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CCCC 2006 in Review

A46 Generating Mentors in Composition: Beyond the Great Chain of Being

Interactive session with:
Mara Holt, Ohio University, Athens
Michelle Gibson, University of Cincinnati
Laura Micciche, University of Cincinnati

What struck me about this session is how very moving it was—emotionally moving. As a scholar, my knee-jerk reaction is to mistrust this evocation of emotion. Where's the knowledge in emotion? But as I reflect on the experience of sitting in the audience, listening to these three women discuss three generations of mentoring experiences, I realize that most of what we are supposed to take away as knowledge from their stories is in the emotional content of their stories.

Holt, Gibson, and Micciche's approach to discussing how women are mentored as compositionists beautifully combined personal narratives with theoretical insights about both the challenges and possibilities that many women still face as academics. They began by sharing stories, very personal stories, about how they each met one another. It quickly became apparent that the relationships, which began professionally, became personally and intimately intertwined-in very productive ways. Perhaps most importantly, their narratives documented how they learned from one another, emphasizing that, in the best circumstances, good mentoring becomes a two-way street, involving "personal disclosures," dmittance of fears, hesitancies, and insecurities.

More specifically, they pick up the complex question, what is feminist in feminist mentoring? The answer depends in large part on recognizing how women are still largely "outsiders" in the academy. Women are also often asked to navigate multiple, sometimes conflicting roles when they become professionals For instance, how do they become professionals and still maintain a sense of womanhood as "mother"? All three participants spoke poignantly about how work colonizes our emotional lives, and they highlighted how feminist analyses offer us a gendered way to call into question inequities and inconsistencies in the structures in which we work and live.

What can mentoring do about this?

Mentoring models mutuality and reciprocity. It offers a model for changing relationships-and for transformation. As people listen carefully to one another, they can hear beyond the "roles" that we are assigned and understand the complex realities through which we attempt to negotiate the many dimensions-from the cognitive to the affective-through which our lives are experienced. Ultimately, the panelists ask, is mentoring an act of assimilation into a particular structure or an "act of care" which helps to transform that structure? Micciche, Gibson, and Hold advocate for a "culture of help and care."

I think the session stumbles a bit when Holt suggests that caring and nurturing are primarily feminine virtues. Holt uncritically suggests that merit systems that measure and reward based on "accumulation" of number of articles, number of committees served, etc, as "masculine" structures, as opposed to "caring" that is simultaneously interpersonal and critical of "masculinist" merit systems. Nurturing and caring may be feminist virtues-and I think the point should be that that feminism can be adopted, practiced, and nurtured by all of us.

Holt is on better ground when talking about mentoring relationships between senior and junior faculty. Indeed, all three presenters offered interesting insights about how new faculty might be nurtured in new positions. Micciche, in particular, called on all of us to pay more attention to the affective dimensions of new assistant professors and the emotional terrain they have to navigate inn a new department. For instance, a new faculty member may come in "gung ho" and want to suggest radical changes as opposed to "getting a lay of the land" before potentially and inadvertently "stepping on senior faculty toes." How can a new assistant professor's enthusiasm-a positive and powerful emotion-be nurtured to be used effectively within the professional structure in which that new assistant professor has to work?

The session concluded with some useful pointers for mentoring:

— Jonathan Alexander

CCCC ConventionFor more information on the CCCC 2006 conference,
visit the NCTE Web site at http://www.ncte.org/profdev/conv/cccc/.