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My perspective on mentoring reflects the lessons I learned from my home in Comanche County, Oklahoma. I attended a very small school with a group of diverse students, and there were nineteen of us in my graduating class. My best teachers were mentors who emphasized how to learn rather than simply what to learn. That approach was reinforced outside the school by my parents and many of the elders in our village. Despite the fact that only a few of the students would be able to attend college, the mentors challenged us to go far beyond memorization, to think critically, yet kindly. Now, I realize they were teaching me the ‘real’ Socratic Method, not the authoritarian one popularized in the movies. At the risk of presenting a cliché, I focus on helping my doctoral students develop important and difficult questions instead of providing answers to easy or obvious questions. My objective is to develop inquiring, probing minds by systematically examining the elements of reasoning in a critical and self assessing way, as well as considering the logical relationships that can emerge from disciplined thought. We also search for challenging and creative paths to comprehend complex intellectual matters. To paraphrase Socrates: I want my doctoral students to see what is behind their questions, inspire them by means of ideas they already know at some level, point to related research, and persuade my students to discover important things of which they thought they had no knowledge. My mentoring based on this philosophy strives to reach a wide range of students, from doctoral students who often struggle to pass their comprehensive examinations, to those students who excel and have a deep desire to go beyond the standard requirements.
In the 1980s, I came to ASU to help create our doctoral and law program in justice studies, law and the social sciences. We created an interdisciplinary program in the 1980s, and we also established a joint doctoral and law degree. Obviously, the Ph.D. /J.D. path is exciting, yet difficult, because it requires a special type of mentoring. Moreover, one of my first doctoral students from China experienced some unfortunate instances of prejudice, and, more recently, one of my students who is deaf encountered similar problems. Both of them overcame the prejudices with compassion, yet firm stances. As Anthony Robles, our ASU NCAA wrestling champion who was born without one leg, the two former students also do not accept the label of disabled and treat ostensible disabilities as another form of diversity. The Chinese doctoral student became the Dean of Peking Law School in Beijing; and the deaf student already is making great strides at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. These are simply two examples of the blessings I have received for working with many talented, sensitive, and dedicated doctoral students.
In general, I examine critical and comparative literature while teaching, listening and responding to doctoral students and colleagues who provide new and thoughtful ways of learning. Specifically, my mentoring focuses on: (1) teaching as a student/teacher realizing that students become more involved in a collective enterprise; (2) giving students detailed responses to their oral and written presentations; (3) being receptive to collective research and publishing with them when it is appropriate ; (4) assisting students in finding support for their projects; (5) seeking funding opportunities from relevant sources; (6) encouraging them to take advantage of diverse intellectual resources; and (7) providing systematic agendas for collaborative service ventures. I employ these seven methods to improve my seminars and my mentoring.
It is a practice of mine to also emphasize the deep connections among research, teaching and service by: (1) deepening the development of critical, historically grounded and compassionate thinking; 2) expanding the cultural diversity, global awareness, and sensitivity components of my presentations and the interactions among my students; (3) increasing our understanding of the changing knowledge within the world; (4) developing further the capacity for self-directed learning and service; (5) expanding opportunities for cooperative learning; (6) deepening the basic appreciation for research related service and learning; and (7) helping my students find opportunities where they can apply their creative energies. I continue to work with them to transform their knowledge into good sense with the ability to use constructive critical thought. Since my role as a mentor is a lifelong experience, I will continue to refine my methods of teaching and mentoring.
In more substantive terms, my students and I explore more fully the alternative ways in which historically marginalized peoples have come to define the concepts of justice and injustice; how such peoples have fared in utilizing various means to attain justice; and we continue our analysis of the role of teaching and research surrounding class, racialization, ethnicity, and gender in shaping conceptions of what is just or unjust. Our collective work includes the illumination of the continuing struggles for equality and power among those who remain marginalized in the new world (dis)order, and reasonable alternatives for change. I direct a significant part of my teaching contributions to examining how this dialectical tension will be reconciled in the new millennium. We review alternative approaches to the present scheme that divides teaching, service and research into three artificial areas, which often leads to contradictory results. Important mentoring and teaching, for example, can be fruitfully informed by thoughtful service and cutting edge research. And, creative instances of teaching often emerge in the hallways of our university, on our campus sidewalks, and throughout the streets of our cities and towns.
Our collective efforts also require me to be aware and sensitive to their progress. Letters of reference are critical for my students at many stages of their development, including requests for funding, awards, grants, their initial jobs, and promotions. Here at ASU, my students have noted the importance of the Graduate College’s Preparing Future Faculty Program, which also has helped us with related opportunities from major professional organizations. The Program also provides us with more information regarding relevant work such as reviewing academic manuscripts and research proposals. We also invite graduate students and colleagues from other institutions to come to ASU to exchange ideas on related research.
My doctoral and law students examine the tensions between marginalized peoples and globalization, which is not merely an issue for academic consideration in the new millennium. It has serious implications for the lives of people in the world who are caught at the crossroads of these conflicting trends, especially people in their struggles for self-determination, equity, and justice. My involvement, for example, includes the sponsorship and guidance of my students’ work on restoration as alternatives to criminal sanctions on and off American Indian Reservations, projects on homelessness and self-determination, problems in minority communities in rural and urban areas, and prejudice related to the vast dimensions of disability, and research related to the sources of terrorism versus leadership. My perspective is that teaching includes disseminating research from scholars and effective service (as in teaching and learning with the community), and that research is informed by first-rate teaching. Mentoring, teaching and research are informed fundamentally by related service. We amplify the symbiotic nature of the activities, and search for how each can become a catalyst rather than a catharsis. I find joy in working with diverse students who are interested in learning deeply, who search behind privileged facades, and who remain committed to trying to help eliminate prejudice related to gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, racialization, age, socioeconomic class, disabilities and diversity.
Pursuing our collective work, it became clear early in my mentoring that it was important for me to be supportive, patient, and compassionate as I challenge students to go beyond their initial expectations. My first academic book included incisive chapters from doctoral students and collaboration with my other students has continued over the years. We continue to examine ostensible forms of deviance as possible types of diversity. I now know that many of my former doctoral and law students have accomplished more in their work than my wildest expectations, and have surely surpassed my own accomplishments. Whatever my small role has been in their success, I am convinced that they help revitalize and extend the work of “a community of scholars,” and now their own mentoring is a clear reflection of that grand, collective idea.