Would you believe that an impactful moment of mentorship could include French fries and ranch dressing?
For Mentor Collective’s Ivett Delgado, a thirteenth birthday trip to the Disney Club with her first unofficial mentor cemented the power that these relationships can have on a person’s growth, development, and sense of self. “She took an interest in chatting with me because she often noticed that my mom was working, and there were the little kids around me, but I was sort of the older kid,” she said as we chatted about her journey to mentorship as a professional pursuit.
“It was this idea of someone outside of your family that takes interest in you not because they love you [or] because they have to, but because they found you interesting. And I think that that helps build a kid’s confidence. It allows them to learn how to use different social skills that aren’t just family based.”
Her attraction to mentorship in higher education aligns beautifully with her current work at Mentor Collective, and was inspired by the role mentorship played in her own college career:
I navigated college all on my own until I got to my state flagship, because I went to a community college. I joined a sorority, and they pair you up with a big sister, they call it. Basically, she’s your mentor!
She was a real comfort to me. She helped me find my major, because I was lost and didn’t know what I wanted to do. She helped me build a network outside of clubs on campus. And her guidance, her help...again, someone outside of the family who didn’t have to like me but did, was really influential to me.
You’ll notice that Ivett has made, more than once, explicit mention of mentors that exist outside of family. That is because of how mentorship is traditionally understood in her, and other Latinx cultures. Or, more accurately, how mentorship is not understood. In fact, she recalls a time when she was asked to translate materials about a mentorship program into Spanish.
Her response: how do you translate a word—or even a concept—that has no direct translation to Spanish?
“We Don’t Necessarily Call That ‘Mentorship,’ We Call That Family.”
“I think if you tried to Google the translation of mentorship, it tells you ‘tutoring,’ and obviously we know mentorship is not tutoring. But the idea of a mentor in the way that the United States, the English speaking world, thinks about it is not really culturally what happens.” What we would traditionally call mentorship, instead, happens within families:
What does exist within our communities, though, is our own family. We’re very family oriented. And usually if someone is struggling with something, there’s always an aunt or an uncle or cousin, or aunt’s cousin’s uncle that can guide you through it. What we really leverage is our own community to try and help each other out. But we don’t necessarily call that mentoring—we call that family.
As campuses across the country seek to increase support for Hispanic/Latinx students, this clarification of terms matters. What most schools, steeped in a viewpoint that sees mentorship as generally helpful, don’t account for, is the difference in perception between what a program offers and where a student believes they can get that help.
Strategically Reconsidering Mentorship
A student of Hispanic or Latinx descent may shrug off a need for these programs, knowing they have someone at home who can address that need. Or, tellingly, students may brush off an offer for help that evokes a feeling of pity or sympathy: “why am I being given help if I didn’t ask for it?” So for Ivett, the messaging matters - not just in making students from collectivist cultures aware of these programs, but also cognizant of their potential impact. And this impact won’t just appear for this segment of students; the actions you take in this realm will positively impact not just Hispanic and Latinx students, but students from a variety of other collectivist cultures for whom this framing could be illuminating.
“Often in my presentations when I talk about peer mentorship, I talk about [how] the messenger really matters, and who is talking to the student and how that information is being relayed is important [...] If you just add it as ‘this is mentorship,’ it might not really resonate with someone. ‘This is mentorship for your first year’? That might not really resonate with students.”
But explaining what these mentorships can offer, Ivett went on to say, can help them take advantage of the convenience of having a friend on campus, going through the same experience, and thus increase (a) their understanding of the experience’s value, and (b) the likelihood that they’ll want to participate.
“We’re friendly people! We like to be around others!” Ivett shared with laughter in her voice. “I think that that is more likely to get us engaged - and once you get us engaged and connecting, you’ll see the outcomes that [Mentor Collective] talks about within our programs.”
Culturally Responsive Strategies for Hispanic and Latinx Student Participation
What else can help Hispanic and Latinx student participation in mentorship programs?
- Reframe mentorship as an experience that can have collective benefit. “A conflict that we have [...] is, we don’t think individually, we think as a collective and [of] what’s better for the family—it’s certainly not the American culture to think as a whole, it’s very individualized,” Ivett noted.
Mentorship is typically framed as a vehicle for individual growth, development, and advancement, but could be more attractive to Hispanic and Latinx students (and impactful in practice) when considered as a means to gain social capital - and thus affording opportunities for the family and culture to rise together. Programs that acknowledge this difference in the needs of prospective participants, and then use that insight to inform their messaging, will have more success with students for whom this is a reality.
- More efforts to offer materials in English and in Spanish. Yes, even though Ivett mentioned the challenge of translating the concept of mentorship across languages, it does still matter to offer key materials in a bilingual fashion. “I’m not going to say all Latinx students are speaking both languages, but some students may feel more comfortable reading Spanish than they might feel in English.”
And in keeping with the familial theme of our conversation, Ivett also notes that the materials aren’t just for them. “Latinx students confide in their families and in their parents a lot, and will do things around their family. So if they’re thinking about participating in a program, they’re probably going to tell their parents about it. And their parents are going to know. So having that ability to have it in both languages so the parents can also understand what the student is participating in will be beneficial.”
- Acknowledging that mentorship can be powerful even if both parties aren’t of Hispanic or Latinx descent. “I do think that [pairing students with mentors who look like them] is an important part of mentorship, but it doesn’t always have to be. Students can connect with others and also experience different things that will be beneficial to them,” Ivett mentioned.
Inspired by her conversations with prospective partner schools about the ability to match historically underserved students with mentors who share their background or life experiences, she notes, “it’s nice to have cultural things that are relatable, but [that] doesn’t have to be. Think outside of the bubble that that mentor has to look exactly like them, be exactly like them.” The similarities that draw students to their mentors—first-gen status, low-income upbringing, living with a single parent—can exist across cultures and, as Ivett puts it, “they’ll still have a lot to talk about. They’ll have a lot of experiences in common.” Those connections can be fruitful, relatable, and high-impact.
In the end, that’s ultimately what we’re after, for Hispanic and Latinx students and for all other students we work with: the chance at a fruitful, relatable, and high-impact mentorship experience. Though, I must admit: it’s a pretty great bonus when it includes French fries and ranch dressing!
IMAGE CREDITS: The Jopwell Collection