campuses, there are still only a few full professors on campus. While a lot of progress has been made, we still have lots of work left to do.” In a 1989 article, “Mentoring: An Action Strategy for Increasing Minority Faculty,” Dr. Blackwell cites the statistics that in 1975, African Americans comprised 4.4 percent of full-time faculty positions in American higher education institutions; Hispanics 1.4 percent; Native Americans 0.2 percent; and Asian Americans 2.2 percent. In 1985, the last year for which data was available when he wrote the article, Native American faculty had risen to 0.3 percent; Hispanic faculty had risen to 1.7 percent; Asian American faculty were 3.9 percent; and African Americans had dropped to 4 percent of full-time faculty in American higher education institutions.
Using data from the US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics for 2015 (most current available), we can see that not much had changed. Of the 1,551,015 faculty members in degree-granting institutions in 2015, 49.1 percent were women (Table 315.10) and only 20 percent were minorities (Table 314.40). American Indians constituted 0.5 percent; Asian Americans 7.1 percent; African Americans 6.8 percent; Hispanics 4.7 percent; and Pacific Islanders 0.2 percent. The total number of earned doctorates awarded in 2015 was 178,547, with 7.4 percent awarded to African Americans, 6.3 percent to Hispanics, 10.7 percent to Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 0.5 percent to American Indian/Alaskan Natives. Women of color received more than half of those doctorates, with black women receiving 66 percent of the doctorates in their ethnic category. Like Dr. Blackwell, I include PhD, EdD, MD, DDS, and JDs in this number (Table 324.20).
In the same 1989 article, Dr. Blackwell writes, “Somewhere along the way, we lost our commitment; strategies that once worked were abandoned, and the gains in access and production were lost. Consequently, as we move into the 1990’s, the nation is confronted with an underrepresentation of minorities in higher education that has more profound consequences than the situation of two decades ago.” As a comparison of these statistics show, by 2015 not much has changed with regard to people of color in higher education institutions. Dr. Blackwell is right: while we have made some gains, there is still a lot more work to do for people of color to reach parity in higher education institutions.
I pushed Dr. Blackwell on how we could scale up the intensive mentoring he vehemently advocates. One of the challenges of the dyadic mentoring model is that it is very slow and reaches only a few people at a time. I believe we must adopt mentoring strategies that reach exponentially larger groups of emerging academics to increase their skillsets in writing, research, and teaching. Eventually, as we continued our interview, he agreed that the peer mentoring, establishment of peer work groups, and the use of focused interactive professional development training sessions are ways to reach larger numbers of academics and should be offered as part of a common mentoring strategy adopted by departments, universities, discipline-specific professional organizations, and scientific societies. He agreed as well that they were an especially viable option for professionalizing large groups of underrepresented minorities and other marginalized academics who often struggle to find people willing to mentor them. He was adamant that these sessions should be focused on delivering the practical instruction that all junior faculty need to master. This includes knowledge of how to write a successful grant application, how to design a syllabus, how to prepare to teach a class, how to write a journal article, how to write a book proposal, how to run a research lab, and so on. While he still preferred one-to-one intensive interaction with a seasoned academic, he acknowledged that there continues to be a dearth of faculty who are willing to take on graduate students and junior faculty of color in this sort of intense relationship. He expressed some frustration about why that might be. “I have an excitement in seeing what people can do when they believe in themselves! I enjoyed watching people grow and develop and learn from the experiences of others. Today, people are still in the same position as they were when I was a young sociologist. They need encouragement. They need someone to say, ‘I see you as a person, a sociologist, as an academic citizen.’ Mentoring is just as important today as it was then!”
After talking with Dr. Blackwell, I would offer the following revised definition of mentor: A mentor is anyone who serves as an active partner in a mentoring relationship. In the ideal relationship, mentors and mentees are engaged in a series of conversations, activities, introductions, and collaborations that ultimately lead to the achievement of the mentee’s career and personal goals. Mentoring is not dependent on a predetermined set of personal characteristics or even personality, but rather on the tasks and activities that the mentor and mentee complete together. Mentoring is about skill development. Mentors may be senior to the mentee or a peer of the mentee—the emphasis is not on age, but rather their capacity to impart some knowledge or skill. What is important to remember is that the mentoring relationship is a dynamic and reciprocal relationship that actually works to develop both the mentor and mentee and the relationship provides career, social, and psychological support. In the words of Dr. James Blackwell, “We must all accept personal responsibility for mentoring!”
When I look at Dr. Blackwell’s and my experiences with mentoring and our approaches to mentoring, I am able to identify some valuable lessons that can be utilized by mentors, mentees, higher education institutions, and discipline-specific organizations today. These recommendations are grounded in the black feminist tradition of inclusion, community building, interconnectedness, self-determination, and empowerment.
- Maintain an active database of scholars of color. Through our discipline-specific national, regional, and specialty professional associations/organizations, we must know who the other academics of color are and actively work together across disciplines and institutions to recruit these academics of color to our institutions. To do this well, we must share information about upcoming position openings, recruit promising undergrads and graduate students to our graduate schools and postdoc programs, and collaborate on a regular basis with faculty from other institutions. We can do this formally through consortiums and institutional agreements and informally through referrals.
- Design pipeline programs that prepare undergraduates for careers in the professoriate. We must develop robust pipeline programs at our institutions that expose underrepresented minority students and other marginalized populations of students to the professoriate as a career option. The most effective pipeline programs support students financially, academically, and emotionally and they provide opportunities for students to participate in the activities of the professoriate such as research, scholarly writing, giving oral presentations, and teaching prior to graduation. The more successful programs tend to be cohort based and bring in a critical mass of the underrepresented group to campus.
