Natural mentoring among college students of color: New study explores the role of ethnic-racial identity and psychological well-being

Garcia-Murillo, Y., Sánchez, B., Carter, J. S., McMahon, S. D., & Schwartz, S. E. (2023). Natural mentoring among college students of color: Considerations for their ethnic-racial identity and psychological well-being. Journal of Community Psychology.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • College students of color in predominately White institutions (PWIs) have poorer graduation and retention rates than their White peers.
  • While there is evidence demonstrating the positive impact mentoring has on underrepresented youths, there’s a lack of research that assesses the mechanisms of how mentoring promotes the psychological well-being of students of color.
  • Given how positive ethnic-racial identity (ERI) can promote psychological outcomes, this study evaluates the relationships between mentor-mentee ethnic-racial similarity, ethnic/racial private regard*, mentor support for ethnic-racial identity (ERI), and psychological outcomes of college students of color in PWIs.
  • More support for ERI correlated with higher self-esteem and private regard.
  • Higher ethnic-racial similarity correlated with higher self-esteem and psychological distress.
    • It’s possible that a) students of color who endured more psychological distress turned to similar ethnicity-race mentors for support or b) mentors noticed their mentees struggling to cope and offered support.
  • There was an indirect effect between ethnic-racial similarity, ERI support, and psychological well-being via private regard.
  • Mentees who appreciated having mentors with a shared identity correlated with higher ethnic-racial similarity and mentor support for ERI.
  • ERI functions as a mechanism where support for ERI and ethnicity-race similarity promotes the psychological well-being of students of color.
  • Receiving support targeted at their ERI and having relatable, similar ethnicity-race mentors can encourage students of color to adopt positive perceptions about their ethnic-racial group.
  • Faculty and staff members need to think about the messages they are giving to their students through policies and interactions. Attending professional development workshops and other training can guide mentors in promoting ERI and making students of color feel more represented and welcomed.

* = Private regard refers to an individual’s pride, affirmation, positive affect, or group esteem towards their ethnic-racial group.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This study examined: (a) the roles of ethnic-racial similarity between mentors and mentees and mentors’ support for ethnic-racial identity (ERI) in mentees’ ERI private regard, (b) the roles of ethnic-racial similarity and ERI support in mentees’ psychological well-being, and (c) the indirect effects of ethnic-racial similarity and ERI support on psychological well-being via private regard. Participants were 231 college students of color who completed a survey and reported having a natural mentor. Path analyses were conducted to test the hypothesized model. More support for ERI was significantly associated with higher private regard and higher self-esteem. Higher ethnic-racial similarity was significantly related to higher psychological distress and higher self-esteem. An indirect effect was found between ERI support and ethnic-racial similarity and psychological well-being via private regard. The findings fill a gap in the literature on ethnic-racial processes in mentoring critical to the development of college students of color.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The aims of this study were to investigate the roles of ethnic-racial similarity between natural mentors and college students of color and mentors’ support for students’ ERI and psychological well-being. College students of color at PWIs have lower retention and graduation rates compared to White students (Liverman, 2018), which is likely due to the unique challenges and systemic barriers that students of color experience, particularly around racism and other race-related stressors (Banks & Dohy, 2019; Cokley et al., 2013; Torres-Harding et al., 2020). We examined ERI given its importance in promoting positive developmental outcomes, particularly psychological well-being, in adolescents and young adults of color (Rivas-Drake et al., 2014a; Velez et al., 2019). Furthermore, we tested an understudied process in Rhodes et al.,s’ (2005) youth mentoring model, specifically identity development as an important mechanism between mentoring and youth outcomes. One of the ways that natural mentors may help to promote the psychological well-being of students of color at PWIs is by facilitating their ERI development.

In line with researchers’ suggestion to investigate the effect of similar ethnicity-race mentors on culturally relevant outcomes (Hoffman et al., 2018), the current study investigated the role of ethnic-racial similarity in ERI and then went a step further by examining the role of this similarity in psychological well-being. Natural mentoring is likely to be composed of same ethnicity-race relationships given that these relationships develop organically within one’s social networks (Sánchez et al., 2014). Surprisingly, we did not find a significant association between ethnic-racial similarity and private regard, but it was trending towards significance (p = 0.10). It is unknown how salient their ethnicity-race was to study participants, which might influence the association between having a shared identity and mentees’ positive views about their ethnic-racial group. Another possibility is that the actions of the similar identity mentor are more important than simply having the same ethnicity-race in promoting a positive ERI in young people. It seems that taking proactive steps to promote the ERI of students of color, as described below, may be more important. Regardless, having a more similar ethnicity-race with the mentor was significantly and positively associated with self-esteem. Social identity theorists have explained that individuals are motivated to view their in-group members favorably which then further promotes a positive sense of self (Verkuyten, 2016). Given that mentees look up to their natural mentors, having a mentor who is more similar to emerging adults of color in their ethnicity-race was important to their self-esteem.

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