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To Our Readers: About this Guide and How to Read It

This guide is written for people working to render ourselves and the educational institutions where we work and study capable of honoring the dignity and realizing the support needed for all students to thrive. If you desire to alter an education system that allows only a few to succeed without another’s social capital and assistance, this guide is for you. It is for you if you work to build and sustain relationships that defy such exclusivity.  It is for you if you are preparing to participate—as student, mentor, or steward—in one of the many access programs that work with colleges and universities in this mission. And it is for you if you want to be able to see, understand, name, and undermine the obstacles in our way.


This guide challenges the idea that mentorship is a one-way, top-down, and predictable exchange reflecting inevitable norms of authority and role.  Instead, it shines light on what mentoring relationships can be, and can change, when centered on and co-created through mutual trust.  Sharing our own stories, we uncover the qualities of mentoring needed to give voice and visibility to the insights of those othered through the dominant academic culture to acknowledge desires, experiences, and hardships—such as working full-time while in school and raising siblings—of BIPOC and first generation students. 


This is not research on or about us—it is with and for ourselves, each other, and you. We are a group of 2020 graduates of Bryn Mawr College, Princess, Torr, Jada, Alexis, and Kathryn, and our mentor, Alice, a Bryn Mawr College faculty member, who began working together during the summer of 2016, following high school graduation.  This writing project started when, following college graduation four years on, Alice wrote a letter to the group as a way to begin to understand and share what she had learned from mentoring.  Her original idea was to develop a piece to share with prospective mentors and people who steward these programs.  The responses of five individuals—the authors, with Alice, of this text—clarified this question and also expanded it from mentoring to encompass many aspects of students’ college experience and issues ripe for change.  


We continued writing to one another to begin to make sense of what we had shared and what it gives us to teach others. The letter became a collaboration. As we wrote to speak more fully, we realized that creating this letter collaboratively let us bring more of ourselves into the writing. This text became a place to say out loud some things we had not previously spoken.  


In this text, sometimes we write to each other, and sometimes to you, our readers.  Some of the writing is in a single narrator’s voice, and some (which appears in italics) is written in our individual voices. With this approach, we invite you to listen to the power, and the threading together, of individual and collective voices. We hope this format reflects how we created our  relationships, their power, and their importance.  This project doesn’t aim to deliver all the answers or a recipe to follow.  It is complex because the work is complex.  It also doesn’t highlight the necessary practical knowledge mentors need to share with students; our focus here is on relationships.


As you read, we ask you to consider what expectations about research, writing and guidebooks you can shift to be able to read a multiply voiced text with ease.  And we invite you to join your voice with ours!  Since the basis of this entire project is relationship, we have framed each section with prompts for reflection, inviting you, our readers, to write along with us. The process of understanding doesn’t end with our words; it continues through these prompts and the relationships you are part of. We offer this guide as a living document, not as the last word. 


We invite you to be flexible in how you read the guide and engage with the workbook aspect. We’ve included a detailed table of contents to make it easier for you to go directly to sections that draw you; you can skip around, double back, and scroll ahead. When you come to the prompts in given section, you can jot down responses—noting or sketching on paper/screen. You can also read this text with a group, responding orally or sharing your written reflections along the way. You might sit with the prompts without writing, and you might sometimes skip the prompts or return to them after you’ve read the material they frame.  orld. 


To start, and following Kelley’s (2002) work on freedom dreaming, we ask you to consider the world, the systems, the relationships, in which you actually desire to live.  We believe strongly that rather than conform our expectations to what the current system says is realistic, we need to affirm radical ideas of how life can be and let them set the aspirations of our work.  Integrating imagination with practical boundaries,  allowing each to inform the other, keeps our relationships vital. 


Please remember that our work is a conversation. We've documented a conversation that is a reflection of our experience. Read with an open heart and open mind. Start with a section that interests you or read from the beginning.  Use this website as a way to join the conversation, and when you want to read more of ours, go to what we are calling the live document -- the full text of what we wrote, where you are invited to add your voice.  In each section, we offer questions for reflection and engagement, beginning with the ones below.  

Reading as Freedom Dreaming

Please take a few minutes to respond to these prompts, inspired by Robin D.G. Kelley's work, for reflection, through contemplation, noting down your thoughts, or dialogue, as a way to establish how you will connect with this guide going forward:


What is your vision for a just and joyful world?


What role does education, particularly but not necessarily exclusively college/university education, play in this vision?  


What obstacles currently blocking the realization of this vision are you motivated to remove?


Who and what is already in your life to support you in the work of taking down obstacles and sustaining vision?  


Where you do not already connect with strength and support in this work, how do you imagine you might cultivate them?


As you read this guide, we invite you to orient to your deepest vision for a just and joyful world. 

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