How to build inclusive mentorship programmes for Black students

To create inclusive mentorship programmes for Black university students, we must ensure they are culturally relevant, address unique challenges and foster peer support

Patrice Seuwou's avatar
University of Northampton
7 May 2024
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Black student higher education enrolment has risen significantly in recent years, which is a sign of progress towards increased diversity and representation. But despite this positive development, there is still a concerning disparity between degree attainment and academic performance of Black and white students, underscoring the need for immediate attention and intervention.

Mentoring has become a key driver for Black university students’ success. It boosts mentees’ self-esteem and helps them overcome obstacles in educational settings. Mentors provide tactical advice on academic and career paths, setting the stage for future achievement and job satisfaction.

Mentorship cultivates stronger ties between students and faculty and creates an environment in which students feel appreciated, validated and equipped to succeed beyond academia. In the sections that follow, I outline several ways British universities can establish inclusive mentorship programmes that are specifically suited to the needs and goals of Black students. 

1. Ensure mentorship is culturally relevant

Faculties must be actively involved in providing Black students with mentorship, emotional support and guidance that speaks to their cultural experiences and helps them feel a sense of belonging in the university community. Acknowledging and appreciating Black students’ diverse identities and backgrounds allows universities to design mentorship programmes that are both culturally appropriate and tailored to meet their specific needs. 

To promote meaningful connections, mentor-mentee matching algorithms should give priority to shared cultural affinities, academic aspirations and personal backgrounds. This guarantees that mentors and mentees can effectively support one another by relating to each other’s experiences. Encouraging mentor diversity ensures that Black students have mentors who are cognisant of and resonate with their experiences, thereby augmenting the efficacy and influence of these programmes and creating a welcoming and encouraging environment where Black students feel empowered to succeed. 

Furthermore, instead of using only university employees as mentors, recruiting industry professionals into mentorship positions can offer Black students a variety of viewpoints and insightful advice on how to advance their careers.

2. Address unique challenges

British universities need to provide mentors and mentees with the resources they need to help Black students deal with the unique difficulties they are likely to encounter. Training programmes should identify and address implicit bias and microaggressions in mentoring relationships. 

Additionally, tailored workshops based on the career goals of Black students can improve their readiness for the workplace. These could address unique challenges and opportunities students face in their careers, such as navigating workplace diversity, overcoming systemic barriers and leveraging cultural strengths. They might also offer insights into industries with historically low Black representation and provide strategies for networking and advancement within those fields. By acknowledging and addressing these specific factors, workshops can better equip Black students with the knowledge and skills needed to excel in their chosen professions.

3. Build a community

Giving Black student networks the ability to set up internal mentoring programmes promotes a supportive environment that fosters a strong sense of belonging and facilitates upward mobility. Universities should organise networking events at the beginning, during and at the end of the programme to give mentees the chance to interact with mentors and peers, developing a network of support that goes beyond the official programme. This will empower students and prepare them to succeed academically and professionally.

4. Recognise your mentors’ work

Encouraging Black students to interact with alumni mentors is one way to help ensure that they receive ongoing support for their academic and professional goals. To do this, you can offer incentives such as prizes and recognition that not only encourage their involvement but also highlight the importance of such schemes.

Universities can set up official reward and recognition systems for exceptional mentorship. This can involve incorporating mentorship accomplishments into faculty tenure and promotion criteria.

5. Track success and streamline admin

To measure the effectiveness of mentorship programmes and enable iterative improvements based on feedback from Black students and success metrics, regular evaluation and data collection mechanisms are crucial. Store features such as communication tools, progress tracking, reporting analytics, privacy and security safeguards and training materials in one place.

By using these strategies, universities can create mentorship programmes that empower Black students, enhance their academic experiences and strengthen their prospects. Fostering a culture of guidance and assistance not only enhances the academic environment but also promotes fairness and inclusivity in higher education.

Patrice Seuwou is an associate professor in learning and teaching and the director of the Centre for the Advancement of Racial Equality at the University of Northampton.

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