New research study – adoptive parents of children with disabilities

Are you an adoptive parent? Does your adopted child have one or more developmental, physical, or mental health disabilities?

Dr. Claudia Sellmaier and I are seeking adoptive parent participants for a survey about parenting an adopted child with a disability. To participate in this study you must have at least one adopted child who is under 18 years old* and who has at least one developmental, physical or mental health disability.

Image of a family. On the left is a man with dark hair and a brown shirt. in the center is a Black child in a blue button up shirt, holding a pink and purple toy plane. On the left is a Black man in a gray shirt and glasses.

We are interested in learning more about the experiences of adoptive parents who have an adopted child with a disability and their experiences with adoption agencies, service providers, and their place of employment. We hope to use the findings to better improve the lives of adoptive parents and adopted children and youth with disabilities.

The survey consists of up to 67 questions and includes multiple choice and open-ended questions. It may take up to 30 minutes for you to complete the survey depending on your experiences. The current study also received IRB approval from the University of Washington Human Subjects Review Board.

To participate in this study, click on the link below:

You can also contact us for more information: Dr. Kim at (253) 692-5623 or email or Dr. Sellmaier at (253) 693-5865 or email

*Note that you can also have adopted children who are older than 18 years old, but at least -one- of your adopted children must be under 18.


Call for Papers: Adoption Quarterly Special Issue

I’m guest editing a special issue of Adoption Quarterly with Bibiana Koh. Please forward to your colleagues and let us know if you have any questions!
Call for Papers
Special Issue of Adoption Quarterly: Ethics and Adoption
Adoption Quarterly invites abstract submissions for consideration in a special issue critically examining the intersection of ethics and adoption. Ethics are implicitly embedded in nearly all aspects of adoption including (but not limited to) pre/post-placement assessment, clinical practice, education, policy, placement/matching, disruptions/ dissolutions, search/reunion, bioethics/genetic testing, demographics, and economic factors. The aim of this special issue is to broaden our knowledge of how ethics explicitly intersects with these areas (and others) of
Examples of questions that this issue seeks to better understand may include (but are not limited to) the following:
• Ethics and decision-making in adoption: What ethical theories guide adoption professionals’ ethical decision-making in public and private adoptions?
• Ethics and professional codes of ethics: How do professional disciplines’ (e.g., social work, marriage and family therapy, psychology, medical, etc.) codes of ethics help to navigate practice?
• Ethics and adoption search and reunion: How do codes of ethics inform the use of technology (e.g., social media) in adoption search and reunion practices?
• Ethics and placement/disruption/dissolution: How do adoption agencies handle ethical dilemmas in placement, disruption, and/or dissolution?
• Ethics and policy: How do ethical theories explicitly inform adoption policy at the local and/or global level?
• Ethics and pre-placement: What ethical frameworks explicitly guide/inform the assessment and training of prospective adoptive parents (i.e. home study) and matching processes (i.e. use of child photo listings)?
• Ethics and birth/first parents: What are the ethical considerations in working with expectant parents in options counseling, and/or termination of parental rights for adoption?
• Ethics, ethnicity/culture, and education: What are agencies and/or adoptive parents’ ethical responsibilities in educating transracial/intercountry adoptees?
• Ethics and global considerations in adoption: What are the key ethical considerations in adoption globally?
• Ethics and clinical practice: How do our codes of ethics inform our clinical practice in adoption?
• Bioethics and adoption: What ethical theories and/or ethical decision-making models are guiding/informing the use of mass, consumer genetic testing for various purposes (e.g., searching, medical information, ethnicity, etc.)?
• Ethics and legal aspects: What are the potential conflicts of interest when representing more than one party within a given organization (e.g., adoptee, expectant parent, prospective adoptive parent, etc.)?
Abstract submissions may be theoretical, qualitative, or quantitative in nature; empirical submissions are strongly encouraged and may be given priority. Submissions must be original and not previously published. All submissions should explicitly utilize ethical theories/frameworks and/or relevant codes of ethics/standards.
Please submit a 500-750 word abstract no later than February 1, 2019 to Bibiana Koh ( Authors will be notified of decisions by March 15, 2019. Manuscripts for accepted abstracts must be submitted by July 31, 2019.
Bibiana D. Koh, Ph.D., LICSW
Assistant Professor & MSW Field Director
Batalden Scholar in Applied Ethics
Augsburg University
Social Work Department, CB #51
2211 Riverside Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55102
JaeRan Kim, Ph.D., LISW
Assistant Professor, Social Work and Criminal Justice
University of Washington, Tacoma
Box 358425, 1900 Commerce Street
Tacoma, WA 98402-3100

