I’ve been fortunate to have mentors and advocates throughout my career in student affairs at UCSB. This post, by no means, diminishes my appreciation for those who have helped me along my career. There is one aspect of my career that I can’t help but wonder from time to time, especially when I find myself needing to talk about issues related to my identity as Asian American. I have never had an Asian-American mentor, one who I can speak with about personal, career, and Asian-American community issues. There are certain topics I would like to explore and discuss with others who understand me. They may not necessarily agree with me, but they may just be able to relate with me because of our shared experience as Asian Americans.
The degree to which one values having a mentor/advocate with similar background/identity probably varies from one person to the other. Personally, that the folks I consider my mentors are not Asian-Americans has never been generally a big issue for me. But, when I worked with a student last year who expressed desire to have another mentor with a similar background (South Asian female), I began to think about the value of having an Asian American mentor for myself. I also began to notice the lack of Asian Americans at the senior management level on my campus other than our Chancellor. Even in student affairs, there’s only one Asian-American director other than myself. I also remembered how we once had a Chancellor’s Asian American Task Force when I was a student in the mid-1990. I am not sure why that group ceased to exist. In all honesty, I haven’t spent much time thinking as to why there is such a lack of senior Asian-American leaders at UCSB. I have some questions but I don’t even know where to start looking for answers. I did start to think about the presence (or lack of) of Asian American Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAO) across the country. Admittedly, my perspective of student affairs at the national level is very limited because I have only been involved with NASPA for a couple of years. I don’t have the data on how many Asian Americans are at the SSAO level. What I can tell you is that meeting Henry Gee, Vice President for Student Services at Rio Hondo College, at last year’s Western Regional Career in Student Affairs Day was one of the most memorable moments of my career. VP Gee was the person often mentioned by other Asian-Americans in student affairs who I should meet. I had the chance to speak with VP Gee again at the NASPA National Conference in Baltimore. In the short period of time I spoke with him, he left an impression on me as he shared with me perspectives I really found valuable. He probably doesn’t remember me, but in those short period of time we spoke, I felt a sense of camaraderie and pride that I’m speaking with a high-ranking and well-respected Asian-American in student affairs.
I made a personal commitment when I became a staff at UCSB years ago to make myself available to Asian American students and to build relationships with them personally. I have been fortunate to have developed mentor/mentee relationships with some of them. In the last few years, I have also found myself helping other Asian American staff with their work and personal issues. As I think about what they shared with me, I think there is a value to having someone who can relate with because of shared experience. A colleague and I recently had a conversation about the fact that there are times when we don’t have to explain what we’re thinking to others who share our experiences because we simply just get it. There are also other times when as much as we can explain ourselves, other people will never understand where we are coming from.
Who are your mentors/advocates? Do you find shared experience/background as one of the attributes that make a good mentor/mentee relationship? Am I wrong in my perspective that the number of Asian American SSAOs are limited?