FORUM: When (and how) should mentoring programs disclose mentors’ personal information?

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 7.28.53 AMA colleague of mine recently shared an inquiry they had received from a local program that was thinking through an issue that had bubbled up: Should they tell mentees (or mentees’ parents) that a mentor is gay? And if so, why and when?

This was a school-based program serving primarily younger elementary-age students and to this point the program hadn’t bothered mentioning this circumstance, when it occurred, because the youth weren’t thinking about these types of identity things and it wasn’t relevant at all to the program. But in this case, it was a couple that was volunteering together. The students, unaware that this was a couple, had started asking them increasingly probing questions about their lives outside of the program. The couple then asked the program to be the ones to share information about their relationship with the students, teachers, and parents.

The Director of this program noted that they have a solid non-discrimination clause, but no real policy addressing disclosure of this kind of information when making matches. They noted that they don’t really disclose any information to parents or the students (as they put it, “We don’t tell them their mentor is heterosexual either…”), but wondered if they should address this issue specifically or put the onus here on the volunteers themselves to share what they wanted.

So I thought I’d throw this question out to the readers of the Chronicle to see what you thought. I feel like this is not just a question about volunteer sexual orientation, but also about programs’ obligations to disclose any information about their mentors and how they draw those lines in policy and practice.

In this case, we have a program where there is minimal need for a lot of sharing of personal information during matching given the nature of the program and age of the youth. But this is, unfortunately, a topic that can trigger some strong reactions from parents and confusion among young mentees. Does the program have an obligation here? Or should the couple volunteering be the ones to share this information and help their mentees build understanding?

Let us know what you think in the comments below!