Critical Mentoring: A Definition and Agenda

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In 2005, Sanchez and Colon-Torres explained that:

“Despite evidence that race and ethnicity plays an important role in mentoring relationships, there are limited research-based guidelines in the practice field regarding how race/ethnicity should be considered. Some of the most important resources in the field, such as Elements of Effective Practice (MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, 2009a), pay little attention to the role of race and ethnicity in mentoring programs.

One of the reasons there are very few “research-based guidelines” for practice, is that there is very little mentoring research focusing, at least in critical ways, on race and ethnicity. Mentoring research and practice, while utilizing race, ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality for marketing and surface exploration, does not give these issues the critical examination they deserve. In fact, much of the mentoring research focuses on the nature of relationships, outcomes of the relationships and evaluation metrics bent on justifying the existence of mentoring programs to begin with. As a result of this limited focus, many questions and issues around race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality, especially those we are most uncomfortable with, go unexplored. Why has the face of mentoring been predominately white, showcasing white mentors with protégés of color? Why has mentoring rested on deficit based notions of communities and kids of color? How does that pathology influence what youth are likely to engage in those relationships, who they expect to mentor them and what they expect from that mentor? Are naturally occurring mentoring relationships, which the research suggests are harder to track, due to this pathology, at least in part? How do program goals, as measured by evaluation metrics, serve the needs of the community, not just the needs of the funders? And so on… Critical mentoring seeks to move mentoring research and praxis into a larger discourse around the critical examination of race, ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality as they pertain to mentoring. Critical mentoring challenges deficit-based notions of protégés, limited metrics that ignore meta-narratives and protégé adaptation to dominant ideologies. Furthermore, critical mentoring seeks to engage both the mentor and the protégé in processes that trigger critical consciousness and an ongoing and joint struggle for transformation. A Critical Mentoring Agenda includes the following:


  1. Mentoring that fully considers race, ethnicity, gender, class and sexuality when building the infrastructure for programs. Including programmatic structure, recruiting of mentors, training of mentors, support of mentoring relationships, mentoring activities and finally, target outcomes
  2. Mentoring that is focused on critical consciousness and transformation rather than assimilation and adaptation
  3. Mentoring that places emphasis on the whole community, the whole protégé, rather than just parts of the whole
  4. Mentoring that includes, from its very inception, the needs of the community and the needs of the youth in the community (not about us without us)
  5. Mentoring that promotes and supports mentor/protégé partnerships for community transformation


  1. Mentoring research that utilizes critical frameworks; i.e. critical race theory, critical pedagogy, etc. for the analysis of mentoring relationships, mentoring outcomes, programmatic structures and outcomes, etc.
  2. Mentoring evaluation that moves beyond standard evaluative strategy and utilizes evaluative strategy that empowers the protégés and highlights programmatic outcomes beyond statistical ones. For example, empowerment evaluation, photovoice, etc.
  3. The full recognition of naturally occurring mentoring relationships as well as structures to “harness” and study them
  4. Challenging the mentoring meta-narrative with new and critical forms of research

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