Open Channels: If, When, and How to Communicate Social Work Research Beyond Academic Outlets

I’m in Washington, D.C. for a social work conference, and yesterday I participated on a panel as part of the SSWR‘s Roots and Wings Roundtable series. The conversation was about alternative modes of sharing scholarship beyond the traditional academic audience of peer review journals.

I really enjoy these conversations and this one was no exception. There were many important points made and I wanted to highlight some of the questions and concerns that were raised:

  • The feedback loops that scholars can receive when sharing their research in the communities they are studying can be constructive (e.g. you’re going the wrong way, asking the wrong questions) and generative (i.e. here is what we want you to study). In my work, I have benefitted from both constructive and generative feedback.
  • Does depth and complexity get lost in communication beyond academic outlets? I think it can, but it doesn’t have to be. Sure, Twitter and Facebook platforms may good for short bursts of information but consider their strengths and use them as information delivery modes. Twitter is great for announcing your work out to the public, for recruitment for study participants, and to form relationships with others – including other academics, community members, journalists who might be interested in helping you reach a broader audience, as well as the general public. You can direct people to where they can access the full research, either at your personal blog, your institution’s faculty page, the website for the research lab, etc. I use these alternate modes to bring people to my sites where they can get access to the full research.
  • When academics write Op/Eds, blog posts, or similar types of publications they can experience negative emails, harassment, etc. When I was first blogging at Harlow’s Monkey, I often received very negative comments and emails. One of the participants of our session did a Sarah Silverman when receiving negative responses to an Op/Ed. We now live in an era of doxxing and stalking and trolls, and these are serious concerns. There are different ways of handling this; one of my close friends was doxxed and harassed because of her outspoken presence on her work on race, gender, dis/ability in social media and her publications. Conservative and alt-right organizations targeted her and this is an unfortunate reality of these times. It can be frightening and intimidating. We need to understand this could happen. Journalists could write stories with specific agendas. Institutions have a responsibility to help support faculty here, and there is a lot of work to be done in this regard.
  • Related to this point about institutions – one of the questions we posed was how can/should institutions facilitate open channels and how can/should they value communication and engagement beyond academia? This generated a lot of discussion. Some highlights: institutions are going to need to change, and part of this includes changing what is considered valued for promotion and tenure. We discussed how scholars can show impact (quantitative measures related to their outreach/social media/OpEd production and qualitative measures in terms of community feedback). We also talked about pushing back somewhat and the importance for who are tenured and/or have institutional power to advocate for these alternative ways of dissemination and engagement and, as one person pointed out, in new ways of collecting and analyzing data as well. In my opinion, bureaucratic institutions are always going to be slower to respond to new ways of doing things by the nature of being a bureaucracy. But I’ve had great experiences with my institution in terms of feeling supported to continue my practice of participating in open channels, and my institution has also provided me with support and technical assistance. For example, I participated in our university’s research lightening talk series, which they video and put on the UWT YouTube channel. I attended a UW Seattle workshop on engaging the public and media. I’m also in a department where my work and presence in these areas are recognized and valued. And whenever possible I share and promote the publicly engaged work of other social work scholars via their websites, blogs, Twitter feeds, and OpEd publications, in part to show the wide variety and depth of work that is being produced.


I could not, and would not, be where I am today without having spent so much time engaging with the community and learning from them about what they want and need in terms of the research being conducted on them. I’ve benefitted in more ways than I can articulate. I’ve been supported by my community, in part because I have listened to what their concerns are, and tried to ask the questions they ask. But I think I’ve also been a benefit to the community through my research, which for me is the aim. It is my hope that my research only further impacts my communities by helping to provide information and tools that they can then use to affect change.

Many thanks to Laina Y. Bay-Cheng (University at Buffalo) for convening this session, and my co-panelists Tina Barr (University of Minnesota), Sarah Goodkind (University of Pittsburgh) and Desmond Patton (Columbia University) and all of those who attended.

