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Variables Contributing To Minority Students’ Success

When mentoring students from under-represented groups it in important to realize that these students bring all of the strengths and weaknesses that beset majority students. However, though the background, interests, attitude, motivation are important factors for all students they may be more relevant to some minority students. Mentors should take the time to learn about their students.

A strong, positive self-concept is normally a characteristic of academically succesful students. However, minority students frequently recognize when they are not being challenged to the same level of other students. And they respond badly to critiques that are too critical or too congratulatory. In addition, a student's culture and race may be important elements of their self-concept.

Academically succesful students perceive their academic, and in some cases social, challenges and work to correct these. But students may need help learning to not equate these challenges with inferiority. Mentors should provide honest and realistic feedback. In addition, students should see a clear connection with what they are doing to meet these challenges and their improvement in doing so. The feedback from mentors should be timely and frequent, that is as close to the effort and outcome as possible.

Some students may need help adjusting from immediate, short-term goals to long-term goals. College, and an advanced degree, is an endeavor that requires multiple levels of challenge before achieving a goal.

Academically successful students frequently pursue leadership experiences. But at times students pursue these outside the department and so faculty and mentors may be unaware of the capability of students in this respect. Mentors should inquire what engages the students outside the department. And students should be encouraged to take on responsibilities and leadership opportunities within the department. And many students are committed to community service. If so, mentors can discuss how this service unite with academic pursuits.

Minority students who are academically succesful almost certainly have come to recognize that racism and bias exists. Possibly they have developed their own coping mechanisms. But it is important to realize that if they are struggling in this area that faculty and even mentors may not be the most appropriate person to help the student. Perhaps someone on campus. Or perhaps mentors can remind the student that family, friends, or former teachers are just a phone call away. Issues like this require a support relationship that frequently takes a long time to develop.

Teaching Minority Students
William E. Sedlacek
Teaching Minority Students, 1983
Editors: James H. Cones, John F. Noonan, Denise Janha