- Continually lobby college presidents, provosts, deans, and chairs to actively recruit graduate students of color and faculty of color at the junior and senior levels. Active recruitment goes beyond hiring a diversity officer and putting inclusive pictures in the institution’s publications and website. Recruiting diverse students and faculty candidates is a shared responsibility. Faculty members should be asking their colleagues for referrals and they should actively seek out diverse candidates when they attend conferences and give talks at other institutions. Graduate students should be enlisted to assist with recruitment while they are attending conferences. Diverse candidates should be invited to campus to give talks, meet with members of the department, and apply for open or upcoming positions. Talented undergraduates should be encouraged to consider graduate school and faculty should write letters of support for their admission. Undergraduates and graduate students should be encouraged to participate in discipline-specific conferences, participate in poster sessions, and compete in paper competitions. Active recruitment also includes lobbying for search committee training and implicit bias training for selection committee members, admissions committees, and HR professionals.
- Provide a robust set of professional development offerings as well as socio-emotional support to emerging academics. We must teach emerging academics the practical skillsets necessary to succeed in an academic position. These skills must center on the currency of the academy—research, scholarship, and teaching. The professional development offerings must be interactive and provide opportunities for practice and feedback in a non-evaluative environment. In addition to these practical skills, we must also provide socio-emotional support. Many emerging academics are unsure of their academic prowess and have limited access to role models who understand the unique struggle of being an academic with a marginalized identity. We must regularly provide encouragement and a welcoming environment that allows them to flourish and thrive.
- Maintain active membership in professional organizations. We must set the example and encourage emerging academics to maintain active membership in their discipline’s ethnic/special interest professional organizations in addition to participating in the larger discipline’s regional and national professional organizations and conferences. By active membership, we mean attending the annual conferences, participating in poster sessions, presenting papers, organizing paper sessions, running for elected office, and participating in the organization’s governance structure.
- Utilize alternative mentoring models. We must expand our notions of mentoring to include alternative mentoring models such as peer work groups, multiple mentors, group/committee mentoring, self-directed mentoring, short-term mentoring, reverse mentoring, and speed mentoring. Many of these mentoring models have been very successful in working with marginalized populations in the corporate, government, nonprofit, and vocational sectors. These alternative mentoring approaches allow for the transmission of a lot of information in short time-frames across a variety of modalities.
- Organize interactive skill-based workshops and professional development sessions for graduate students and junior faculty at all ethnic/specialty and discipline-specific conferences. We must provide an array of professional development and interactive workshop sessions at specialty and ethnic discipline-specific conferences and scientific society meetings. These sessions provide much needed skill development to large numbers of emerging academics in a safe environment. It also gives the emerging academics an opportunity to network with each other and senior scholars.
- Mentees need to be responsible for making up for any deficits that they have. My favorite line from Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play is “Not having is no excuse for not getting!” Mentees must be on a continual quest to discover their own deficits and invest in their own personal development. They must be self-directed learners. There are an increasing number of free courses, YouTube videos, podcasts, and literature available to teach new material.
- Mentoring is a skill that can be learned and honed. Mentors must engage in professional development about mentoring. There are lots of courses, independent readings, and professional development sessions on effective mentoring strategies and techniques. Some topics all mentors will benefit from include communicating positive and negative feedback, working with difficult personalities, and cross-cultural/cross-gender mentoring. Mentors should actively work to improve their capacity to mentor.
- Commit to mentoring someone. Everyone should commit to mentoring at least one other person. While the saying “Each One, Teach One” sounds trite, it is a very important mandate. While large skill-based professional development sessions can provide instruction on tasks to be completed, there is something invaluable about spending time with someone who can look you in the eye and tell you how much you have grown as a scholar. Everybody needs someone that they can turn to for encouragement, support, and gentle correction.
Dr. Blackwell, as the title of the session for which this paper was produced suggests, “The Life and Work of James E. Blackwell,” is multifaceted. He is a mentor, scholar, activist, organizer, and public administrator. However, no tribute to Dr. Blackwell would be complete without mentioning two facts for which he is most proud. The first was that he was the devoted husband to Myrtle Dapremont Blackwell. They had been married for fifty-three years when she died in 2016. He would often tell me how she was the “wind beneath his wings.” She was his constant travel companion and life partner. Mrs. Blackwell accompanied him to almost all of the ABS conferences, typed his manuscripts, and acted as the original sounding board for many of his ideas. He stopped coming to ABS when she was no longer able to travel with him. They did not have children of their own, but were the beloved aunt and uncle of a pair of nieces on whom they lovingly doted.
The second was something that I have always had a difficult time imagining—Dr. Blackwell as a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. The day after our interview, my office telephone rang. It was Dr. Blackwell’s caregiver saying he wanted to speak to me again. After he asked how I was doing that day, he said to me, “Tell them that I am a lifelong member of Omega Psi Phi!” I laughed loudly because anyone who has spent any amount of time with Dr. Blackwell with his impeccable speech, extremely erect posture, and insistence on proper behavior and decorum at all times might have a difficult time imagining Dr. Blackwell hanging out with his fraternity brothers. As a founder of the undergraduate chapter at Western Reserve University, he is proud of his lifelong active membership in Omega Psi Phi fraternity. I reminded him that I knew that, but that is not the focus of this manuscript or our interview. He laughed heartily and told me, “Tell them anyway!” With that, he wished me a great day and hung up the phone.
About the Author
Regina Dixon-Reeves is Assistant Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Chicago.
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