Editorial: Don't make them mentor

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 30, 2008

It would be a great thing if every single college student in Salisbury volunteered to mentor a public school student. But forcing college students to do so as a requirement for graduation isn’t the best way to help fill the need for more youth mentors or nurture the spirit of public service.
State Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, has proposed making the mentoring service a requirement for all public and private college students in the state. The bill would require any student seeking a bachelor’s degree to spend 20 hours per semester mentoring and tutoring a public school-age child.
First off, let’s acknowledge we have a large need for mentors in this community, and college students are excellent candidates to help children who can benefit from the guidance and attention of young adult role models. In fact, Mayor Susan Kluttz and other city leaders made precisely that plea a few months ago in urging local college students to get involved as mentors as part of Salisbury’s ongoing anti-gang initiative. Those that coordinate mentoring services, such as the Times 2 Mentoring Program run by the Rowan Youth Services Bureau, also would love to have more college students sign up.
Rand is right when he says that college students may be particularly qualified to serve as mentors, and his heart is certainly in the right place in wanting to establish the proposed community service program in memory of Eve Carson and Abhijit Mahata, two college students who were shot to death in separate incidents earlier this year. The violent deaths of Carson, the student body president at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Mahta, a Duke University graduate student, underscored the problem of youth violence and the societal factors that help stack the odds against marginalized adolescents.
But the fact that there’s a need for mentors and that college students could help fill that need doesn’t mean a coercive requirement is the best way to proceed. It assumes that every student is equally suited for mentoring, which isn’t the case, and it also assumes that every student is equally able to make the time commitment necessary, regardless of whether that student may be holding down a full- or even part-time job, while also juggling other responsibilities.
Some colleges already have public service requirements, but those that do usually offer students a range of options to fulfill them. By all means, let’s encourage college students to get involved in community service projects, whether it’s mentoring young people, assisting senior citizens or some other worthwhile endeavor. Young people who are fortunate enough to benefit from a college education should be mindful of helping others who may not be as fortunate. But rather than institutionalizing such a requirement statewide, let’s leave it up to individual colleges and their students to determine what works best for them. Meanwhile, if any local college students are interested in serving as youth mentors, groups such as Times 2 or Communities in the Schools are eager to hear from you.