Northeastern admin 'intimidated' to mentor minority students because of her racial 'privilege'

Amanda Cornwall is the assistant director for graduate education operations and the Ph.D. Network at Northeastern University.

She recently shared her advice on mentorship in an op-ed titled “Advice for Mentoring Underrepresented Minority Students.”

The Northeastern University assistant director for graduate education published an op-ed offering guidance to professionals like herself who are given the “intimidating” task of “serving as a mentor to an underrepresented minority student” as a “middle-aged, middle-class white” person.

At Northeastern, Amanda Cornwall collaborates with Ph.D. students by scheduling one-on-one advising, workshops and other events to promote the success of Northeastern graduate students. In an effort to “unpack and understand the privilege” that she carries, Cornwall provided six key suggestions for counseling minority students, the last one being to “mindfully call out the elephant in the room,” with elephant here being her so-called “privilege.”

“If you are serving as a mentor to an underrepresented minority student and are not a minority, be open about your own positionality and identity, your awareness of your privilege and how you navigate it,” writes Cornwall. 

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“Be vulnerable. I don’t pretend my struggles are the same as those of my students or that I know what it is like to grow up as a minority in a society of structural inequality and institutionalized racism,” she continues.

Additionally, Cornwall makes reference to several sources, including two books by Robin DiAngelo titled, Is Everyone Really Equal? and What Does It Mean to Be White? More specifically, she expresses her concern over falling into the group of “well-meaning white people” who have to deliberately prove to others of their non-racist demeanor. 

Cornwall expresses her excitement in working with a group of 12 underrepresented minority S.T.E.M. Ph.D. students, all of which will be sponsored and supported by a total of $1 million in the form of a grant from the National Science Foundation. However, she recognizes that the process of entering into such a mentorship program as a white individual is a “shared project” that should be “approached individually, holistically and systemically.”

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After all, she did feel a “humble uncertainty that, unlike impostor syndrome, stemmed from real and not imagined deficiencies in [her] preparation,” asking “Who was I to assume such a mentorship role?”

Campus Reform reached out to Cornwall but did not receive a response in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @opheliejacobson