A student-oriented Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) cell at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay has begun a special mentorship programme for students belonging to these communities on campus. A felicitation ceremony was recently held for all 40 mentors across different departments to appreciate them for their work. Students who began the programme in May 2022, told EdexLive that the current mentorship programmes on campus — Student Mentor Programme (SMP) and Department Academic Mentorship Programme (DMP) — have been “insensitive” to caste-based issues. “We carried out a survey in February 2022 to find out what issues SC/ST students were facing with the current programmes. The students told us that reservation jokes are made by mentors and these are used as ‘icebreakers’,” alleged one of the students behind the initiative and informed EdexLive on the condition of anonymity. What is a mentorship programme? Whenever a new batch of students join the institute, one mentor is assigned to a group of 15 students. This mentor is the point of contact between the students and any help they need with academics, co-curricular activities, scholarships and more. The survey that the cell carried out revealed that the SC/ST students lost their point of contact and were left on their own, the student said. “Apart from the jokes, there is a lot of bias in the interview process for choosing the mentors. Those students who were mentors in the previous years conduct the interviews of probable candidates for the current year. As a result, the mentor is not from one of these communities,” the student said. The parallel programme for SC/ST students was started as a result of this.How is this programme different? SC/ST students require help with applying for scholarships, the student informed. “There are usually problems with self-attestation and other documents that are needed. Because this new cell will have mentors from the same community, they will be able to guide the students better,” the student said. While upper-caste students already have their network in place, these kinds of cells create a network among the SC/ST students. Mentors across various departments noted that around 10-15 students contacted them for help. “Most of them needed help with scholarships. Others were provided with academic help in the form of previous question papers and so on,” the student said. Moreover, the mentors also help students with finding other sources of funding. "PG students cannot apply for scholarships because they get stipends. But even this stipend is sometimes as less as Rs 6,000 for MSc aspirants," the student said. They recalled that a mentor found a funded project for one such student that was worth Rs 20,000. Along with academic support, students are also provided with mental health services if they need it. “If they are facing any discrimination or need help with counselling, then they can inform the mentor who will then prompt the cell to take action,” the student said. This has been particularly important as the current counselling services on campus are insufficient for SC/ST students, the student added.Response so far On October 27, a new batch will join the institute. Currently, mentors are being appointed for the same. “The trust is building with the cell. Students will take time as there have been negative experiences in the past with the institute,” the student said. Additionally, members from the cell have also been in talks with the other two mentorship programmes’ members on campus. “We told them that if an SC/ST student comes to you with an issue that you do not know, then refer it to us,” the student said.
(EdexLive has reached out to IIT Bombay and the copy will be updated once a response is received)