Adoptees as parents: How Korean American adoptees talk about ethnicity, race, and adoption

Each year University of Washington Tacoma invites faculty to present on their research and I was fortunate to be asked to participate in this year’s Lightening Talk. These are very short presentations (5 minutes!) with timed slides. It was challenging to condense a research study into 20 slides in five minutes, but here is a video of my presentation, highlighting the findings of our study on Korean adoptee parenting.

For more information about this study, please click here.

Recent happenings

It’s been a while, so I thought I would give an update on some of what I have been working on lately.

I was fortunate to be asked to present at the Pact adoption family camp. I presented a keynote about school issues based on the article I published with Pact’s Executive Director Beth Hall for the book Transracial and Intercountry Adoption.

My colleagues working on the KAD parent study presented our findings at the Korean Adoptee Adoptive Family Network (KAAN) conference in Pittsburgh this past June. We are currently writing an article based on this study.

I had two articles published recently. The first is an article written from my research on adoptive parents who placed an intercountry adopted child in out-of-home care due to the child’s disability. That article, You Can’t Run into a Burning Building Without Getting Burned Yourself: An Ecological Systems Perspective of Parents Choosing Out-of-Home Care for an Intercountry Adopted Child was published in the Families in Society journal.

Abstract: Increasingly, intercountry adopted children have special needs similar to children adopted from foster care in the United States. Out-of-home placement may be necessary when less restrictive services have not adequately addressed an adopted child’s needs. The experiences of 19 adoptive parents who chose to place their intercountry adopted child in out-of-home care due to their child’s disability were explored through qualitative interviews and family ecomaps. Themes emerging from interviews relate to adoptive parent definitions of adoption and disability, challenges identifying and accessing services, and the effects of placement on their family, within an ecological systems perspective. Findings show the need for service providers to better understand the impact of an intercountry adopted child’s disability and preadoption history on family adjustment, as well as to support parents through the out-of-home placement process.

The second article was published in the Adoption Quarterly journal and it is based on the research conducted by Dr. Bibiana Koh, Dr. Ruth McRoy and myself. The article is titled, Exploring Adoption-Specific Curricula in Undergraduate and Graduate Degree Programs.

Abstract: The systemic impact of adoption suggests the need to explore adoption-specific curricula in baccalaureate and graduate degree programs. Using a convenience sample, the present exploratory study collected data in two phases. Phase one included email requests for adoption syllabi to professional listservs and to identified faculty with adoption research and practice expertise. In phase two, 22 faculty who responded by emailing syllabi, were invited to participate in an online survey. Results only begin to unveil what we know about adoption-specific curricula in higher education. Suggestions for future research are discussed.

When Obama cried

Image: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS/Getty

One of the things that struck me most about President Obama’s farewell speech the other night was his emotion while thanking and praising his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha. As someone who is interested in masculinity and the ways in which society punish men who openly share any emotion other than anger, the fact that President Obama cried – and not just glossy eyes, but needed-a-hankie cried – is a huge symbol.

There is much I will personally miss about President Obama. I didn’t always agree with his policies but I considered him to be a leader with a lot of integrity, and one who thought carefully about the consequences of his actions as President of the United States.

President Obama was willing to be vulnerable, to show his emotion and love and tenderness for his family, to the world. In this moment, he taught everyone that it is okay for a man to express tenderness as well as strength. Unfortunately there are men and women alike who consider a man’s tears as evidence of weakness; I think about all of the males who were told, “boys don’t cry.” We see the results of that every day – violence, suicide, addiction – suppressing tears does not eliminate feelings. And those feelings don’t just disappear, they get channeled into actions that are usually self-destructive or enacted on to others. Although men and women both work to suppress any hints of vulnerability, men are particularly prone to this because our society has told them that men are not supposed to show any weakness, and tears have become synonymous with weakness.

In the Diversity and Social Justice course I teach, I have students watch the film, The Mask You Live In. This is an important film for everyone to see and this film does such a good job of showing how shaming men who express emotions has dire consequences for everyone.

