Mentorship as a Catalyst for Career Success among Black Male Residence Life Professionals

Mentorship plays an important role in professional development, providing guidance, support, and networking opportunities for all professionals, that can significantly impact career trajectories. For Black male residence life professionals, the importance of mentorship cannot be overstated, given the unique challenges they face within many of the institutions they work at. These challenges include navigating the evolving complexities of the work, microaggressions, and the additional burdens often placed on them due to their racial and gender identities. In this post, I reflect on the role of mentorship in the career success of Black male residence life professionals, drawing from the findings of my dissertation, which explored their experiences in-depth.

Literature Review

Existing literature highlights the important role of mentorship in higher education, particularly for minoritized groups. Mentorship can offer career guidance, emotional support, and advocacy, which are essential for professional growth and retention. However, the specific needs of Black male professionals often remain woefully underrepresented in broader studies. Research has shown that mentorship can mitigate some of the adverse effects of individual and systemic biases and provide a sense of belonging and validation that is critical for professional and personal well-being.

For Black male residence life professionals, mentorship can serve as a buffer against the negative impacts of microaggressions and systemic inequities, which are well substantiated when looking at quality of life indicator data. The presence of same-race and same-gender mentors can be particularly beneficial, providing relatable role models who understand the unique challenges these professionals face. I wrote on the power of Kinship and support for graduate and doctoral students.


My dissertation employed a qualitative hermeneutic phenomenological approach to explore the lived experiences of Black male residence life professionals. This research path was not surprising, given that I spent my entire higher education career serving different institutions in their housing programs. It is incredibly important and taxing work for every college campus. Ten participants who met all of the inclusion criteria and were employed at PWIs during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic were selected for two in-depth interviews. All the interviews lasted over 60 minutes; in total, I spent nearly 30 hours interviewing my participants. This time did not include transcription or analysis, which required another few hundred hours of rereading and note-taking.

These interviews aimed to capture the nuanced experiences and perspectives of the participants, including their career development, challenges, and the role of mentorship in their professional lives. While writing this blog, I hear the voice of my co-chair encouraging me throughout this multi-year-long research and writing experience. Only 3% of U.S. adults aged 25 years or older have obtained a doctoral degree. It is an incredibly difficult mental and physical journey.

 To put this into perspective, 3% of U.S. adults aged 25 years or older equates to approximately 5.6 million people out of 225 million people. However, if you disaggregate (big fancy word for breakdown into smaller groups or categories) this number to U.S. citizens who hold a doctorate and identify as Black males, the number is closer to 156,000! This is because Black females earn advanced degrees at a greater rate than Black males—approximately 60% of Black individuals with doctorate degrees identify as Black females. Given my personal journey even being in this 156 elite club is … well like they say IYKYK.

I digress.


The findings of the study revealed several critical insights into the experiences of Black male residence life professionals and the impact of mentorship on their careers.

Types of Mentorship Experienced

Participants reported experiencing both formal and informal mentorship. Formal mentorship programs were often institutionalized, providing structured support and regular check-ins. However, many participants found informal mentorship, which arose organically through personal connections, to be more impactful. Many of the individuals who offered informal mentorship were close colleagues, friends, church members, or family members.

These informal relationships often provided a more authentic and supportive environment where the participants felt comfortable discussing sensitive issues related to their experiences during 2020, a year marked by a trifecta of critical incidents affecting college campuses: the COVID-19 pandemic, high-profile deaths of Black citizens believed to be the result of questionable or toxic policing, and extreme political polarization not seen since the mid-1800s in U.S. history. This extreme political polarization resulted in the now infamous January 6th insurrection, which occurred just one year after COVID-19 began spreading across and ravaging the U.S. Honestly, this trifecta should not and cannot be viewed as distinct, standalone critical incidents; in many ways, they fed off and reinforced each other in different ways.

The interplay between these critical incidents created a uniquely challenging environment for both students and staff. The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a sudden shift to remote learning and social isolation, exacerbating feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. Simultaneously, the high-profile deaths of Black citizens and the subsequent social justice movements brought racial inequalities and systemic injustice to the forefront of national discourse, further heightening emotional and psychological stress! It was a truly difficult time for higher education professionals, particularly those that were student facing, but not as difficult as our brothers and sisters working in the healthcare field. I can’t imagine the strain they went through.

The extreme political polarization, culminating in the January 6th insurrection, added another layer of tension and division, making campuses a microcosm of the broader societal unrest. These incidents collectively influenced the nature and necessity of mentorship, both formal and informal, as individuals sought guidance and support to navigate these turbulent times. The compounded stressors from these interconnected events underscored the importance of authentic, empathetic mentorship to help individuals cope with the complexities of their experiences during this period.

Impact on Career Advancement and Job Satisfaction

Mentorship was found to have a significant impact on career advancement and job satisfaction. Mentees reported that mentors helped them navigate the complexities of their roles, provided critical career advice, and advocated for their professional development. This support was particularly important in overcoming the additional challenges posed by institutional identity-based biases and the isolating nature of their positions.

Importance of Same-Race and Same-Gender Mentors

Same-race and same-gender mentors were identified as particularly valuable…and rare for some higher education professionals. These mentors provided a unique understanding and empathy that participants felt were often lacking in other mentorship relationships. They served not only as career guides but also as role models, demonstrating successful navigation of the same systemic barriers the mentees faced.


The study’s findings highlight the indispensable role of mentorship in the professional development of Black male residence life professionals. In the context of existing literature, these findings underscore the need for higher education institutions to prioritize and support mentorship programs tailored to the needs of minoritized professionals. It is truly sad to see so many hard fought programs that were created to increase diversity of all types in leaderships positions being dismantled and ended. That is a different post for a different time. I am not quite ready to share my thoughts on the recent opposition to DEI at the state and federal levels.

Mentorship emerges as a critical factor in the professional development and retention of Black male residence life professionals. Institutions that invest in mentorship programs, particularly those that facilitate same-race and same-gender mentor-mentee pairings, are likely to see higher retention rates and more significant career advancements among these professionals.

Recommendations for Institutions

To support the professional growth of Black male residence life professionals, institutions should:

  • Develop Structured Mentorship Programs: Implement formal mentorship programs that pair Black male professionals with mentors who can offer guidance and support.
  • Promote Informal Mentorship Opportunities: Encourage the development of informal mentorship relationships by fostering inclusive and supportive workplace cultures.
  • Provide Cultural Competency Training: Equip mentors with the skills to understand and address the unique challenges faced by Black male professionals.
  • Support Professional Development: Offer resources and opportunities for professional development tailored to the needs of Black male residence life professionals.

Mentorship plays a pivotal role in the career success of Black male residence life professionals, offering vital support in navigating the unique challenges they face. Institutions must recognize the value of mentorship and actively work to create supportive environments that foster these relationships. By doing so, they can enhance the professional development and retention of Black male professionals in higher education.

Reflective Questions
  1. How can institutions better support informal mentorship relationships among Black male residence life professionals?
  2. What steps can mentors take to provide more effective support to Black male mentees in predominantly White institutions?

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