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The Heart of It All: Cross-Cultural Mentoring During a Pandemic

For presidential spouses at colleges and universities, the many hours of our day are usually spent welcoming guests to the president’s residence and cohosting events for students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, community members, and visitors from the local community or across the world. This sheltering in place during the pandemic, this pause in our busy lives, has given us an opportunity to reclaim our interests and solitary activities often set aside for our campus responsibilities.

This pause has also often magnified the need for connecting with others, and especially with our campus community. We can volunteer more time to listen, support, care for, and guide those we now meet online. In virtual sessions and phone calls, we can expand our voice of hope and comfort, affirming the strengths and abilities of those who reach out to us with reminders that we can always rise to meet challenges together. Instead of “stop, think, and react,” we now have the time to “stop, think, and respond.”

As a presidential spouse and cross-cultural mentor at the University of Richmond, I offer listening, guidance, support, caring, wise counsel, and the building of trust to the campus community. These interactions can bring reassuring and calming touches during our days of sheltering in place. The heart of it all, the recognition of what is really important and sustainable through any personal or professional crisis, can be found through one especially helpful mentoring practice—the consistent sharing of the “3 Vs”: valuesvirtues, and vision.

In sharing our values, we have the opportunity to hold firm to our principles and ideals while encouraging others to hold firm to theirs. The intent is for my student mentees to appreciate their inner strengths. One mentee wrote to me that “after our discussion it really clicked for me that I am phenomenal and I can rise above all of the roadblocks being set up. Whenever I feel like I can’t do it, I will repeat, ‘Dr. Crutcher said that I can do this well.’”

In sharing our virtues, we can listen to help others in their growth. With my mentees, I often emphasize cherishing the little things and seeing each action, even humble actions and deeds, as an accomplishment. This is the time to further appreciate what we do have and how we can serve.

In sharing our vision, we can anticipate change and our own ability to adapt to a future that, for so many of our students, has been upended, with career plans seemingly scattered to the wind. I emphasize with my mentees how we can continue to be valuable in whatever roles we play—for example, even in navigating jobs, online classes, and summer internships. The future can be less scary when we move forward with purpose and meaning.

The three Vs can further help us in these isolating times when we make the mentoring of family members a new priority. When I mentor family virtually, or when they mentor me, I am reminded of those long-ago family dinners where we shared our values by praying together, singing together, and dancing together; where we shared our virtues by listening and providing loving care and comfort; and where we shared our family’s vision that each family member would be safe and well and healthy, leaving with a sense of greater belonging and strength for the week ahead.

Now, I find the heart of it all by welcoming our daughter, Sara, home and by having her welcome us to her home. The heart of it all also includes meeting online to see, listen, and talk with my ninety-four-year-old mother, my three siblings, and the in-laws, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Throughout these unsettling days, as we reach out on multiple platforms with a gentle response of knowing and caring, it can be a time of mending hearts and opening minds, so that we can all emerge from this pause stronger, wiser, and kinder. We await the opportunity to welcome students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, community members, and guests back to campus to help us create a more vibrant, richer, and strengthened tapestry for the campus community that we know, serve, and love so well.

Spider.pngBetty Neal Crutcher is the presidential spouse to Ronald A. Crutcher at the University of Richmond and a cross-cultural mentoring consultant.