In a short time, President Obama will leave office. But among his many accomplishments achieved during his presidency, I will count the moment he allowed himself to cry during his farewell speech as one of his best.  In those few minutes, he provided us all with an example of what it means to be human, and to be connected to one another.

Veterans Day

Last night in my class, one of my African American students shared that her daughter had been told to “go back to Africa.” My student is a military veteran. She said, “I fought for 20 years to defend this country and now we are being told that we don’t belong by the very people we have defended.”

On this Veterans Day, I want to give a particularly deep thank you and appreciation to all the people of color/LGBTQ who have served to defend this country, despite being segregated, targeted, harassed, and under-appreciated. Their commitment and service to defending the rights of a country, even during times when they themselves were not the beneficiaries of those rights and privileges, is the ultimate example of patriotism.


An incomplete list of resources to learn more about the experiences of people of color and LGBTQ military communities:

An open letter to my students

Dear students,

The campaigns leading up to the elections last night were divisive and revealed some ugly truths about how some in our country view many of the very populations we, as social workers, are working so hard for. Regardless of your own personal political views about issues such as the role of government, taxes, and constitutional rights and privileges, we have to acknowledge that this election has shown us that despite the advances in civil rights, many in our country blame people of color, LGBTQ people, women, those with disabilities, and those who do not practice Christianity as “taking away” and disenfranchising White Americans, or for causing the challenges our country has faced over the past several years. Of course, not all who voted for the President-elect hold these views, but this election has shown us that far too many do. I know many of you, both white and from communities of color, are disheartened about this knowledge.

Some of you are feeling scared and frightened. Already we are hearing reports of children of color being told to “sit in the back of the bus” by their white peers and KKK marches and demonstrations meant to intimidate. I fear there will be more of this to come in the next months and perhaps even years. If you are feeling scared or intimidated and need to exercise self-care for yourself or your loved ones, I understand if you feel you cannot attend class this week.

However, I hope you do attend class if you can because as MSW students and social work professionals, you will feel the impact of this new president-elect and his office even more than the average citizen – you will feel it professionally as well as personally. This is a time when more than ever your commitment to advocating for social justice for your communities and clients is at the forefront. You will be practicing in an overall society that might push back on our profession’s core values and core ethics and attempt to make our work in our communities more difficult. Our profession was founded on the premise that it is our responsibility as citizens to advocate on behalf of those whose voices have been silenced. You will have clients who will express their fear and concerns about safety for themselves and their loved ones. What are you going to say to your clients? How do we go on to support them in this uncertain time? Let us use this time to support each other in how we move forward from here.

Despite the challenges we face in the upcoming future, remember that we are a community that values the dignity and worth of each person; we believe in the potential for personal and societal change; we have a core professional value for fighting for social justice. My office is always open for those who need a safe place. Let’s roll up our sleeves and work even harder to ensure a just society for all our citizens.

Dr. Kim

“Go back to your country!”

[Photo credit: Trisha Arora. This image is from the Asian American Student series, “So where are you really from?” The goal is to challenge the stereotype of the “perpetual foreigner” that impacts Asian/Asian Americans in the United States.]

A couple of days ago, I read the NYT article, “An Open Letter to the Woman Who Told My Family to Go Back To China” by Michael Luo.

In the ensuing days, Luo started collecting stories of similar experiences of racial discrimination from Asian Americans in the U.S. He is using #thisis2016 on Twitter.

I immediately identified with Luo’s piece. Being assumed to be a foreigner is so commonplace that I have developed a “spidey sense” when it comes to preparing myself for these comments. I am also prepared for the inevitable responses by others that I should not make a big deal about these types of comments; that they are small microaggressions or just comments made by people who are not educated or don’t know better.

I reject those opinions. These comments in total suggest that I’m not a real American based on my ethnicity, race, or presumed citizenship status. Without knowing anything about me, these comments let me know the other person assumes I am “foreign.”

As Luo writes,

This was not my first encounter, of course, with racist insults. Ask any Asian-American, and they’ll readily summon memories of schoolyard taunts, or disturbing encounters on the street or at the grocery store. When I posted on Twitter about what happened, an avalanche of people replied back to me with their own experiences.

