Sophia Wong’s recent and excellent offering of mentoring tips for “someone who doesn’t look like me” generated delightful discussion on the FEAST listserve, and a couple of us couldn’t resist connecting issues regarding differences between class and educational background to issues of mentoring across race and ethnic differences. Class and educational preparation, I joked on FEAST, don’t seem all that hidden and subtle when I’m the tall, towering doofus who’s never heard an opera or heard of a Hirsch number:
Just as I felt mannish around feminine girls, when growing up (ah, nonheterosexuality rearing its confused head), so I found immediately upon starting my first job that, when around faculty from educated families and academic backgrounds, I stick out like a sore thumb. I understood little of what my new coworkers were talking about when they referred to the history of the liberal arts, the rankings of the most prestigious journals, the Ivies — I never quite got down which ones were Ivy — and subfields in a discipline of which I was scarcely cognizant before my twenties, let alone the passing references to cultural events and pursuits that no one engaged in back home. I tried to swear less and mention television less…I’ll never forget the senior colleague who said he preferred applicants with a “long, strong background in liberal arts college settings.” He wasn’t referring to work experience, he elaborated, but a lifetime of a certain kind of education. And I though my state university was such an advance, since I was the first in my family to “go away” to school.
Let me clarify that I’m not actually a first-generation college student. That honor goes to my parents, who came from working-class backgrounds and struggled to put themselves through city colleges – my dad on the G.I. bill, my mother on her wages – while living at home, taking care of their families, and working jobs, so that their future kids, unlike them, could start out middle class. Their achievements were astounding. Yet just as my own father’s decision to take the G.I. bill in the form of college tuition prompted his own dad to ask, “Why?”, so my suggestion that I could go on past the college degree to, as a teacher suggested, law school, prompted their own surprised, “Why?”
So, how can we mentor each other, my unschooled, uncouth, rube friends? Couth philosophers are invited to chip in. Here’s a start:
Thanks to Jenny Saul for encouraging me to, well, to stick out even more by posting on this topic, ha ha!