Headshots of Savannah Simpson and Dr. Elizabeth Raposa

Racial Discourse in Youth Mentoring Programs: A Conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Raposa and Savannah Simpson

Dr. Raposa is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Fordham University, whose research involves two related sets of questions designed to promote positive psychosocial and academic outcomes in stress-exposed youth. In one line of work, she examines the mechanisms that explain the negative impact of stressful life events on adolescents and young adults, and the ways in which supportive relationships can mitigate such negative outcomes.

Savannah Simpson is a third-year doctoral student in the Clinical-Community Psychology program at the University of South Carolina. Savannah’s research focuses on examining the effects of mentor and youth characteristics on mentoring outcomes, as well as the ways in which mentors’ attitudes and beliefs are shaped by engagement in mentoring relationships with youth. Our Assistant Editor, Saniya Soni, sat down with Dr. Elizabeth Raposa and Savannah Simpson to talk about their newest study on the course and influence of White mentors’ perceptions of racial and ethnic discrimination in a formal youth mentoring program.

Saniya: What motivated you to investigate the impact White mentors’ beliefs about race and discrimination may have on their mentees and match outcomes?   

Elizabeth + Savannah: The main motivation for conducting this study was a concern about issues of equity in the services provided to youth in mentoring programs, coupled with the recognition of a common mismatch between the backgrounds of volunteer mentors and the youth enrolled in mentoring programs within the United States. Specifically, many volunteer mentors in community-based programs are White, while the youth they serve are predominantly BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color). This documented demographic disparity led us to wonder how differences in racial and cultural backgrounds might influence the dynamics of mentoring relationships.  

Saniya: Your study found that White mentors matched with BIPOC youth showed greater increases in beliefs that discrimination limits opportunities for Black Americans. What potential factors or mechanisms do you think might contribute to these findings? 

Elizabeth + Savannah: It is interesting to note that in our sample, a substantial proportion of BIPOC mentees (49.5%) were Black youth. Consequently, White mentors in our sample engaging with these youth might have gained a greater awareness of the day-to-day life of Black American families. Through their interactions with mentees and the mentees’ families, mentors may have become more aware of the historical and ongoing effects of racism in various aspects of society such as our educational system, healthcare, the justice system, police treatment, and work environments. 

Saniya: The results also suggest that stronger endorsement of the impacts of discrimination for Hispanic Americans led to less relationship anxiety in White mentors matched with White mentees, but not when they were matched with BIPOC mentees. How do you interpret these results? 

Elizabeth + Savannah: It is unclear why this finding emerged. One possibility is that White mentors’ acknowledgment of the impact of discrimination on the lives of Hispanic Americans might be a proxy for some other interpersonal attitude or tendency, such as greater empathy or openness to experiences, which fostered a sense of security in the relationship for White mentees. However, it is also possible that the grouping of all BIPOC mentees into a single category in this study may have obscured more specific effects of this baseline mentor belief on Hispanic mentees. 

Saniya: Finally, what practical implications can be drawn from these findings for the training and support of White mentors in youth mentoring programs? 

Elizabeth + Savannah: Our findings highlight the importance of developing and implementing research-informed training and support procedures for White mentors in youth mentoring programs as a means to promote the positive development of BIPOC youth. For example, programs might consider mentor anti-racism training (Sánchez et al., 2021), and/or incorporating a social justice framework into mentor training (e.g., Albright et al., 2017) to enhance mentors’ understanding of systemic inequities and foster more inclusive interactions with their mentees. Check-in meetings with mentors who are struggling to support their mentees’ racial/ethnic identities could also be beneficial (Peifer et al., 2016). These check-ins can offer personalized guidance and resources to mentors, ensuring that they are better equipped to provide culturally responsive and impactful support to all youth. These are just some small examples of how programs might tailor their support for matches in order to ensure greater equity in services for BIPOC youth.