Here are some of the examples from my own life (some shared on Twitter):

  • On a recent flight, was asked by a man, “Where are you from?” When I asked why he wanted to know, he responded, “Because I thought maybe you were from a foreign country.”
  • When I refused to provide my name for a retail store’s marketing database, the salesman said, “Okay, how about if I just put your name as Suzy Wong?”
  • My son and I were once followed by a woman who kept muttering, “You f-ing chinks!” over and over.
  • My husband and I were in a neighborhood park when a father and son (about 10 years old or so, in a neighborhood baseball uniform) walked by. The dad said to my husband, who is white, “You must have clean laundry.”
  • I had a teacher who once scribbled some things on the chalkboard and said “This is what Chinese looks like. Well, not really, but you get the idea.”
  • Once, at a child welfare training, the speaker asked me, “So what are some of the things child welfare workers should know about when interacting with your people?” He was referring to the Hmong population in the state; I am Korean.
  • In the category of Too Many Times to Count (part 1): “Your english is so good!” or, “you don’t have an accent!” (usually said in surprise)
  • In the category of Too Many Times to Count (part 2): “No, where are you REALLY from?” If I insist I’m from the U.S. they say, “I mean, like, your parents?”
  • In the category of Too Many Times to Count (part 3): “Learn how to drive/walk/_____ you chink!”
  • In the category of Too Many Times to Count (part 4): White men who greet me with, “Ni Hao,” “Konichiwa,” or bow with their hands folded together.


I could go on and on, but you get the point. Most of these I file under”everyday racism” and go on with my day. Some of the people who say these things say them because they are curious about me; others are intentionally trying to let me know they don’t like me because of my race and ethnicity. All of these comments tell me that to the speaker, I am not a “real” American.


Photo credit: Benson Kua. Image used through Wikimedia Commons

Some ways you can help the victims of the Pulse shooting and their families.




For as long as I can remember, even as a child, I have been fascinated with organizing my world and being “productive.”

Because I like organizing, I’m drawn to sites like LifeHacker and I have a little bit of an obsession for planners, organizers, calendars, to-do lists, etc. I’m always looking for those technology tools that will help me be more efficient, more productive, more more. In my last blog post, I talked about how I often listen to a podcast called Unmistakable Creative, a podcast that is all about productivity and creativity. I recently listened to a podcast featuring Rahaf Harfoush, titled, Technology’s Impact and Our Productivity, Creativity and Humanity. In this podcast, Harfoush talks about having a “meltdown” after seeing a meme that says, “You have the same amount of hours as Beyoncé.

This got me to thinking about a discussion I had in my Diversity and Social Justice course a couple of weeks ago. The topic was on ableism, and we were discussing the concept of “inspiration porn.” That is, the use of a photo image of a person with a disability who is excelling at something – typically some athletic activity – as a motivator for those of us who are able-bodied. These images often include the saying, “What’s your excuse?”

For many of the students it had not occurred to them that an image that on the surface looks to be about changing our beliefs about people with disabilities might actually have deeper problematic messages (click here for a good article discussing ableism and use of images of people with disabilities).

Although these images are quite different – one featuring a successful pop star and the other two feature a person with a disability, the message is the same – if other people can achieve great things, then your so-so achievements are completely your fault because you’re not trying hard enough.

Both of these images are “shamespiration,” shaming people as inspiration. “Shamespiration” originated as a critique of weight loss culture that shames people into losing weight such as shows like The Biggest Loser, for example. Perhaps for some people, being told that you’re lazy and that you could achieve success if you just tried harder is motivating, but for most of us, shame actually inhibits our productivity and more importantly, our ability to relate to others with compassion and empathy.

Shamespiration causes us to be competitive towards others, rather than cooperating. Shamespiration causes us to judge others who are struggling as being weak, lazy or unwilling to change. Shamespiration causes us to define success and productivity for others and allows others to define success and productivity for us. Shamespiration reduces the ability for us to have true empathy for others, and doesn’t acknowledge that some of us have more privileges than others. Shamespiration assumes each of us comes to the starting line with the exact same tools, skills and opportunities and that we could be the best if we only tried harder or stopped making excuses.

Shamespiration tells us to value others for what they do, rather than for who they are.

As an antidote for the shamespiration, it might be worth re-visiting Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on Listening to Shame. If you haven’t seen this before, I recommend watching it every time you see a shamespiration meme that tells you you’re not good enough.



