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Mentoring & Social Justice

Seedling Mentoring is a journey that encourages persistence in acquiring new information and skills.  Learning to promote social justice, to understand institutional oppression, and how to dismantle implicit biases and racism prepares mentors to be an upstander for our mentees and their families.  This is what makes us better, together!

This 3-minute video exposes everyday institutional racism in the United States.

up·stand·er /ˈəpˌstandər/ (noun) – a person who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied. “Encourage your daughter to be an upstander, not a bystander.”

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Understanding Systems of Oppression

Systems of oppression are discriminatory institutions, structures, norms, to name a few, that are embedded in the fabric of our society. All the “-isms” are forms of oppression. In the context of social justice, oppression is discrimination against a social group that is backed by institutional power.

  • African-American children and Hispanic children were 7.5 times more likely and 2.3 times more likely, respectively, than white children to have an incarcerated parent.
  • Both students of color and LGBTQ youth often receive harsher punishments for the same behavior compared to their White, and non-LGBTQ counterparts, respectively—not for higher rates or worse misbehavior.

Intersectionality is a framework to understand how aspects of our identities intersect, influence each other and create unique experiences. Thinking about intersectionality can help us evaluate the ways in which individuals, society, and systems of power interact, with the ultimate goal of eliminating power imbalances in our communities.

We all have multiple identities that influence how we see ourselves, how we move about in the world, and how we interact with others. Awareness of what identities we may take for granted or has the strongest effect on us paves the way to strengthen our ability to have empathy for others.

Social Identity Wheel – Adapted from “Voices of Discovery”, Intergroup Relations Center, Arizona State University

Thinking about social justice and intersectionality requires us to deliberately and significantly challenge our established worldview as well as our roles as individuals and community members (we are always both!) The resulting shift also makes us reconsider what our desired goal is. Consider the differences between equality, equity, and liberation. Which outcome would you like to see for your mentee?

  1. Cultivate curiosity
  2. Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities
  3. Try another person’s life
  4. Listen hard—and open up
  5. Inspire mass action and social change
  6. Develop an ambitious imagination

How do I talk to my mentee about these delicate subjects?

What do I say?

Follow their lead. Listen. Whatever you’re talking about, baseball, movie, song – ask them an open-ended question, like, “What does this mean to you?”


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