FROM THE EDITOR: This "At Issue" contains an essay by Donald Sloan, who responds to Erekson and Trautman's previous At Issue essay about the lack of diversity in our field. While they agree that diversity should be a goal, Sloan contends that the strategies to assure racial and cultural diversity must be multifaceted and diverse. Responses to these or previous "At Issue" essays are encouraged. Instructions for authors are provided in the "Bits & Pieces" section of each issue of the Journal.
Achieving Diversity Through Mentoring: A Response to Erekson and Trautman's "Diversity or Conformity"
Donald L. Sloan
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
Erekson and Trautman (1995) made some excellent points in their brief examination of the lack of racial and gender diversity in higher education and the work force. Decrying the scant representation of minority faculty members in academe, the authors suggest that institutions of higher education move toward diversity and cease to perpetuate racial and gender conformity. They advance their argument more specifically by observing that most university faculties in industrial technology remain primarily white and male, which perpetuates a bland, cultural sameness, uniformly resistant to new challenges and opportunities for change.
Significantly, Erekson and Trautman (1995) dismiss "nurturing" as a strategically implausible method to ensure the recruitment and retention of minority group members in academe. Furthermore, they conclude that the pursuit of diversity through nurturing could be unnecessarily protracted over decades.
No argument is proposed here to challenge the need for diversity. This author shares Erekson and Trautman's concerns regarding the detriments inherent in the exclusivity of racial and gender homogeneity found among faculties in industrial technology and elsewhere on university campuses. However, this author submits that strategies to assure racial and cultural diversity in academe must themselves be multifaceted and diverse. Thus, mentoring can and should be an important means to achieve the aims of diversity.
The term mentoring was not used by Erekson and Trautman; however, if mentoring is seen as a "nurturing strategy," then certainly their dismissal of its viability is implicit. Mentoring has been defined as a process by which a novice is shepherded through networks of intricate learning experiences, usually by an older, more seasoned professional sponsor (Levinson, D. J., Darrow, Klein, Levinson, M. H., & McKee, 1978). The relationship between protégé and mentor is profoundly intimate and complex. Scholars such as Levinson et al. found that "true" mentoring relationships, which embody the closeness and delicate balance of a love relationship, are exceedingly rare. Others define mentoring less strictly, allowing for multiple and exclusive roles such as role model, coach, tutor, guide, and sponsor (Shapario, Haseltine, & Rowe, 1978). Whichever definition one chooses to embrace, in its broadest application, mentoring has proved valuable to most successful individuals, regardless of race.
Far from being viewed as extraneous to the ultimate goals of diversity, mentoring appears to be more strategically sound than Erekson and Trautman care to admit. Mentoring is more than the mere celebration of differences among work or school populations. The objective of a sound mentoring strategy is to secure diversity of permanence. Therefore, mentor/protégé contact will enhance the protégé's professional growth and development (Anderson & Devanna, 1981).
Particularly in academe, mentors tend to choose those individuals who most reflect the mentor's own major traits and characteristics (Blackburn, Chapman, & Cameron, 1981). Males tend to serve more readily as mentors to other males, and women tend to mentor other women. Blackwell (1977, 1987, 1989a, 1989b) specifically investigated the issue of mentoring as a means of enhancing the participation of African Americans in higher education. Blackwell's (1987) research confirms that African American protégés prefer same-race mentors. Obviously, as he further explains, the under-representation of African American mentors will necessitate that a large number of whites will be required to mentor African Americans.
This is an achievable goal, for while race seems to be a major factor in matching mentor to protégé, it is not necessarily the overriding characteristic. Even the obvious racial and assumed cultural homogeneity among white males should not preclude the existence of diverse ideas and personalities among members of that group. Some relationships between diverse populations will invariably emerge, allowing for cross-racial mentoring matches. Among doctoral students, some will tend to gravitate to those potential mentors who best reflect their own unique academic interests.
Cloning Minorities in Academe
Mentors who insist that their protégés of color be perfect clones are justifiably challenged by Erekson and Trautman. Conformity that demands the suppression of differences in life style and perception among students and faculty is stultifying and carries with it the stench of decaying creativity. It is invariably within the power of the protégé to insist that his or her racial uniqueness be respected. Conversely, it is the responsibility of the mentor to respect this quality in each protégé and to provide the support and nurturing to allow it to flourish--and to neutralize resistance to the new perspectives wrought by diversity among other faculty and students. Mentorship demands that mentors rely upon negotiating skills to clear obstacles from the paths of their protégés.
The challenge to achieve diversity in academe is not free of conflict. Mere celebration of diversity indeed rings vacuous if that act fails to embrace this possibility. The appreciation of the unique contribution proffered by all groups to the human family cannot be trivialized. That the struggle will be protracted over decades should not diminish our enthusiasm in supporting real diversity.
Sloan is Assistant Professor, Department of Workforce Education and Development, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale Military Programs, assigned to Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois.
Anderson, C., & Devanna, M. A. (1981). Mentors: Can they help women get ahead? Career Development Activities, 2(2), 5-8.
Blackburn, R. T., Chapman, D. W., & Cameron, S. M. (1981). "Cloning" in academe: Mentorship and academic careers. Research in Higher Education, 15(4), 315-327.
Blackwell, J. E. (1977). The participation of blacks in graduate and professional schools: An assessment. Atlanta: Southern Education Foundation.
Blackwell, J. E. (1987). Mentoring and networking among blacks. In A. S. Pruitt (Ed.), In pursuit of equality in higher education (pp. 146-162). Dix Hills, NY: General Hall.
Blackwell, J. E. (1989a). Mentoring: An action strategy for increasing minority faculty. Academe, 75, 8-14.
Blackwell, J. E. (1989b). Faculty roles in mentoring minority students. In M. C. Adams & E. Wadsworth (Eds.), The role of the faculty in meeting the national need for African American, American Indian, and Latino scholars: Report of the Stony Brook conference I (25-35). Stony Brook: State University of New York.
Levinson, D. J., Darrow, C. N., Klein, E. B., Levinson, M. H., & McKee, B. (1978). The seasons in a man's life. New York: Knopf.
Shapario, E. C., Haseltine, F., & Rowe, M. (1978). Moving up: Role models, mentors and the patron system. Sloan Management Review, 19, 51-58.
Reference Citation: Sloan, D. L. (1996). Achieving diversity through mentoring: A response to Erekson and Trautman's "Diversity or conformity." Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 33(3), 87-90.