Transformative Mentorship for Women of Color

Have you ever engaged in a mentorship relationship that transformed over time to meet your current needs as your personal and professional roles evolved and grew? For the three of us, Kim McAloney, Jenesis Long, and Janet Nishihara, we recognized that we had indeed engaged in a mentorship relationship that continued to transform and evolve. This blog details the research project we conducted on the mentorship experiences we, as three women of color at a predominantly white institutions (PWI) have co-created, that feel unique and different than the typical ‘mentorship’ we had heard of. Each of our relationships developed as a part of our academic and professional journey to the field of student affairs through programs such as NASPA’s Undergraduate Fellow Program (NUFP), OSU’s College Student Services Administration graduate program, and OSU’s Educational Opportunities Program (EOP). Our relationships have sustained for a collective 19 years: six years between Kim and Jenesis, nine years between Kim and Janet, and four years between Janet and Jenesis. This topic is relevant to OWHE because it highlights a valuable opportunity for folks to engage in meaningful relationship building to achieve growth, validation and increased work productivity and provides a model to view current and future relationship through.

We wanted to dig deeper to find what was it about the way we related to each other that made our multi-generational mentorship relationships so impactful - so we completed a duoethnography research study where we answered 3 questions related to our mentorship relationships in an effort to define our relationships, because we wanted to know - is mentorship even the right word?

The three questions that guided our research:

  • What is mentorship?
  • How have our relationships developed?
  • What impact have our relationships had on our lives (career and personal)?

Then, we analyzed our qualitative responses and developed this model of transformational mentorship for women of color. Below is the model and its description.

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Description of the model: This is our model of transformational mentorship for women of color. It describes three aspects of our mentorship that we discovered through our research- who, how, and why - that we believe is what makes it so impactful.

On the first layer of who, you see 3 shared attributes: acknowledge power, shared identity, and desire for growth. A willingness and ability to acknowledge power has impacted our relationships by providing space to evaluate our experiences as individuals in a way that situates that experience in the systems of oppression that uphold many of the day-to-day encounters we have. Our shared identity as women of color, educators, and being from a low-income background has impacted our relationships because of the shared questions and concerns that arise for us as we navigate shifts in our professional and personal roles. For example, we regularly have discussed the dynamic of shifting socio-economic class as we have advanced in our career and the impact that has on our ways of viewing ourselves and relating to those closest to us. Additionally, a specific value we each hold is a shared desire for growth. This is evident by our pursuit of knowledge, interest in serving as educators, and in this research project. A shared desire for growth has impacted our relationship because it has kept us engaged, humble, and honest about the areas in which we need support and want to develop in. In short, these foundational attributes of the “who” section are what we feel has allowed our relationships to achieve the depth and complexity that it has.

In the second layer of how, you see 3 approaches we use to connecting in our relationships: reciprocity, reflection, and resistance to connect. Reciprocity shows up in our relationships through authenticity, investment, and trust. Together, we need to show up as our whole selves and be invested in the relationship - both of which build trust together. It is through these actions that reciprocity in our relationship is built and maintained allowing the experience to be beneficial to all parties. Reflection is a foundational way for us to connect with one another’s experiences through our shared identity and caucusing as well as through our desire for growth.  Reflecting is both a tool used in and a function of the relationships. Resistance to systems of oppression requires us to acknowledge our identity within the academy that was not built for us and our desire to do our work well and with intentionality. The resistance space continues to be a way for us to support one another’s efforts, and encourage larger impact and change for those who will come after us. It is through reciprocity, reflection, and resistance that our relationships get stronger and that produces why we keep engaging.

On the top layer of the model, you see why we continue to engage in these mentorship relationships, or what meaningful outcomes we identified as being created by our relationships: growth, validation and increased work productivity. Throughout our research we each acknowledged the growth we had experienced as a result of our relationships. We recognized growth in both personal and professional areas of our lives over time as our relationship deepended and evolved, which included new ways of thinking and behaving. Another outcome of our relationships is a source of validation in our understanding of the world, our experiences, and ourselves. Particularly, this validation provided support when navigating imposter syndrome, toxic relationships, and bureaucracy within our PWI. We also share similar missions for our work and thus our connections have increased our work productivity to engage in meaningful and productive work projects. A strong example of this would be our shared research project that has resulted in this model and related presentations and publications. Through the nature of our relationship, we are regularly challenging and supporting one another to continue to use our skills and talents to further work we are passionate about.

The entire model is created of multiple, connected circles to emulate the ever growing, cyclical nature of our continually developing relationships. We provide this model as a way to analyze current mentorship relationships and encourage others to consider the complexity of mentorship relationships when establishing them by considering who is engaging, how they are engaging, and why the relationships is built.

If you are interested in exploring your understanding and experiences with mentorship, we invite you to consider the following questions:

  • Do you engage in mentorship?
  • Who have you mentored?
  • Who has mentored you?
  • What does mentorship mean to you?


Jenesis Rose Long and Kim McAloney are Academic Counselors at Oregon State University and can be reached via email at and

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