How do natural mentors support diverse college students’ critical consciousness?

Monjaras‐Gaytan, L. Y., Sánchez, B., Anderson, A. J., Garcia‐Murillo, Y., McGarity‐Palmer, R., Reyes, W. de los, Catlett, B. S., & Liao, C. L. (2021). Act, Talk, Reflect, Then Act: The Role of Natural Mentors in The Critical Consciousness of Ethnically/Racially Diverse College Students. American Journal of Community Psychology

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Although youth have always been involved in activism throughout history to the present, tackling social inequities can still feel daunting and can cause some to doubt whether or not they can make a change. 
  • Mentoring has the potential to empower youth to engage in complex social issues through conversations and social action.   
  • This study explores the role natural mentors have on racially and ethnically diverse college students’ sociopolitical development. 
    • More specifically, this paper addresses the extent that natural mentoring dyads have discussions about social justice and explores how mentors support their mentees’ critical consciousness.  
  • Findings suggest that…
    • Perceived inequalities and critical action positively correlate with more discussions about social justice.
    • Having more social justice dialogues between mentors and mentees positively correlates with increased perceived inequalities and critical action. 
    • Mentors support their mentees’ critical consciousness by having non-judgment conversations, engaging in reflections, sharing information & resources, and behaving as role models for their mentees. 
  • Because mentors and mentees are actors of critical consciousness, reciprocity is required for mentoring dyads to have conversations and critical reflections.  
  • Having matched pairs with shared identities and experiences can further encourage in-depth dialogues between mentors and mentees. 

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

The current mixed‐method study examined the role of natural mentors in the cyclical process of college students’ sociopolitical development, particularly their critical consciousness. College students (N = 145) completed surveys at two time points over a one‐year period. Path analyses indicated that critical action and perceived inequalities were significantly associated with more social justice conversations with mentors and that having more social justice conversations with mentors was significantly associated with more critical action and perceived inequality. Further, mentoring conversations and sociopolitical efficacy helped to explain the positive role of perceived inequality and action on later attitudes around perceived inequalities and critical action. Qualitative one‐on‐one interviews of a subset of participants (n = 30) expanded findings from the quantitative data and revealed detailed information about how mentors supported youth critical consciousness. Specifically, mentors engaged in 1) dialogue and reflection, 2) information and resource sharing, 3) nonjudgmental, comfortable conversations, and 4) role modeling. Findings inform the iterative nature of critical consciousness and on how older adolescents leverage support from natural mentors in this process.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Our study makes several contributions to the burgeoning literature on sociopolitical development and socializing agents by examining natural mentoring and critical consciousness in a sample of racially and ethnically diverse college students. A longitudinal, mixed‐methods design was particularly helpful given the iterative process of critical consciousness in which critical reflection, critical action, and sociopolitical efficacy are interrelated (Freire, 1973; Watts et al., 2011). Study contributions include our examination of critical reflection and action at two time points, mentor support as both an outcome and predictor of critical reflection and action, and mentor support and sociopolitical efficacy as mechanisms in the cycle of critical reflection and action. In line with recent calls for researchers to move beyond measurement of critical consciousness at the individual level (Heberle et al., 2020), we investigated critical consciousness at the relational level by assessing social justice conversations between youth and their mentors as well as mentor support for sociopolitical development. Finally, this study is the first to provide an in‐depth qualitative view of how natural mentors support young people in their critical consciousness.

The quantitative and qualitative findings suggest that youth turn to natural mentors for support and guidance at varying points in their sociopolitical development, which supports researchers’ assertions that mentors are in a unique position to support critical consciousness and social justice engagement (Albright et al., 2017; Weiston‐Serdan, 2017). We found that higher critical action and perceived inequalities significantly predicted more social justice conversations with natural mentors over time, which had a significant and direct association with higher critical action and perceived inequality. The significant association between critical action and reflection and social justice conversations with mentors is consistent with the ecological and transactional perspective of sociopolitical development (Heberle et al., 2020; Watts et al., 2003) and with Harro’s (2000) cycle of liberation model that suggests individuals seek the support of others as they become critically conscious. Students who engaged in critical action and reflection may have felt the desire to talk with their mentors about their social justice activities because they were characterized as caring and supportive adults.

The qualitative findings expanded the quantitative data by showing that natural mentors, like participants, are actors of critical consciousness. Similar to previous research of how racially/ethnically diverse high schoolers develop as social activists (Fullam, 2017; Tyler et al., 2020), adults in the present study served as role models by engaging in social justice and community work, shared information and resources with students about local events and opportunities related to social justice issues, and engaged in dialogue and reflection with participants. Although there were only two time points for the quantitative data, the qualitative data showed the transactional and reciprocal nature between the mentoring interactions and students’ critical consciousness.

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