Following a successful pilot phase, Mind & Life’s Global Majority Leadership and Mentorship Program is opening a new era of contemplative scholarship and science by building inclusivity and liberation pedagogy into its framework.
While conventional mentoring programs typically adopt a hierarchical approach wherein mentors bequeath knowledge and guidance to mentees, the Mind & Life program recognizes that both seasoned and emerging contemplative scholars can learn from one another. Mentors’ and mentees’ growth and learning are supported through deepening contemplative practice.
The program’s approach to academic and intellectual mentorship supports mentees and mentors in generating scholarly publications, accessing research funds, and presenting in recognized academic forums while encouraging mentors and mentees to engage in these professional activities in ways that disrupt oppressive paradigms. For example, the program supports mentees and mentors in accessing funding sources to pursue anti-oppressive approaches and outcomes in the academy and sciences, while also engaging with communities to advance ecojustice and social justice goals.
This program, the first of its kind, was developed by a committee of Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous contemplative scholars. I had the honor of leading the program’s planning committee, which included Inger Burnett-Zeigler, PhD; Doris F. Chang, PhD; Grant Jones; Yoona Kang, PhD; Dominique A. Malebranche, PhD; Vaishali Mamgain, PhD; Kedrick Perry, PhD; and Juan Santoyo as well as Mind & Life staff members Gaelle Desbordes, PhD and Krista Weih. The team convened for a year to discuss the pilot program’s goals, mission, and vision and to select and pair the mentors and mentees.
Often mentorship programs for global majority mentees are designed with a misguided assumption that the participants are in need of remedial interventions. When some hear of non-white people in a targeted mentoring program, they often think, “These folks haven’t had opportunities, and now they are getting some help.” However, that is not the case for participants in the Mind & Life program. In this program both mentees and mentors already have ample academic and intellectual accomplishments. This program leads from the perspective that what is in need of remediation is not the mentees, but institutionalized racism in the academy and science. Program participants are some of the scholars who are actively engaged in this remediation. This is a very important distinction.
Language Matters: Naming the Program
In recognition of the fact that language is part of how people are marginalized, the program development committee sought to describe the program in a way that was inclusive and accurate. The program was named the Global Majority Leadership and Mentorship Program in recognition of the fact that participants are currently, and will continue to be, leaders who are guiding the sciences and the academy out of the blind spots created by institutionalized white supremacy. In this mentoring program, we use the term “Global Majority” instead of BIPOC to center the truth that people who are not racialized as white comprise the majority (over 80%) of the world’s population. Hence the program does not use terms such as “minority” or “people of color.”
Using this term, coined by Dr. Barbara Love, as a reflective practice of right speech enables us to cease using the language of enslavers and colonizers who labeled humans by color and evaluated people’s worth based on their proximity to whiteness. Using the term POGM rather than the term people of color (POC) eliminates the color misnomer, and in that sense is more accurate, since we know that skin color varies widely in every ethnicity. In practice, saying “POGM” is also a way of shifting our awareness to notice that African, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian people are not “minorities” when viewing humanity in the global context.
Adjusting language this way can help contradict unconscious notions of white supremacy and serve as literal reminders that the majority of the global population is not of European descent (aka White). People of European descent are the global minority. Contemplating and transforming language is itself practice that can shift our cognitive distortions stemming from racism and other types of oppression. Language both shapes and reflects our thinking. Adjusting language will advance our capacity to be accurate and just about how to develop and distribute global resources. (Majied, pp. 3-4)
The pilot, which ran from June to December 2022, matched six emerging contemplative scholars with six seasoned contemplative scholars for a deep investigation of what it means to be a liberated scholar and researcher. As articulated in the program guidelines, liberatory scholarship and science has an anti-racist, inclusive, contributive impact on society. Liberatory contemplative scholarship and science recognizes and addresses the ubiquitous impact of racism in science and the academy.
The mentor-mentee pairings were not determined solely by participants’ research disciplines, but by their life experiences, perspectives, and approaches to contemplative practice, particularly as their practices inform an ecojustice or social justice approach to their discipline. Mentees and mentors met online twice monthly to learn and grow from engaging with each other’s contemplative scholarship, challenges, and vision.
We encouraged mentees and mentors to share their challenges in regards to racism in the academy and sciences and to use the mentoring experience as a contemplative practice towards freedom. For example, mentee Monika Son, PhD, Counseling Coordinator of the Percy Ellis Sutton SEEK Program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, was paired with mentor Laura Rendón, PhD, a Mind & Life Fellow and Professor Emerita at the University of Texas-San Antonio. They referred to their monthly dialogue as “la hora de libertad!” (hour of freedom). Monika had this to say about the program:
“Working with Laura, and meeting with the Mind & Life Global Majority [Program] mentees and mentors while diving deeper into my practice, has been incredibly freeing. I am finding greater alignment to my contemplative “projects,” which most often center on cultivating connection and community, shifting our internal and collective narratives about power, reducing harm, and creating space for radical accountability and compassion.”
From the beginning, this program was designed to be mutually beneficial for all involved. Mentors were invited to share their experiences and respond to queries such as, “What are ways you are hoping to grow and learn from being a mentor?” This approach ameliorates the limiting paradigm that diminishes the importance of teachers’ continued learning from students and mentees. Mentor Sarina Saturn, PhD shared this reflection:
“The Global Majority Leadership and Mentorship Program has been a much needed source of community and healing for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). I recognized there was so much missing from the Mind and Life Institute when I first partook in offerings nearly 20 years ago. I am thrilled that this program exists to bring forth leadership of global majority people. As global majority persons who also belong to many other non-dominant identities, as women, LGBTQ+ (QT), and disabled, this collective has provided space for us to flourish and develop a sense of belonging in Mind & Life. Where Mind and Life was dominated by white, patriarchal, heteronormative, and able-bodied identities, it is becoming a place where we can honor our sacred feminist and Black, Asian, Latinx, Indigenous, and Queer/Trans identities.”
In February 2023, the program will begin its inaugural year which will involve a 12-month collaboration between a new cohort of mentors and mentees. Mentees from the pilot will also be provided with support to attend Mind & Life’s 2023 Summer Research Institute and guidance in applying for a Francisco J. Varela Research Grant.
Due to global interest from mentors and mentees, the committee is developing an application for the program’s inaugural year, as well as an advisory committee to support future iterations. A program evaluation is also underway to help us understand how the beautiful aspirations of this program are being achieved in the lives and institutions of the mentors and mentees.
As we plan for the inaugural year, we continue to focus on expanding the conceptualization of science. This is an approach that deeply affects the work of all researchers, scholars, and scientists. For example, a false dichotomy often exists between humanities and sciences, and a devaluation of the arts and humanities is often present in the academic or professional hierarchical schema. A contemplative understanding of “the art of science” disrupts this hierarchy.
The program is establishing Mind & Life as a hub for Global Majority scholars and scientists. If you are trying to resource your institutions or events, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Mind & Life Global Majority Leadership Mentorship Program as a means of connecting to this expertise!
Mind & Life periodically invites guest writers to contribute their perspectives and experiences on the blog. Kamilah Majied, PhD is Development Consultant, Mind and Life Global Majority Leadership and Mentorship Program.
Majied, K. F. “Cultivating Discomfort Resilience and Fierce Compassion to Uproot Racism and End Oppression.” https://mindrxiv.org/mdp8z/