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Two Perspectives on a Cross-Cultural Mentoring Relationship
Rachel Greene and Joe Saucedo began a mentoring relationship in 2015 at Loyola University Chicago through the NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program (NUFP). Founded in 1989 by NASPA—Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, NUFP provides mentoring, professional development, and scholarship and internship opportunities for students from traditionally underrepresented groups who are interested in careers as student affairs professionals. In this article, Rachel and Joe reflect on the importance of the cross-cultural nature of their mentorship experience and how it enabled each of them to grow personally and professionally. For more on NUFP, visit https://www.naspa.org/constituent-groups/professionals/nufp.
From Rachel Greene:
Joe Saucedo became my mentor when I was a second-year student at Loyola University Chicago. I identify as a queer black woman, and Joe is a first-generation Mexican American man, so our identities are very different. While women of color students often find it most enriching and affirming to work with mentors with similar identities, my cross-cultural relationship with Joe offered the perfect blend of challenge and support. Our mentorship experience was a mutual effort that we practiced intentionally. As people of color, we had similar passions and frustrations in the higher education field. Yet as we shared our different perspectives, stemming from many of our other identities, we challenged each other’s deeply rooted ways of thinking as well as cultural norms.
Joe supported me as I reflected on my experiences as a student leader at Loyola and as an NUFP intern at the University of California, Berkeley, and he helped me apply the lessons I had learned to my goal of becoming a student affairs professional. He offered me critical feedback on my leadership skills while also empowering me to live authentically. While I told Joe my story, he also told me his. His perspective gave me new insight into how multiple truths can coexist. Joe affirmed me in all my identities and broadened my thinking, and this affirmation had a crucial impact on my student development.
Throughout my search for a master’s program in higher education and student affairs, Joe validated my hopes and eased my fears. He gave me access to cultural and social capital by helping me navigate the graduate school search and connecting me to his colleagues at institutions that interested me. In doing so, he modeled what promoting inclusive excellence looks like in practice (Crutcher 2014). Although we have different social identities, he was and still is dedicated to my holistic development as a person and a professional. Joe celebrated my accomplishments with me and guided me to think critically about my setbacks, my impact as a student leader, and my future career goals.
Overall, our mentorship experience allowed us to deepen our passions and understandings of student affairs and social justice in relation to our institution, current events, and higher education. We discovered much about our own cultures and the relationship between the black and Latinx communities, and we delved into many conversations about anti-blackness and solidarity between our ethnic groups. Our mentor-mentee relationship helped us understand our different positionalities in relation to race and gender. This knowledge empowered us to continue to pursue critical self-work in understanding our biases and privilege; this self-awareness has helped us serve students more holistically.
Joe modeled for me the capacity to guide students in an intersectional way. The cross-cultural nature of our relationship made me look beyond my own race, gender, and ethnicity to learn the purpose and meaning of solidarity. As a result, I practiced centering multiple narratives and perspectives in hopes of inclusively serving students of many backgrounds. Our mentorship experience helped me attain my dream of pursuing a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs administration at the University of Vermont.
From Joe Saucedo:
I inherited Rachel Greene as my mentee from her initial NUFP mentor, who was relocating with family back to Northern California. Rachel had expressed an interest and potential for excelling in student affairs. I agreed to serve as Rachel’s mentor at about the same time that she began working directly with me as a peer mentor for a program I administered supporting first-year students of color who were the first in their families to attend college.
At first glance, Rachel and I seemed like an odd pairing given that our only common identities are as people of color and Catholics. However, we found it easy to bring our authentic personalities and life experiences to many of our conversations. I did my best early in our relationship to impart wisdom I learned through my own trajectory after college. Also, shortly after Rachel’s first mentor left Loyola, I had the stressful and rewarding experience of leading the Department of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs as interim director while pursuing the director role on a permanent basis. I was compelled to be transparent with Rachel about how, as a first-generation college graduate and Latino, I managed the politics of a national job search and leveraged my social capital at the university to maintain support from colleagues while also attending to the needs of vulnerable student populations.
Rachel and I both have a genuine passion for work rooted in social justice and equity, and therefore it made sense for me to share my professional networks so Rachel could meet people doing the work that interested her. I firmly believe that all mentors must own their limitations and embrace the notion of multiple mentors advising a student. Because Rachel’s experience as a woman of color is salient for her, it was important for me to lean on colleagues who shared that identity for their counsel.
In my department, we provide support services both by respecting that every student is a multidimensional person with layered and complex needs and identities and by taking an asset-based, anti-deficit approach that validates students’ knowledge, strengths, and cultural wealth (Yosso 2005). I employed this same approach when advising Rachel by acknowledging the various forms of cultural capital she brought with her to Loyola. For example, I deeply valued Rachel’s navigational capital and insights into her own journey at Loyola as a student with multiple minority identities. Rachel’s experience called to mind my own struggles with feeling like an impostor as a student and as an administrator and learning to rely on my peers and other social networks to reach my goals. While I helped guide Rachel on her path toward graduate school, she was actively teaching me about ways to navigate institutions with courage and grit. Rachel also demonstrated her resistant capital as she played a key role in organizing a campus-wide march and demonstration against police brutality and racial injustice during her senior year. She read an original poem while students stalled traffic at a busy intersection yards from Loyola’s campus. I realized that when I remained open to mutual learning, Rachel was more receptive, and I, too, gained more from our mentor-mentee relationship.
Over two years, Rachel and I experienced many moments of growth and affirmation in our cross-cultural mentorship experience. We also had critical conversations about failure, disappointment, and misunderstandings in our relationship. It is imperative that a mentor and mentee prepare for those challenging moments as well as periods of life transitions if they desire to maintain the relationship. Like most relationships, ours is evolving, and it’s important for us to acknowledge that it will look different now that we live in two different states. I beam with pride knowing that Rachel is now in her first year of graduate school, sharing her gifts with her classmates and the University of Vermont community.
Crutcher, Betty Neal. 2014. “Cross-Cultural Mentoring: A Pathway to Making Excellence Inclusive.” Liberal Education 100 (2): 26–31. https://www.aacu.org/liberaleducation/2014/spring/crutcher.
Yosso, Tara J. 2005. “Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth.” Race, Ethnicity and Education 8 (1): 69–91.
Rachel Greene is a 2017 graduate of Loyola University Chicago and graduate student in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration at the University of Vermont, and Joe Saucedo is Director of the Department of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at Loyola University Chicago.