Peer to Peer Mentoring: Leaning In

This is a good post to share for my March Month of Mentoring. I will post another about the book, since I have read it!

Now, I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In yet, but I’m going to weigh in based on the reviews offline, online, her 60 Minutes interview, as well as based on joining Lean In’s site last week. The conversations about the book and the phenomena of Lean In as a movement reminds me of Graduate Women Scholars of Southern California. This was a peer-mentoring women’s group facilitated by one of the Women’s Studies faculty members at San Diego State University. Dr. Susan Cayleff saw that her office hours were busy with women graduate students asking the same questions. In 1991 she decided to try hosting once per month meetings at her house related around a particular topic.

These monthly meetings were workshop-like and typically led by one of the members and the Cayleff. The topics covered varied from how to put together your CV, prepping for a conference presentation, working on your thesis/dissertation, dealing with your committee, and more. These meetings provided a safe place of support for women students. We were Leaning In. We were learning from one another and sharing strategies. It was a bullshit free zone for the most part and we were allowed to admit that we were second guessing our choices or having a hard time finishing projects. The women involved were primarily from the Art (Humanities) and Social Sciences from the local universities in San Diego; however, there were several from Los Angeles and even one or two who were from the Bay Area, but living in San Diego.

Thanks to this peer-mentoring group I was better prepared for grad school. Sure, I occasionally felt like I was faking it or didn’t belong, but overall the mentoring sessions reminded me that I had to make academe my own (or attempt to do so). I think that Lean In is on to something and that peer to peer mentoring is important. If Sandberg’s book and the site get more women to connect–great! I have benefited from strong mentors throughout my academic career and to this day have some great peer mentors and coaches. I have blogged before about how mentoring is my mandate. It is. Part of my mentoring is getting my students or peers to Lean In.

I need to read Sandberg’s book. And, yes, I know that she’s Harvard educated and part of the elite. I know that she’s wealthy–Google, then moved to Facebook as their Chief Operating Officer. But, from perusing different bios and videos, I can see that there is lots to gain from Lean In. And, I also know that we can be are worst enemies in our work lives, as well as our personal lives. Self-doubt, not negotiating, and making poor decisions hurts us all, but women more so at work. I am not an acolyte with rose-colored glasses. I think my main point is that I know how to Lean In and the Breathe Now is yet another example—a conference that I co-planned. Many of us have been networking, strategizing, and organizing. We know this work well. But, I’ll speak more to Sandberg’s book and movement after I read the book and pore through more of the blog.


Political Science: Women’s Caucus for Political Science Part 1

I’m re-visiting notes from my archival visit at Radcliffe. What do I remember? Wanting to use every precious minute, while they were open, so I would inhale a Cliff Bar surreptitiously outside the restroom and then return to the work of poring through the archival matter. The librarians were helpful with my repeated requests and made me feel like what I was doing was important. I can’t say that for all of my archival visits. (As an aside, Duke had the best staff and I befriended one librarian, who now is in Miami, via San Diego, and Los Angeles). A big, warm hello to Cristina Favretto! One of the best librarians I have ever met! We met at the Women in Higher Ed conference in Minneapolis many years ago.

I need to back up and explain a few things. My dissertation examined women in Political Science, The Movement into the Academy: Women and Political Science.  When I came to Political Science, after having earned a BA in Women’s Studies and a MA in Liberal Arts and Sciences, at first blush I thought that feminist Political Scientists were not that radical. And during the early years of graduate school, I occasionally second guessed the decision to pursue a doctorate in Political Science. I knew that my research work would focus on the qualitative and not include multivariate regressions or the need for SAS or SPSS.

But, the focus on statistics and on work that I never really pursued pushed me harder into Political Theory and Gender and Politics. I’m glad that my dissertation chose me. I realised that the foremothers, if you will, in Political Science were not seemingly behind. With the archival work I found that they were fighting similar fights that feminist colleagues were fighting in different departments. In some instances, the struggles were worse, but never isolated. Here, I am referring to the Chilly Climate and other ways that women faculty were made to feel isolated in academe.

Playing academic detective in the archives and attending networking events within Political Science certainly humbled those initial beliefs about my sisters in Political Science. I was humbled to find that the establishment of the Women’s Caucus for Political Science (WCPS) in 1969 preceded most other disciplines caucuses for women. However, it was shortly thereafter in some instances weeks at the other disciplinary annual meetings that similar caucuses and status of women committees were founded. The WCPS was instrumental in being a resource for women in Political Science.

The women’s movement did not pass Political Science, as it was part of it, too. But, it was only through my archival research at Radcliffe, Smith and Duke that this full picture became clear. Sure, some books have examined particular campuses and their historic struggles, but by and large I imagine that most Political Science students think that the women’s movement of women’s liberation movement on campuses really took place in departments of Women’s Studies. Sadly, they would be wrong. There were coffee klatches at community centers, as well as campus student union buildings. As a matter of fact, it was during the heyday of the movement that Women’s Studies departments or programs were founded. So, there were allies across campus, as Women’s Studies was in its nascent form.

I am proud to be an alum of San Diego State’s Women’s Studies department, the first Women’s Studies department. But, I know that when I sat at the 30th anniversary dinner in 1999 I felt proud to have benefited from the hard work of those initial five women who were brave enough to take a stand and form the WCPS. I must have missed the 40th anniversary celebrations, but nonetheless I know that in my work and mentoring I and so many others continue their hard work. If anything, I have learned that there are important allies across campus and that there is a helluva lot of great work being done in Political Science.