Sisters United: Support Group for African American Female Students Provides Guidance Through Mentoring Relationships
The fall semester’s first meeting of Sisters United, an on-campus support group for African American female students, was held on Sept. 30 in a conference room in the Student Health & Psychological Services Center (SH&PS) at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Along with presenting information about campus resources and upcoming activities, the program’s director, Dr. Tiffany Herbert, offered new students the opportunity to be paired with a volunteer-mentor from among the university’s faculty and staff.
“The idea behind personal mentorship is that if someone has a personal connection to something then they are more likely to be committed to that thing,” says Herbert, a SH&PS psychologist who counsels students through the rigors of college life. “Our goal is for students to develop a personal connection to faculty and staff and thus be more accountable for succeeding in college and reluctant to give up.”
Herbert says that learning healthy coping skills and the ability to vent about financial, family, and health-related issues is critical for students, who must focus on their studies. Tatyana Ricks, a junior majoring in business administration, is being mentored by Cynthia Turner, an articulation officer in Records and Registration.
“Being able to talk about personal problems helps relieve stress, so I can stay focused,” says Ricks. “College is stressful enough without the extra weight on my shoulders.”
Turner says that since her position rarely puts her in direct contact with students, the chance to serve as a mentor gives her job perspective.
“It is very fulfilling to walk through the student union and be able to greet some of our students by name,” she notes. “Our students are real people with real lives, and being able to personally connect with them makes coming to work and doing what I do much more meaningful.”
Pauline “Peaches” Dixon, a senior majoring in communications and theatre arts, has been mentored by Ava Petty, administrative assistant in the Center for Learning and Academic Support Services (CLASS) throughout her undergraduate years at CSU Dominguez Hills. For four years, they met weekly to touch base and talk about Dixon’s concerns, whether academic or personal. They also enjoyed each other’s company during social outings, one-on-one, or with the members of Sisters United.
“She’s been there for me since I was a freshman,” says Dixon. “It helps to be able to have someone to talk to about things outside of schoolwork because they can stress you out and become obstacles. I don’t really have family up here in L.A., so it’s cool to have someone that you can have that bond with.”
Petty says that she is proud of Dixon’s achievements and enjoyed the opportunity to watch her mentee develop as a student through all four years.
“Peaches and I really connected and our relationship has continued and flourished,” says Petty. “It was wonderful watching a shy bud blossom into a self-possessed, educated woman. I feel that Peaches will use her education to soar.”
Mentors in the Sisters United are from a cross section of the campus community and include Gayle Ball, Antonia Boadi, Danielle Brinney, Jan Brown, Martha Clavelle, Tracey Haney, Cheryl Jackson Harris, Herbert, Karen Mason, Geri Mitchell, Keisha Paxton, Saana Polk, Neema Pratt, Ormond Rucker, Rasheedah Shakoor, Sharon Squires, Enola Thompson-Logan, Adele Vanarsdale, and Kathy Vincent.
Herbert says that the greatest benefit for mentors in the program is that it “allows them to engage with students in a way that is different and possibly more impactful than in their current positions on campus.”
“The mentors have expressed their fulfillment in knowing that they have assisted someone in completing one of the most significant tasks in their lives,” Herbert says. “As a first-generation college student myself, I understand the need for positive role models, and my life has been positively impacted by the mentors I have had.”
Along with a monthly meeting, Herbert invites members and their mentors to participate in events and outings designed to develop and enhance social and coping skills, develop a positive self-image, and increase commitment to academics and goals. This semester, the group will attend the opening of “Jitney,” a production of the university’s Black Theatre Program.
“It is important to me that students be exposed to the talent that we have on our campus,” says Herbert.
Herbert’s plans for expanding Sisters United this year include pairing more students with mentors and enhancing the program’s offerings with educational sessions on scholarships, sexual health, and building healthy relationships. Next spring, Herbert looks forward to hosting the Fifth Annual “Sisters United: Lifting as We Climb.” The one-day empowerment conference will feature panel discussions and activities on self-esteem, personal values, physical health, and community responsibility.
Herbert and Joyce Johnson, emerita professor of English formed Sisters United (formerly known as the Sisterhood of Isis) in 2005. They began by holding meetings in University Housing for female students, discussing personal and sexual health, financial aid, career, and other critical areas of student development. They also hosted a one-day conference with the participation of the Queenmothers’ Society on campus. Herbert says the apparent need for this level of personal counseling among African American female students is her motivation for continuing the program.
“Each year the program has proven to be more and more necessary as more students have sought mentorship and assistance in navigating our university,” she says. “I have come to see first-hand that the students that seek help for their personal issues are more likely to stay in school.”
For more information on Sisters United, contact Dr. Herbert at (310) 243-3818 or email email@example.com.
- Joanie Harmon