When I moved to Tacoma to begin my new job last fall, one of my priorities was to live within walking distance to campus. By walking distance, I meant no more than 2 1/2 miles or so. I was fortunate to find a place that is 2.3 miles from campus and my route allows me to walk through a lovely park.

Walking through Wright Park last fall.

I am not a speed walker. My commute typically takes about 45 minutes. And if anyone is familiar with the University of Washington Tacoma campus, you know that it is on the bottom of big hill. From my home, that means my walk to work means going down the hill and my walk home is all uphill. Let’s just say that for the first couple of weeks, my calves were burning. I typically walk to work 3 days a week. Whenever possible, I walk on the weekends too, though often not as far.

Spending an hour and a half walking on work days might seem like a lot of time when a person is very busy acclimating to a demanding job. And in many ways I do have the privilege of being able to do this since I am no longer driving children to school or activities and I have only to manage my own time. Even so, with teaching 5 new classes this year and maintaining my research, publishing and conference activities, there were many days when I wondered if it was really worth the time to walk to work.

A snail I saw on my walk to work

What changed my outlook was when I realized that walking to work was, in a way, working. Most of the time when I’m walking to work, I’m thinking about work – about my upcoming class lectures and activities; activities or meetings related to department, institutional or community service; my research; and my writing and publications.

There have been many times when I’ve felt stuck or uncertain about content for a class I’m teaching that day, and am able to work it out during my walk. I have mentally re-outlined articles I am writing or realized that I want to take something in a different direction. I’ve sorted through the pros and cons of difficult work decisions I’ve had to make.

I also sometimes listen to podcasts, my favorites this year include the Unmistakeable Creative, Teaching in Higher Ed, and The History Chicks. These podcasts are full of inspiration and information that I’ve incorporated into my work and personal lives.

A sign of spring – cherry blossoms!

This winter there were a few months when I didn’t walk to work, partly due to  teaching night classes and partly due to the rain (I’ll still walk if it’s a light rain but after one experience walking in heavy rain – never again!). I didn’t realize how much of a benefit it was to my well being to walk until I stopped. I missed the exercise but more than that, I missed the undistracted thinking time. With my phone in my pocket, and just my thoughts to keep me company, I learned how important it is to have regular “thinking” time. It’s not a new concept, of course. Many othersparticularly creative people – have written about the connection of walking to one’s work.

I started walking to work again the first day back after spring break and was rewarded with gorgeous cherry blossoms in the park.

My brother-in-law was the one who inspired me to walk to work. His walking commute is 3 miles, each way. Since spring quarter began I have only driven to work once and in retrospect, I could have walked that day. I remember how awkward and strange it felt those first couple of weeks, and now it’s such a habit that it seems unusual if I don’t walk to work. And I don’t think you have to devote 100% of your walking time to “the mind.” After Prince died, I spent most of my walking time listening to his music. In the past nine months, I’ve walked through grief, I’ve walked through joy, I’ve walked through anger, I’ve walked through confusion. I walked.

Support the Adoptee Citizenship Act – S. 2275

I have exciting news to share, and a call for your support.

On Tuesday the bipartisan bill S. 2275 Adoptee Citizenship Act was formally introduced in the Senate by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and co-authors Senator Dan Coates (R-IN) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR). This is legislation that many of us in the adoptee community have been seeking. Back in 2012, this was one of our main talking points that we brought to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Initiative (CCAI) meeting of adoptees and legislative staff.

The Adoptee Citizenship Act:

  1. Gives retroactive citizenship to all international adoptees regardless of when they were adopted, ensuring that all intercountry adoptees are citizens of the U.S. – even those adopted prior to the 2000 Child Citizenship Act
  2. Gives a clear pathway for deported adoptees, who’ve served their time/resolved their criminal histories, to come back to the US.


In essence, the bill fixes the loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 which only granted citizenship for children brought to the U.S. for adoption who were under 18 years old at the time, creating a situation where those adopted at a time when our adoptive parents had to naturalize us to become a citizen fell through the cracks.


