Cross-Cultural Mentoring Relationships in Higher Education: A Feminist Grounded Theory Study




Alston, Geleana Drew

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The purpose of this feminist grounded theory study was to explore the nature of the cross-cultural mentoring relationship between Black female faculty mentors and their White female doctoral student mentees. As diversity among faculty and students increases in doctoral education (Bell, 2011; US Digest of Education Statistics, 2009), the likelihood of student-faculty cross-cultural mentoring relationships also increases. Furthermore, these is a small, but growing number of Black female faculty members within institutions of higher education (US Digest of Education Statistics, 2009) and one can assume some of these Black female faculty members serve as mentors for students in pursuit of their doctoral degree. Yet, most of the literature regarding student-faculty cross-cultural mentoring relationships focus on White (an mainly male) faculty mentors and graduate student mentees of color (Berg & Bing, 1990; Gattis, 2008; Waldeck, Orrego, Plax, & Kearney, 1997). Five Black female faculty members and their five White female doctoral students participated in the study. Data were collected using an open-ended protocol and individual interviews lasted 60 to 90 minutes each. After conducting interviews, participants completed a critical incident questionnaire. Ascribing to constructivist grounded theory methodology, I used a systematic inductive approach to analyzing the data that involved memo-writing, multi-step coding, and theoretical sampling. The shared culture of womanhood and motherhood was beneficial to the mentors and mentees as it was an entrée for explorations of unshared cultures such as race, sexual orientation, and other cultures. For the White female doctoral student mentee, the cross-cultural mentoring relationship created an space for learning and self-reflection with regard to racial privilege and the significance of their own Whiteness. Age influenced the power dynamics within their mentoring relationships as 3 out of 5 dyads involved a mentor who was younger than the mentee. In addition, the women expressed their experiences as they negotiated tension involving the power dynamics due to what appears as a binary of two academic cultures, faculty versus administrators. As influenced by the shared and unshared cultures of motherhood and age, participants often share examples of when the roles of the mentee and mentor would temporarily reverse. Participants mentioned the importance of communication and trust while participating in a cross-cultural mentoring relationship. Lastly, the women highlighted the learning that occurred as the mentors and mentees foster and maintained their relationships. The findings of this study yield recommendations for practice and further exploration on the topic of cross-cultural mentoring relationships within various educational contexts, but especially with regard to doctoral education. Ultimately, cross-cultural mentoring relationships have the potential to create space of learning about self and others and can result in personal and professional (and possibly institutional) transformation.



Mentoring, Cross-cultural mentoring, Faculty-student interaction, Doctoral education, Feminist grounded theory


Alston, G. D. (2014). <i>Cross-cultural mentoring relationships in higher education: A feminist grounded theory study</i> (Unpublished dissertation). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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