As a professor at Wake Forest University and an editor at large at Elle, Melissa Harris-Perry is constantly on the lookout for new students to mentor. When she teaches a class, she gravitates towards those who aren’t afraid to challenge her. She knows these students will be the ones most willing to relax around her—to go out for a drink, debate about Kendrick Lamar, or let loose on the dance floor. The ability to have fun, she says, is key to a good mentoring relationship.
Mankaprr Conteh, who graduated from Wake Forest in May, is one of those students. When Harris-Perry created the Elle.com Scholars, a program that gives Wake Forest students the opportunity to write for Elle’s website, Conteh was the first participant.
As part of The Atlantic’s project, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” I spoke to Harris-Perry and Conteh about mentorship, vulnerability, and how Beyoncé brought them together. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Caroline Kitchener: Was there a point when you felt like you started to stand out to Professor Harris-Perry as more than just another student in class?
Mankaprr Conteh: Well, there was the Beyoncé argument.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I need to give you some background information here—there is no person who knows anything about me who doesn’t know that I am obsessed with Beyoncé. I have been for years and years, openly and actively. And not in a surface kind of way. I am the platinum member of the Beyoncé club. You have to begin with that foundational understanding.