“It was — and I would argue still is — incredibly difficult to be a student of color at Kenyon,” Christian Martínez-Canchola ’12, a mentor for the Alumni of Color Mentoring Initiative, said.
The initiative, which will be held this Friday and Saturday, connects students of color with alumni of color whose professions are in line with the students’ majors and career aspirations. The program has existed for roughly three years and consists of one day of events during the fall semester and one day in the spring; it is open to everyone but geared toward students of color. Twenty-two percent of the student body is comprised of students of color from the U.S., according to the Kenyon website.
Though events vary each year, the program always includes a panel about navigating the workforce as a person of color, as well as a breakout session in which mentors and mentees are split up according to career fields. Other events that will take place this weekend include a tailgate, a dinner and a reception.
Assistant Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Jillian Watts, who organizes the program, said the program is important because students receive support and career advice from their mentors and develop strong relationships with Kenyon alumni.
“Sometimes people don’t have access to other people who are like them, so it provides students an outlet to have that conversation about similar situations, and to be able to talk about career-related issues, academic issues and personal issues,” Watts said.
This program has an expected attendance of 27 mentors and 25 Kenyon students. The mentors work in a wide variety of fields, including education, corporate banking, health services and social services. Several alumni are also enrolled in graduate school. Watts said a majority of the mentors are very loyal to the program and return year after year.
Martínez-Canchola, who is an elementary school teacher in Washington, D.C., first participated in the program as a mentor in January 2015. She gives her mentees career advice, discusses her own experiences as a teacher and gives them the opportunity to job-shadow her.
“Whether you like it or not, you oftentimes represent more than yourself,” she said about her experience as a student of color at Kenyon. “I knew, for example, that I represented what low-income students could do. What Latinas could do. What a person of color could do. I felt the burden of repaying to the College their investment in me. I felt it was necessary to show that I belonged in the same classroom as my peers.”
Benjamin Adekunle-Raji ’17 has attended the Alumni of Color Mentoring Initiative since his sophomore year. “I think it’s important to have a system of opportunity for students from historically underrepresented backgrounds to connect with others who have walked in their footsteps and have succeeded,” he said. “In a sense, for many students of color, alumni of color become role models, pillars of support and proof for current students — proof that success is possible and feasible.”
Adekunle-Raji said he does not talk to his mentor regularly, but he always feels that he can reach out to him. “I’m happy with the system of communication that we’ve set up,” he said. Adekunle-Raji said he would like to be a mentor once he graduates so he can help students and watch them succeed.
Martínez-Canchola agreed. “There is power in finding people from your same background who go off and do incredible things,” she said.