A Cross-Identity Mentoring Approach at DU

Dec 1, 2021

Heather N. Martin, Teaching Professor of Writing, Faculty Fellow of Mentoring Initiatives

The VPFA’s office is committed to improving faculty mentoring across ranks and series. Among a host of other benefits, mentoring has been shown to bolster institutional connection (Alvarez & Lazzari, 2016), decrease social isolation (Burden et al., 2005), and support positive promotion and tenure outcomes (Crawford, 2015). However, mentoring was highlighted as an “area of concern” in DU’s initial COACHE (2019) survey report, indicating that DU landed in the bottom 30% of our peer group on this measure. Lack of diversity was also highlighted in COACHE data, with 20% of women respondents and 24% of faculty of color indicating it as one of the “worst aspects” of working at DU. In terms of equity across series, inconsistent mentoring emerged as a challenge to both professional growth and collegiality among teaching and professional faculty (Sponsler, 2021).

At the same time, faculty highlighted both the quality and support of faculty colleagues as the two very best aspects of working at DU. While mentoring benefits all faculty, mentoring relationships are particularly important for faculty who may be minoritized as one of few women or faculty of color in their departments (Shealey et al., 2014; Thomas et al., 2015; Tuitt, 2010). Indeed, Tillman (2002) attributes high attrition rates among historically excluded and underrepresented faculty to these very issues of social and professional isolation. While faculty may seek out same- or similar-identity mentors, minoritized faculty are often already overburdened with mentoring and other service obligations (O’Meara, 2017; Adams, 2002). In addition, without guidance, as faculty, we often mentor “in our own image,” providing the same type of mentoring we received or would like to receive, irrespective of our mentees’ particular needs or positionality. Thus, as a PWI, building cross-identity mentoring capacity is essential to retaining and supporting a diverse faculty body at DU.

For example, Zambrana et al. (2015) examined mentoring experiences of 58 BIPOC or otherwise minoritized faculty across 22 universities, finding that ideal mentors:

  1. forged connections to faculty who had power and prestige;
  2. provided concrete scholarly opportunities along with offering moral support and encouragement in ways that promoted their autonomy and independent scholarship; and
  3. used a hands-on approach. (p. 57)

In addition, mentoring across difference requires an openness to reimaging the mentoring relationship. Crutcher (2014) offered the following list of best practices:

  • Those motivated to mentor mentees whose backgrounds or identities differ from their own must be adept at navigating cultural boundaries—personal, gendered, racial, ethnic, and geographic.
  • Because of the complexity of cross-cultural mentoring, mentors need to possess certain attributes or virtues, including active listening skills, honesty, a nonjudgmental attitude, persistence, patience, and an appreciation for diversity.
  • Mentors must maintain a dual perspective, seeing the mentee as an individual as well as part of a larger social context.

Using a holistic definition of mentoring as “sharing power, information, and self” (Crawford & Smith, 2005, p. 64) and with baseline mentoring goals of sponsorship, networking, and socialization, the VPFA’s office is launching a new faculty Community of Practice to explore current scholarship, locate best practices, and develop an institutional approach to cross-identity mentoring across ranks and series. Reach out to Heather Martin (heather.martin@du.edu) if you are interested in getting involved or learning more. 


Adams, K. (2002). What colleges and universities want in new faculty. Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Alvarez, A. R., & Lazzari, M. M. (2016). Feminist mentoring and relational cultural theory: A case example and implications. Affilia, 31(1), 41–54. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886109915612512

Burden, J. W., Harrison, L., & Hodge, S. R. (2005). Perceptions of African American faculty in kinesiology-based programs at predominantly White American institutions of higher education. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 76(2), 224–237. https://doi.org/10.1080/02701367.2005.10599283

Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE). (2019). University of Denver 2018–19 faculty job satisfaction survey report preview. Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Crawford, K. & Smith, D. (2005). The we and the us: Mentoring African American women. Journal of Black Studies, 36(1), 52–67. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0021934704265910

Crawford, D. K. (2015). Tailor-made: Meeting the unique needs of women of color STEM-SBS faculty through mentoring. 2015 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), 1–5. https://doi.org/10.1109/FIE.2015.7344182

Crutcher B. N. (2014). Cross-cultural mentoring: A pathway to making excellence inclusive. Liberal Education, 100(2), 26–31. https://www.aacu.org/liberaleducation/2014/spring/crutcher

Johnson-Bailey, J. & Cervero, R. M. (2004). Mentoring in black and white: The Intricacies of cross-cultural mentoring. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 12(1), 7–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/1361126042000183075

O’Meara, K. (2017). Constrained choices: A view of campus service inequality from annual faculty reports. Journal of Higher Education, 88(5), 672–700. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221546.2016.1257312

Shealey, M. W., Alvarez McHatton, P., McCracy, E. (2014). “Sista Doctas” taking a seat at the table: Advocacy and agency among women of color in teacher education. NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education, 7(1), 19–46. https://doi.org/10.1515/njawhe-2014-0003

Sponsler, L. E. (2021). Institutionalizing a culture of respect for teaching and professional faculty. https://duvpfa.du.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/White-Paper-Teaching-and-Professional-Faculty.pdf

Thomas, N., Bystydzienski, J., & Desai, A. (2015). Changing institutional culture through peer mentoring of women STEM faculty. Innovative Higher Education, 40(2), 143–157. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10755-014-9300-9

Tuitt, F. (2010). Working with underrepresented faculty. In K. J. Gillespie & D. L. Robertson (Eds.) A Guide to Faculty Development (2nd ed.) (pp. 225–242). Jossey-Bass

Tillman, L. C. (2012). Inventing ourselves: An informed essay for Black female scholars in educational leadership. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 25(1), 119–126. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2011.647728

Zambrana, R. E., Espino, M. M., Castro, C., & Eliason, J. “Don’t leave us behind”: The importance of mentoring for underrepresented minority faculty. American Education Research Journal, 52(1), 40–72. https://doi.org/10.3102%2F0002831214563063

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