Returning to where I began: Our first seven years were an experiment. In 2015, we had three students and three faculty in the cohort and over a dozen programs a semester. By 2019, we had worked with over forty individual students in the mentoring cohort, and over 30 individual faculty members. The cohort had increased from six members to forty. During academic year 2020-2021, in the middle of the pandemic, over 400 people participated in our programs.
Between 2014 and 2021, nearly 4,000 people participated in over 50 distinct programs, many originally suggested and co-designed by students, many co-created with dozens of campus partners. Some of these programs remain the core programs of The GMC. Throughout my time as the sole director of The GMC, two graduate students always supported me, their peers, and the mentoring community. It was not unusual for our programs to emerge out of their research interests or needs they perceived on campus.
The GMC became a place for mentoring and a refuge from the world, sometimes the changing self. We had consistently served over 500 students a semester and hosted six nationally known and respected scholars. Other campus groups invited us to talk about mentoring, teach contemplative practices, guide entering graduate cohorts, and lead retreats as part of their annual programming. I also consulted other universities in these and other areas, especially those interested in mentoring as a contemplative practice. Interest in this topic grows, as was evidenced during national meetings on graduate student mental health throughout 2020 and 2021.
One of the first things I was told by several colleagues when I began as director is that I could get an article or book out of this job. During my first year I, instead, determined that whatever I wrote would be a document that would be collaborative and open to everyone, one that could be emergent even as it is offered on paper and archived.
How radical was it to consider a center that was emergent and liberatory, mentoring as a contemplative practice, and embodied practices that encouraged mentors and mentees to slow down long enough to see and hear another being in a way that helped them grow personally and professionally? What would it mean long term to have embodied such practices without focusing first on publication?
Over the past seven years, there has been one article, several conference presentations, a number of keynotes, and dozens of consultations for departments and universities to help them assess their mentoring needs and to design programs relevant to them. This meant meeting with students, faculty, and staff separately and then helping them hear and see each other. The goal: to help them rethink mentoring and to embody the principles most important to helping students succeed in the academy and remain whole. This approach was more important to me. Our graduates are now tenure-track faculty, postdoctoral fellows, major grant and fellowship winners, and leaders at different higher education institutions. They remain committed to mentoring in a different way.
I am a Black Studies scholar: community and the voices of the community are important; practices and methodologies that benefit the community are important. That is why in several places where “I” would be appropriate, I use “we” to indicate the co-creative and collaborative process I undertook, even when I designed and developed something myself. In some places “I” and “we” may be interchanged. Whatever the case, the responsibility for what worked and did not work is mine. None of it was possible without community support here at IU and around the country.
Human beings change. Institutions change. We grow. It is my hope that these first seven years lead to more years and more understanding of the practice of mentoring as a contemplative practice. There is so much more to learn and do.
As in all things, take what you need, leave what you don’t. Share with others so the community can benefit and do the same.
Maria Hamilton Abegunde, Ph.D.