New study explores the effects of white mentors’ beliefs about discrimination

Simpson, S. B., Hsu, T., & Raposa, E. B. (2023). Trajectories and impact of White mentors’ beliefs about racial and ethnic discrimination in a formal youth mentoring program. American Journal of Community Psychology.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Evidence indicates that American mentoring programs are more accessible and less stigmatizing for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color).
  • Despite the prevalence of BIPOC youth pursuing mentoring services in America, most program mentors are White.
  • There is a lack of research that explores mentors’ perceptions about race & ethnicity, how these attitudes shift over time, and whether mentors account for how race impacts their relationships with their mentees.
  • This study evaluates White mentors’ beliefs about how discrimination affects BIPOC mentees and how they, in turn, influence mentoring outcomes.
  • White mentors paired with BIPOC mentees experienced more increases in the belief that discrimination restricts opportunities for Black Americans.
  • Although stronger beliefs on how discrimination restricts opportunities for Black and Hispanic Americans can reduce stress for White mentor-White mentee dyads, it can increase for White mentor-BIPOC mentee pairs.
  • These findings demonstrate that a mentee’s race can partially influence the relationship between mentor attitudes and several mentoring outcomes.
  • The trajectories of mentors’ racial biases can change and predict mentoring relationship quality.
    • Exposure to BIPOC mentees can promote mentors’ awareness of different social issues and their own privileges.
  • Discrimination against certain racial groups, like Asians, might be harder for White mentors to detect because of stereotypes (e.g., Asians are model minorities).
  • It is essential for mentoring programs to examine and address racial bias among their mentors if they want to reduce the risks of inflicting harm on mentees.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

To examine associations between White mentors’ beliefs regarding the presence of discrimination towards Black, Indigenous, and people of Color (BIPOC) individuals and mentoring relationship outcomes, mentors’ beliefs about racial/ethnic discrimination were assessed before random mentee assignment and at the end of 9 months of mentoring. White mentors matched with BIPOC youth showed greater increases in beliefs that discrimination limits opportunities for Black Americans. Stronger endorsement of the impacts of discrimination for Hispanic Americans resulted in less youth relationship anxiety when White mentors were matched with White mentees, but not when they were matched with BIPOC mentees. Last, greater increases in beliefs that discrimination limits opportunities for Black Americans resulted in less relationship anxiety for White mentors matched with White mentees, but more relationship anxiety for those matched with BIPOC mentees. Programs should assess and address mentors’ racial biases to minimize harm and augment the impact of mentoring programs for all youth.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The current study examined the presence and impact of White mentors’ beliefs about racial/ethnic discrimination limiting opportunities for certain groups within the United States. Findings suggested that White mentors matched with BIPOC youth showed a greater appreciation than White mentors matched with White youth for the role of discrimination in the lives of Black Americans after one year in their mentoring relationship. Moreover, the relationships between mentor attitudes and some relationship outcomes seemed to depend, in part, on whether their mentee identified as White or BIPOC. Specifically, White mentors’ beliefs regarding discrimination against Hispanic American and Black American individuals differentially affected mentoring relationship outcomes depending on whether their mentees were BIPOC or White.

To our knowledge, this is the first study to use a rigorous, randomized matching procedure to examine White mentors’ beliefs about the impact that discrimination has within the lives of non-White racial/ethnic groups. This is an area of growing concern given the significant demographic mismatches in large youth mentoring programs across the United States, with most volunteer mentors holding racial privileges that mentees do not (Raposa et al., 2017). Previous research has largely focused on exploring youth benefits from same-race versus different-race matches in formal youth mentoring programs, and has yielded mixed findings (e.g., DuBois et al., 2002; Rhodes et al., 2002). The current study aimed to resolve some of the ambiguity of previous findings by directly assessing White mentors’ awareness of the ways that racial/ethnic discrimination limits opportunities for certain groups of people in the United Statesat multiple timepoints, and by employing a rigorous design with random assignment of a large number of youth to mentors. This design leads to a more precise test of mentor attitudes by reducing the confounding influence of other youth and mentor characteristics that may play a role in mentoring programs’ typical matching procedures.

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