Peers vs Mentors

Upon looking over the media we produced with the students from Building 21, I realized that I hadn’t taken into account the context of vulnerability, as well as what it means for different students. My realization is more internal then external: how do I place myself in relation to students, and how do they place me?


When working with some young women of Building 21 on their first visit, they were quite timid and responded best to active exploration using the equipment as an avenue to “give body” to their ideas. Michelle, in particular took a candid photograph on our walk back to Walson. This was the only shot in which the elements of the picture were not manipulated. She was proactive and had enough confidence in her own intuition to stop and take a photo.


When we first began, I subconsciously took the role of mentor when guiding them through the activity, because of how nervous they seemed. Later, I divulged that I am actually quite bad at taking photographs, but I enjoyed how mine came out when we did this activity during the previous class. I realized that in that moment I placed myself as less of a mentor but rather a peer who completed the same activity, despite my lack of skill (and thereby confidence in my content).


I now realize that partnerships in discovery come from trust and building relationships with the students- we have to earn their trust over time in order to give them the space to be vulnerable with us. During the interviews, this became abundantly clear with the young men interviewed during the second visit.


Owen in particular offered a very stoic response when asked about how he and his friends aim to “heal” one another. He said that he prefers to be left alone, as do his friends, when they are struggling. This calls to mind our discussion of masculinity: what does it mean to express yourself while burdened by expectations of “manhood” prescribed by both society and peers? Of course, I don’t understand the nuances of this struggle because I have not lived it, but how do I approach this? Before interviewing Owen, I didn’t make any conscious effort to reveal anything about myself.


When we worked with the podcasting group, Tony offered an excellent example of how to consciously place yourself as a peer, rather than a mentor. He never corrected the students in a typical fashion but rather gave them a few pointers after they were finished. He let the conversation advance naturally rather than steer it towards a particular goal. Some teens he had worked with before, further illustrating the way in which Tony develops his relationships with the students, greeted him enthusiastically in the halls.