A Legacy of Mentoring: Mentoring as a Service to Latinx Communities

Written by Omar Ruvalcaba, PhD and Doré R. LaForett, PhD, Publications and Communications subcommittee*

In our first spotlight, we focus on the critical role of mentoring in maintaining a Latinx doctorate academic pipeline.

Unfortunately, academic institutions give minimal consideration to mentoring during tenure evaluation and instead heavily weigh publication counts and student evaluations. Latinxs, and other faculty of color, often enter academia specifically to help students from marginalized backgrounds, hoping that they can help guide the next generation of Latinx scholars. Often, high service workloads and community involvement conflict with research productivity goals. Latinx, African American, Asian American, and female faculty often experience high service workloads and are involved in community projects that make it difficult to match the research output of other faculty (see Monzó & SooHoo, 2014). As a consequence, Latinx academics (and other academics of color) find themselves in a bind, where the work they value and that benefits the campus community nonetheless remains undervalued by the university.

In this post, we highlight Dr. Ray Buriel’s legacy of mentoring to demonstrate the importance of mentoring for Latinx students as they progress through the academic pipeline. Dr. William Perez (2017), one of Ray’s (as he was commonly known) former students, beautifully captures Ray’s contributions to the fields of psychology and Chicana/o-Latinx studies. Ray’s research highlighted the cultural wealth of immigrant families with publications on children’s language and cultural brokering, furthering our knowledge about this phenomenon affecting children’s development. Outside of his research, he was known to provide students unwavering socioemotional support that helped them stay motivated in the face of academic hurdles.

To gain more insight into the importance of mentoring in Ray’s life, we chatted with his doctoral advisor and two of his former students: Ray’s Ph.D. advisor Dr. Manuel Ramirez III and Kayla Puente and Stefanie Martinez-Fuentes. We present these interviews to highlight the importance of flexibility and love in mentoring as a way to support budding Latinx researchers. The interviewees highlighted the reciprocal nature of the mentor-mentee relationships and how mentoring by Latinx academics inspired two of them to pursue doctoral degrees. Three themes emerged from our interviews: the value of having Latinx mentors, fostering an environment for students to pursue their own interests, and modeling research and education as a tool for impact.

Theme: Responsibility to mentor Latinx scholars

Manuel, Ray’s Ph.D. advisor, explained that he felt that the most important lessons of mentoring he passed on to Ray were passed on to him from Dr. Alfredo Castañeda, “…mentoring other people of color is the most important thing we can do as Latinx academicians.” Manuel continues to explain that mentoring the next generation of Latinx scholars is our most important duty and responsibility as Latinx faculty. He shared that one of his proudest achievements was having chaired the dissertations of fifteen people of color in Clinical, Counseling, and School psychology.

Kayla, a former mentee of Ray’s, who is now a Ph.D. student in the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine, shared that she felt Latinx faculty play a crucial role for Latinx and first-generation students. She shared that Ray’s presence alone impacted her views of her own abilities. She shared, “They [Latinx faculty] served as role models to many of us, and their mentorship helped us get to where we currently are. I think that Latinx faculty carry a large weight and responsibility when it comes to mentorship since many students gravitate towards them because of the connections we make through our backgrounds.”

Theme: Fostering an environment for students to pursue their own interests

When asked how his mentorship of Ray further developed his own mentoring style, Manuel reflected , “…the most important takeaway message for me was that mentors need to encourage their students to pursue their own interests. I tried to convince Ray to enroll in a program in Clinical Psychology, but he convinced me that his true career interests were in Child Social and Personality [development].” This highlights the importance of fostering a mentoring environment that helps students develop and pursue their own interests.

This theme carries forward in Ray’s own mentoring of Kayla, who explained that Ray encouraged her to explore her interests and he supported her decisions. She described the safe space he created, “I always felt like I was able to make mistakes and thus with his guidance, I continued to challenge myself knowing he would be supportive and never discount my ideas. He knew how to guide my ideas and provided resources I needed, such as suggesting certain articles or certain key components for my project.” Kayla also touched on how her conversations empowered her and helped her see a place in academia for herself.

Stefanie, also a former mentee of Ray’s who is currently a Ph.D. student in Family and Human Development at Arizona State University, explained how Ray’s approach to mentoring influenced her own mentoring style, “My approach has also been to put the students’ needs first, as Professor Buriel did, by asking them what they were most interested in, or worried about, and then offering any guidance based on my own experiences and struggles.”

Theme: Modeling research and education as a tool for impact

Kayla and Stefanie both noted the importance of their interactions with Ray in shaping their views of civic and institutional participation. Kayla noted, “Another moment that I will never forget is when he canceled class when a student protest occurred. Not only did he cancel class, but he also marched with us.” Stefanie shared that Ray encouraged her, and her peers, to seek leadership opportunities in order to bring the change they sought. Stefanie explained, “During those group discussions, there was one point in particular when he encouraged me and the other two mentees to always seek leadership positions, and also explained how all the changes we wished to see for Pomona [College] could be made if we were on the Board of Trustees. Without realizing it at the time, I look back now and think how powerful that moment was, because the wonderful thing about Professor Buriel is that he never saw any reason why we wouldn’t be able to achieve our goals.” 

In addition to community involvement, Ray presented research as a tool for social progress. Stefanie shared, “One the first lessons I got from Professor Buriel is that not only was it okay for me to be interested in studying Latinx youth and families, but it was necessary.” She explained how she felt Ray effectively brought change within academia through the mentoring spaces he created. She felt she learned that not only is it possible for Latinx youth to have a voice in academia and at the instructional level, but it was also necessary.

Reflection and final thoughts

We leave you with a few questions to consider in your own mentoring approach:

As a mentor:

  • What is your take on the role of mentorship in producing new and supporting current Latinx scholars?
  • What lessons do you carry with you from your own mentor(s)? How has this changed over the course of your career?
  • How have your experiences with mentoring different students helped you evolve as a mentor? What advice do you have for other mentors?

As a mentee:

  • What mentoring helps you thrive?
  • What is your responsibility in the mentorship relationship?
  • Is it clear to your mentor what you need from them?

* Thank you to Jean Pauline Serrano, a current undergraduate at California State University, Northridge, for her feedback and help with editing this blog post.

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