Profiles in Mentoring: Professor Kristian Jones discusses his new study on mentoring Black youth

The Chronicle is delighted to highlight the wonderful new study by Professor Kristian Jones and his colleagues. Professor Jones is an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Washington. His research examines how youth mentoring promotes the positive outcomes for Black youth, prevent detrimental outcomes, and promote social justice.

Jones, K., Parra-Cardona, R., Sánchez, B., Vohra-Gupta, S., & Franklin, C. (2023). Motivations, program support, and personal growth: Mentors perspectives on the reciprocal benefits of cross-racial mentoring relationships with black youth. Children and Youth Services Review, 150, 106996

Jean Rhodes (JR): Your study found that mentors experienced significant personal growth from their cross-racial mentoring relationships, such as increased social awareness and improved communication skills. What advice would you give to mentoring programs to help facilitate these growth opportunities for mentors while also ensuring the mentoring experience remains focused on positive youth development?

Kristian Jones (KJ): My advice to mentoring programs would be to offer support to mentors throughout the relationship as they grapple with different concepts (e.g., the school to prison pipeline, White privilege, classism, etc.) they previously had not critically thought about addressing before mentoring a young person with a minortized identity. Many of the mentors I interviewed expressed their program was excellent in providing support in the beginning of the match, and similar types of support would have been incredibly helpful as they grappled with what to do with this newfound social awareness later on in the mentoring relationship.

JR: Many mentors expressed needing more ongoing training and support from programs to have productive conversations about race, culture, and social issues with their mentees. What are some specific strategies programs could implement to better prepare and equip mentors for addressing these important topics throughout the mentoring relationship?

KJ: There are a few different strategies programs could utilize. If the program is well-resourced, the program could provide thorough trainings on anti-racism and/or mentoring with a social justice lens, (e.g., the type of mentoring described in Dr. Torie Weiston Serdan’s book Critical Mentoring) throughout the mentoring relationship. If the program does not have the resources to provide intensive trainings throughout the duration of the mentoring relationship, they can hold space for mentors to process social justice issues as they come up in the relationship with both program staff and other mentors grappling with similar issues in their relationships.

JR: The findings highlighted the value mentors placed on being exposed to their mentees’ families, communities, and cultural wealth. How can mentoring programs actively work to bridge this gap between mentors and mentees’ backgrounds? What role could community partners, advisory boards with diverse representation, or other stakeholders play in this process?

KJ: In my opinion, the number one way mentoring programs can bridge the gap between mentors and mentees’ backgrounds is to be intentional about connecting with important people in the young person’s life and viewing the mentee’s social network from a Community Cultural Wealth Model lens (i.e., Dr. Tara J. Yoso’s 2006 article on Community Cultural Wealth Model is a great read for this topic). Specifically, mentoring programs and mentors have to check their biases and be able to identify the different strengths and talents of the individuals in the young person’s social network and work with them to create a village of support for the young person. Lastly, community partners could play a huge role in helping the mentoring program by providing their lived experiences, knowledge of the community, and ideas on how to create the most supportive environment for young people to thrive.