I started the Law Department Mentoring Scheme in 2016 to provide essential support for IFP and first-year UG Law students. This program asks second- and third-year students to take on the role of mentors by helping first-year students transition from secondary education and adjust to their new university environment. With now over 50 participants, it is a popular scheme among students. Mentees feel more open and comfortable having a student as their mentor, someone with whom they can build rapport with more easily. Likewise, mentors feel highly rewarded and enriched through their experiences.

With the temporary closure of our University’s doors, physical distancing has had to take place. Our students, however, have tried their best to preserve the continuity of their meaningful relationships. Although mentors cannot see their mentees in person, they communicate that they are still there for them virtually.

The spread of COVID-19 has triggered anxiety for many students impacted by the virus or exposed to news surrounding the pandemic. At this time, maintaining healthy and supportive relationships has been crucial. In ordinary circumstances, the mentor’s main focus might have been on academic or career related guidance; although these remain important, peer mentoring has had to evolve. Emotional support and reassurance are especially valuable during these uncertain times, and students have expressed how these interactions have been a lifeline during this crisis. Both mentors and mentees can provide one another with a fresh perspective on remaining calm under pressure, and they can also share ways to overcome their anxieties. By engaging in a dialogue about what is going on in the current climate, this process is mutually beneficial. The experience seems to be as important for the mentors’ personal growth and well-being as it is for the emotional relief of the mentees.

‘Being at home for so long, I think my ability to learn has decreased. I felt bombarded with information on distance learning and overwhelmed with the new style of exams and uncertainty about next year. I really needed to speak to someone about my worries. Luckily, my mentor understands the challenges I am facing and the distress I have been feeling. It was good, in a way, to know that someone else was also feeling the same as me.’ – Mentee, Year 1

 So, how have distancing measures impacted students and how have they managed to maintain their mentoring relationships during lockdown? Some mentors have created plans with their mentees about how they will stay in touch. One mentor I spoke to said she was happy talking via video calls, whilst others have been using emails, social media messaging, and phone calls.

When mentors show this level of commitment and loyalty to their mentees, it is reciprocated, leading to an even more purposeful dialogue between students.    

‘The distance measures have definitely affected my mentoring, especially in the beginning… but when I saw there were students who were panicking and struggling with studies that I could help to an extent, I decided to use mentoring as a way to keep myself busy while helping others, this way it had its benefits for myself and also for the students I was mentoring.

Helping others has always enhanced my mood in difficult situations. During the sessions with my mentees, there were a lot of engaged discussions which created a safe space to listen to each other and to find the best way of learning required for the mentee. In order to find the most effective way, I started applying the suggestions given to my own studies in order to place the mentee in the right direction to tackle their problems, which also benefited my studies during my exams.’ – Mentee, Year 2

As we navigate through the uncertainty of the current pandemic, peer mentoring can act as an essential tool to help keep students’ physical and mental wellbeing safe.  

Lubna Khan is a Lecturer in Law and facilitator of the Law Peer Mentoring Programme at MDX Dubai.