Mindfulness practices as a transformative approach for college student mentors in confronting their power and privilege
WORKSHOP LED BY BETH S. CATLETT, BERNADETTE SÁNCHEZ & LIDIA Y. MONJARAS-GAYTAN
Beth Catlett is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at DePaul University, and co-founderand Director of the Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender, and Community that specializes in community-based research involving gendered violence and social movements to create community change. Her areas of scholarly interest include youth leadership and activism, community-based articipatory action research, violence in intimate relationships, and the uses of contemplative practices to inspire social justice. Her research has been published in numerous books and journals including Violence Against Women, Men & Masculinities, American Journal of Community Psychology, and Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning. Dr. Catlett also co-edited, with Dr. Michele Morano, Write Your Heart Out: Chicagoland Teens on Relationships: An Interactive Anthology.
Dr. Bernadette Sánchez conducts research on mentoring relationships and positive youth development among urban, low-income adolescents of color. Her research is on the role of formal and informal mentoring relationships in youth’s educational experiences. Bernadette also investigates the resilience of marginalized youth and issues related to race and ethnicity, such as racial discrimination and racial/ethnic identity. She has published extensively on the role of cultural processes in volunteer mentoring relationships, particularly in the context of natural mentoring as well as mentoring across different races, ethnicities, or cultures.
Lidia Monjaras-Gaytan is a third-year doctoral student in DePaul’s Community Psychology program. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from San Diego State University and completed her Master’s Degree in Community Psychology at DePaul University. Her research interests include: mentoring, social capital, resilience, critical consciousness and educational experiences of ethnic minority youth and first-generation students.
Mentoring can be delivered to the community through service-learning courses, in which college students serve as mentors to children and adolescents in the community. Service learning combines academic coursework with civic engagement and personal growth, engaging students in volunteer roles or projects in community settings, and also reflecting on their experiences within the context of scholarly work in the university classroom (Mitchell, 2007). Service learning and mentoring, as pedagogical approaches, have been criticized as lacking a critical theoretical lens as well as presenting the potential to reproduce rather than reduce structural inequalities (Albright et al., 2017; Catlett & Proweller, 2011; Green, 2001; Mitchell, 2008; Weiston-Serdan, 2017). The traditional models in each field too often rely on a false understanding of need, placing the focus on individuals and on mitigating individual deficits, without attending to complex dominant socio-political systems that, on a societal level, impact entire communities and rob individuals of access and opportunity. Moreover, implementation of conventional models come with significant, if subtle, risks that privilege those doing the mentoring/service learning relative to those being served. Thus, we argue that college student mentors in service-learning courses must engage in critical reflection of power, privilege, oppression and systemic inequalities in order to enhance their own critical consciousness and ultimately help to influence social change.
The majority of students in service-learning courses are white and middle-class, and they typically are placed in service activities in lower-income communities of color (Green, 2001). These core demographics create the potential for service learning to reinforce systems of privilege if students/mentors are not given the opportunity to critically reflect on their service/mentoring work. Centering the service learning relationship in power, privilege, and critical theoretical frameworks has the potential to strengthen students’ mentoring work.
Illuminating systems of power and privilege often involves destabilizing experiences for students (King, 2004). Therefore, the aim of this workshop is to explore the uses of mindfulness practices such as yoga, meditation, and journaling to help deepen students’ self-awareness at an embodied level. Using such practices has the potential to help students develop the ability to respond to disquieting reactions with steadiness and compassion (Berila, 2016).
Participants in our workshop will have the opportunity to explore a case study based on our program, Take Back the Halls: Ending Violence in Relationships and Schools, in which college student mentors facilitate a dating violence, community activism program with high school students in urban, low-income communities of color. The workshop will incorporate mindfulness strategies, such as yoga, meditation, and journaling, to inform discussion of: (1) how student mentors can best use mindfulness approaches to cultivate characteristics of openness, equanimity and compassion; (2) how mindfulness practices can support students as they examine their situatedness in systems of power, privilege, and oppression; and (3) how college student mentor experiences with mindfulness practices hold the potential to enliven their mentoring work with urban youth in uniquely positive ways.