The Power of Identity: An Interview with Doctoral Candidate Yesenia Garcia-Murillo

Doctoral Candidate and researcher in community psychology, Yesenia Garcia-Murillo, recently published a study on natural mentoring among college students of color and considerations for their ethnic-racial identity and psychological well-being. Our Assistant Director, Megyn Jasman, sat down with Yesenia to discuss the findings and recommendations for supporting students of color.

Megyn: It’s fascinating to see how ethnic-racial similarity and mentor support for ethnic-racial identity can influence the psychological well-being of college students of color. Can you tell me more about why you chose to focus on these specific factors and how you believe they play a role in shaping the experiences of students of color in predominantly White institutions?

Yesenia: I chose to look at ethnic-racial similarity and mentor support for ethnic-racial identity because of what I have observed and experienced first-hand in higher education as a student of color. I have mentors with whom I share an ethnic-racial background and mentors with whom I don’t. Across all mentors in my life, they have supported me and advocated for me in different spaces, regardless of race. At this same time, I began exploring what it meant to have a strong ethnic-racial identity and how mentoring could cater to that, given the many benefits associated with a strong ethnic-racial identity. I wanted to explore this amongst college students of color who often find themselves navigating predominantly White institutions of higher education and not always surrounded by faculty that look like them or understand their background. This study showed us that ethnic-racial identity is a potential avenue to promoting psychological well-being for students of color and about the role of mentoring dynamics in this relationship. I believe that if institutions better cater to this piece of students’ identity through campus opportunities, exposure to diversity, hiring diverse staff/faculty and providing professional development trainings, the overall college experience for students of color and the one-on-one interactions with staff and faculty could be improved. 

Megyn: The findings of your study highlight the importance of mentor support for ethnic-racial identity and its indirect effects on psychological well-being through private regard. Are there any mentor behaviors that are particularly impactful in promoting positive ethnic-racial identity among college students?

Yesenia: There are many ways that a mentor can promote a positive ethnic-racial identity among college students of color. I believe conversations and genuine interest around this part of a students’ identity are always helpful. Having a mentor that is aware of and tries to understand a student’s ethnic-racial identity can go a long way. Depending on the context of this relationship, promoting diversity or providing diverse opportunities are other potential avenues. For example, in a research lab, having diversity in the research team can be helpful in not making a student feel isolated as the only person of color. In a classroom or department, guest speakers from students’ ethnic-racial background can be effective in promoting representation and diverse voices in those spaces.

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.