How Mentoring Can Shift from “Beating the Odds” to Changing the Odds

By Jean Rhodes
In an important new Annual Review of Clinical Psychology article, UVA Professor Noelle Hurd, describes how mentors can help ethnically marginalized youth can derive positive developmental outcomes while also working with their mentees to create a more just and equitable society.

As Hurd notes, much of the theorizing and research on natural mentoring (including my own) has not sufficiently appreciated how racism and other forms of oppression drive inequality. Instead, they have been overly focused on individual resilience. What’s lost in this analysis is the toll that oppression takes on marginalized youth efforts. These models have tended to focus on

  • Connections to resources outside of one’s community of origin (as opposed to connections within communities),
  • Overcoming adversity and beating the odds (as opposed to changing the odds by improving society).

As an alternative Hurd presents a race-conscious model that is centered around adult-youth partnerships and urges us to consider social change as an important end goal of strong natural mentoring relationships.

In her own words, Hurd summarizes the main points of the review as follows:

  1. “Racism and all other forms of oppression pose a dire risk to the potential for positive and healthy development among racially and ethnically marginalized youth.
  2. Though resilience has been well theorized and documented among racially and ethni- cally marginalized youth, recent research has highlighted the limitations of emphasizing individual solutions to structural problems.
  3. Positive youth development (PYD) is a useful framework for conceptualizing thriving among racially and ethnically marginalized youth; however, the PYD framework needs to be expanded to more robustly contend with the roles of power and oppression in shaping racially and ethnically marginalized youths’ experiences and outcomes.
  4. Collective antiracist action may hold the greatest promise of all available interventions to facilitate thriving among current and future generations of racially and ethnically marginalized youth
  5. Supportive adults from youths’ preexisting social networks (i.e., natural mentors) have an important role to play in encouraging and nurturing youths’ involvement in collective antiracist action.
  6. The creation of a more just and equitable society contributes to positive development among racially and ethnically marginalized youth.”
This is a particularly important framework, as it incorporates both individual thriving with the creation of fairer, more equitable world that supports the success of all youth.