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Friday, June 25, 2021
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UW-Madison studies show diversity, inclusion out of step in mentor-mentee relationships

Two new studies spearheaded by researchers from UW-Madison highlight the shortcomings of racial and ethnic diversity progress among mentorship relationships in the postsecondary Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematic and Medicine (STEMM) fields.

According to a UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health news release, an increase in opportunities for racially and ethnically diverse scholars among STEMM fields at institutions of higher education does not completely mend cultural inequality. Rather, a lack of conversation regarding racial and ethnic differences may negatively influence the relationships between mentors and their mentees.

The first of the two studies — titled “Race and ethnicity in biology research mentoring relationships” and published in the "Journal of Diversity in Higher Education" — found a lack of consensus regarding the need and place for discussion and acknowledgement of racial and cultural diversity in mentoring relationships. 

This study largely emphasizes a lack of common understanding about the impacts of race and ethnicity in mentoring relationships, as well as the importance of discussing such topics within mentor-mentee relationships. 

The second — titled “Culturally aware mentorship: Lasting impacts of a novel intervention on academic administrators and faculty” and published is "PLOS ONE" — looks at the long-term effects of culturally aware mentorship training on mentor-mentee relationships in the STEM field. 

While colleges and universities have continued to implement STEMM research experience under the guidance of mentors in STEMM fields, resulting in an increase in related opportunities for HU students and faculty, the study finds that more work must be done on the basis of inclusion and sense of belonging to benefit these individuals. 

The first study is most concerned with discussing and addressing racial and ethnic diversity within mentorship relationships, as well as the perceptions of these discussions. The study collected qualitative data by conducting interviews with 38 mentors and mentees who participated in an undergraduate biology summer research program. 

While the interviewees were aware that race and ethnicity had some impact on the mentoring relationship, some participants felt that racial and ethinic diversity was a largely separate entity with little impact within the context of related lab research. 

“They found that while mentors and mentees recognized that racial and ethnic diversity may play a role in the mentoring relationship, some perceived it as not relevant to the lab environment or to being a proficient researcher,” said UW-Madison Department of Medicine Communications Director Andrea Schmick in the news release.

UW-Madison researchers Angela Byars-Winston, Patrice Leverett, Ross J. Benbow, Christine Pfund, Nancy Thayer-Hart and Janet Branchaw also found a discrepancy in how mentors and mentees view the responsibility for initiating conversations about their cultures and backgrounds.

A few of the interviewed mentors suggested that introducing conversations about race or diversity is the mentee’s duty. Only one mentee agreed that it was a mentee’s job to bring it up. 

The researchers for this study developed an eight-hour Culturally Aware Mentorship (CAM) training program. They used their training intervention on members of three unnamed universities or institutions and conducted interviews 18-24 months after the training to look at the long-term impacts of the program. 

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The interviews found that the CAM curriculum was able to foster introspective thinking about cultural and racial diversity among participants as well as “deep, empathic learning between participants,” according to the study write-up. 

Their findings also suggest that the training fostered behavioral change for the mentors, in both their mentorship roles as well as in their relationships with peers. It also found that those who had completed CAM training encouraged the training for their institutions and felt more empowered to take action when peers did not provide valuable mentorship to individuals of marginalized groups. 

The results of these two studies indicate ways in which mentors discuss and address ethnic and racial diversity in their roles, as well as the ways they engage with their mentees who are members of historically underrepresented groups. 

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