As the mother of five children, I am reminded daily of the struggles of students and young professionals working during this time of Covid. Within my family the impact has been at the extremes, with some continuing their career working remotely, another facing reality working in occupational rehabilitation with Covid patients, another experiencing a confidence hit from being furloughed, and another working in isolation towards his graduate degree. Yet, all of my children are fortunate, because they have parents who mentor them, and send “quarantine survival kits” packed with goodies. We talk at length when they are emotionally drained from the daily news regarding Covid, bankruptcies, the looming US deficit, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
We counsel them about resiliency, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. We encourage them to be strong. We tell them to focus on the long-term, and not the short-term. We remind them that self-reflection and self-care are as important right now, as their jobs and studies. We tell them, and they know, that we have their back. And, we tell them that it’s going to get better soon.
But, what about all the young adults without mentors? What about first-generation college students who don’t have this kind of support system? Most of this demographic are working hard to help support themselves and their families, sometimes with multiple jobs. Unlike most middle class and affluent college students, many minority young adults work an average of 30 hours a week during the school year – with a full class load, and often more than that, when on break. And let’s not forget about all the other advantages we take for granted, like internet subscriptions. Many first-generation college students don’t have the internet at home. Where are they connecting to work, school, and the world? Are they, as I’ve seen in some areas, sitting next to closed public libraries to log in via the public internet, or are they at one of the few coffee shops open with outdoor seating? What if their parent/parents lost their jobs? What if they lost their home or apartment during this crisis? Who is there to support them when the basic structures of our society fall out?
The answer has to be the men and women willing to step up and serve as mentors to these young adults. As the Executive Director of ‘Law School Yes We Can’ (http://lawschoolyeswecan.org/ – the first law school pipeline program of its kind in Colorado – a program that targets high achieving college freshmen from diverse backgrounds and mentors and trains them for four years), out of all the components of our program, our fellows consistently tell us that their mentors are the most impactful part of our program. Why? Because our mentors dedicate time to each of our fellows to explain to them why their education, now more than ever, is important. Our mentors explain how the investment in their education will be worth it. Our mentors teach our fellows how to navigate educational opportunities, such as, in person or remote internships and future opportunities to study abroad, post this pandemic. Our mentors, some of whom are first-generation college graduates themselves, share their unique experiences. Of those who participated in our 2019 survey, almost 58% of our mentors identify as people of color, 52% as women, and 10% as LGBTQ. Thus, our mentors can listen to the stories of our fellows and counsel them with understanding and empathy.
While our mentors focus primarily on education and providing career guidance, just as importantly, they are role models, they are friends, they are trusted allies, and links to networks of legal and business professionals who our fellows can rely on now, and in their future. When you think about it, our fellows and mentors are a vast array of stories and experiences of individuals committed to increasing diversity in our legal profession. They are individuals who are helping us at LSYWC create change for a stronger and balanced legal profession as well as a stronger nation as a whole.
Who do you know that may need your mentoring today?