Sisterhood as Mentoring

     Most of the women had expressed concern over a lack of mentoring, both during their graduate training and later, as they negotiated socialization into the academic profession and learned the cultural rules for survival in academe. What has emerged, in effect, is a kind of collective mentoring among these women. Sandler (1993) has described the advantages of such a strategy as she describes "multiple mentors," those individuals who constitute social networks and "...expand a person's ability to develop allies and alliances" (Sandler 1993: B3).

     Given that there has been a dearth of mentors for all women in academe, the formation of these "sisterhoods" is one form of survival behavior that has a basis in the same type of collective, community-based cooperation that has enabled African-American people throughout the African diaspora over time. This response of collective mentoring, or sisterhood, the tendency toward collective, communally-based networks of reciprocity and support, I contend, reflects a culturally-based response to oppression and exploitation that has historically served to sustain African-Americans in the U.S. and African-Americans throughout the diaspora. For African-American women in academe, this has meant sharing information and ideas, providing a forum for intellectual support and having a place to come together to celebrate one another's successes as well as to encourage perseverance in the face of the inevitable challenges.

     Those who have adopted loner and competitive stances, for instance, would perhaps be less inclined to seek out, organize, or participate in such groups. Or, perhaps, these women are in such isolated situations that literally, as well as figuratively, they are alone.

     Reproduction of a tradition of sisterhood -- a connectedness, (following Collins 1990: 212) which may or may not have been based on a conscious awareness or the existence of such a tradition -- has been demonstrated through the emergence over time of the supportive groups described by the women. It is significant that these groups were not referred to in the initial interviews with the same midwestern sample but five years later were mentioned as being of significance in their lives by eight of the eleven women.


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May 2000