As women in student affairs fields, our journey through higher education can be different depending on location, circumstances, and support. With student affairs being a female dominant field, it would appear that there is clear female to female mentoring across the levels. Looking up the ranks of student affairs, however, it appears more men tend to dominate the higher level leadership positions both within the field as well as within associations. There is nothing wrong with having male to female mentor relationships; they can just be as strong and successful mentorships as female to female. But what does this look like? Is it different? How can women empower men to mentor and assist us on our student affairs pathway?
We all use theory when talking to students as well as challenge and support application, so why not with each other? As we network and create relationships/mentorships why not apply the same theories to each other? Once we do this, we become investors into each other’s professional development. Building this knowledge into the mentorship can lead to empowering each other. Women also need to remember to challenge themselves and find the mentor they want and have a conversation about it. Tell them you would like them to be your mentor. Communicate with your mentor how you would like your relationship to develop. If your mentor knows someone you want to meet, tell them! We also need to be our authentic selves when building these relationships.
One of the first steps when building mentorships with any gender is being authentic. When there is authenticity from both sides, there is support. Practice active listening, don’t assume but question where the thoughts come from. As a woman in a male-female mentorship, don’t assume I am simply being an “emotional woman” when talking, but take the time to learn about my challenges and challenge and support me. If you think I am not seeing a side, show me that side. As women, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and talk about our moments throughout the day. Authenticity is an important part of our journeys in student affairs, without it we are not recognizing theory development or challenging and support each other.
Having a male mentor can be a great experience. Tell them your hopes and expectations of the relationship including your own student affairs journey expectations. Allow them to connect you to resources and seek out other relationships through the relationship with your mentor. Be an active participant if you are a mentee or a mentor.
If you are being authentic and having open communication there is no difference among mentorship between genders. However, we as women must be mindful of the sometimes challenging tracks of women Senior Student Affairs Officers and reach out, either through our mentor or on our own, to the women we respect in those positions to discover their journey and challenges. Encourage the male mentors to assist you in having those conversations, for there are some amazing women Senior Student Affairs Officers out there. But the key in all mentoring relationship is to be authentic. Allow authenticity to ground the experience.
Tara Leigh Sands is employed at Delaware Valley College as the Coordinator for Greek and Commuter Life where she advises fraternal organizations and commuter students. Tara Leigh is a doctoral student of Educational Leadership-Higher Education at the Warner School of Education, University of Rochester. Her dissertation examines the success of reverse transfer students at community colleges through a non-deficit perspective. She has been part of a research team examining Indigenous college students’ experiences.. She serves as the Region 2 Indigenous Knowledge Community Representative for NASPA as well as a Co-Chair for the New Professionals and Graduate Students Preconference with NASPA Region 2.