Profiles in Mentoring: Professor Janelle S. Peifer discusses her new study on the impact of mentor cultural empathy on the mentoring relationship

The Chronicle is delighted to highlight an exciting new study by Professor Janelle S. Peifer and her colleagues. Dr. Janelle S. Peifer is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Richmond. Her research examines college student development with a focus on questions of identity, intercultural competence, and mental health with a focus on complex trauma. As a licensed clinical psychologist she founded and leads The Center for Inclusive Therapy + Wellness.

Peifer, J. S., Lawrence, E. C., Williams, J. L., & Leyton-Armakan, J. (2016). The culture of mentoring: Ethnocultural empathy and ethnic identity in mentoring for minority girls. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 22(3), 440-6.

Jean Rhodes (JR): What initially sparked your interest in exploring ethnic identity, empathy and mentoring relationships?

Janelle Peifer (JP): I became interested in these questions through my lived experience as a facilitator with the Young Women Leaders Program (YWLP) at the University of Virginia. Through YWLP, I saw firsthand how the mentoring relationship shaped mentors and mentees in powerful ways. The reciprocal dynamic in mentoring plays such a pivotal role in helping us better understand ourselves and others. Given the prevalence of cross-cultural mentoring, I believed in the importance of considering the variables that support or inhibit effective connection across difference.

JR: In your view, what are the key implications of the finding that mentors’ ethnic identity exploration/commitment predicted minority group mentees’ ethnic identity exploration (as shown in Table 3)?

JP: Know thyself. To me, the finding linking mentor’s ethnocultural empathy and ethnic identity with mentee’s ethnic identity exploration highlights the importance of self-knowledge in intercultural exchange. Mentors who demonstrate greater exploration of and commitment to their own ethnic identity may model and create a safe environment where mentee’s feel empowered to explore their own ethnic identities.

JR: The study concludes by stating, “Ethnic identity formation may have particular significance because of EI’s association with well-being and buffering the negative effects of discrimination (Ong, Phinney, & Dennis, 2006).” Can you elaborate on what you mean by that in terms of the implications for youth mentoring programs and their impact?

JP: In my work, I focus on strengths and asset-based approach to considering issues of justice, equity, and inclusion. We know that racism and other forms of discrimination contributes to myriad physical, psychological, and social ills (Dover, Hunger, & Major, 2020). With that in mind, it’s critical for youth mentoring programs to consider antidotes and inoculations that help protect young people from those negative outcomes (Anderson, Heard-Garris, and DeLapp, 2021). Ethnic identity exploration and other forms of cultural and racial socialization are protective (Anderson, & Stevenson, 2019). To do this, mentoring programs can integrate practices that help mentors and mentees explore their racial and cultural identity, develop cultural pride and knowledge, and exchange with each other about their ethnic and racial identities.