We know there are thousands of adoptees whose adoptive parents did not follow through with their naturalization and thus, risk deportation. This bill is significant for the thousands of adoptees who, through no fault of their own, were not given their citizenship promised to them by the US government, their adoptive parents, and adoption agencies. The bill also provides a pathway for deported adoptees who have already been deported or who are currently detained because they lack citizenship.
But there is still work to be done and legislators need to hear from you about why this needs to pass. What we need from you:

  • Call your lawmakers. Go to this website created by 18 Million Rising.
  • When contacting your legislators, we are asking that you don’t discuss this in terms of adoptee rights or immigration rights. We are asking that you frame it as “righting a wrong, and remedying a loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.” Please tell your legislators that you support the bill as it corrects the CCA 2000.
  • Spread the word. Although we believe the bill has a strong chance of passing, it still needs to go through committee before it’s sent to the floor for a vote. The more Senators hear from you, their constituents, the better. Please tell everyone who is an ally to call.

This bill is a significant accomplishment for the adoptee community. It is the first legislation pertaining to adoptees that was crafted by and significantly informed by adoptees. We are so thankful that Senators Klobuchar, Coates and Merkley responded to our call for action and understood that this has been an injustice for thousands of intercountry adoptees. I am also beyond grateful for the adoptees and adoptive parents that have put in countless hours of work into working with the legislators who authored this bill.

Please spread the word and tell your friends and family to call your legislators to support S.2275!

Endings, beginnings and transitions

Yesterday was my last day at CASCW, a place I’ve called my second home since 2009. I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to have a small part in the great work that the center produced during my time there. I’ve grown as a person both personally and professionally. I will miss my colleagues. And now it’s time to transition to a new chapter of my life.

In just a couple of months I’ll be moving to the Pacific Northwest to begin my new job as Assistant Professor at the University of Washington, Tacoma. This blog will undertake a little bit of a re-design as I transition it into my new job. I’m excited about the new adventure but of course, any new undertaking is sure to include a little trepidation. Plus, I’m making a major move outside of my long-term community and it takes time to develop new relationships (both community and personal) in a new city.

I’m excited to get to know a new city. This will be the first major move I’ve made as an adult and I’m looking forward to starting new. There is something appealing to me about transformations and having a chance to really reflect on what I want going forward. For the past 7 years my mind has been overwhelmingly aimed toward one specific goal and although I have taken several pauses to reflect on my goals and think about what it is I want to do moving forward, this summer will be one of reflection and contemplation as I transition from a graduate student to an assistant professor. Exciting times are ahead!

Reading for diversity

Now that I have defended my dissertation and accepted a job offer, I am thrilled that I will have a little bit more time to enjoy reading, and while I won’t be able to keep up the pace I used to before graduate school, I do plan to prioritize some non-required reading in my life.

Over the past several months, I have come across a couple of articles online about reading only diverse authors – some going as far as only reading books by women of color – for a year. Unfortunately, I can’t set this challenge for me at work, however, it IS something that I am going to implement for my non-required reading. I will be keeping track of my books here.

First one: Ghost of Sangju: A memoir of reconciliation by Soojung Jo. My review is here.

Happy reading everyone! Suggestions? Let me know in the comments!

[Edited to add: I am using this list as my inspiration.]

Others who have taken on this challenge:

Welcome, 2015

Each year I choose a word to serve as my mantra and my aspiration for the upcoming year. I’ve never been much of a “resolution” person. I used to write myself letters every year on New Year’s Day. These letters summarized my accomplishments over the past year as well as the things I had hoped to do but didn’t. I encouraged myself to move towards the goals (sometimes new ones, sometimes carry-overs from the past year) I set for the following year. I still have some of those letters, and it is always interesting to see what a 15 or 20 year younger self wanted in life!

My New Year’s word tend to be more relational and broad, rather than “exercise more” or “eat healthier” (which honestly, are my all-year round, every week type of goals!). When I choose a word, the purpose is to be able to ask myself throughout the year how my actions or thoughts fill this question: “Am I doing this [choice, activity, task, project] with __________?”

Past years words have included empathy, intention, compassion, and integrity. My word for 2015 is COURAGE.

This year will mark a very significant year for me. In addition to completing my doctoral degree, I will be undertaking a move that will take a lot of courage – a literal move that is. I have accepted a job as an Assistant Professor and will be moving halfway across the country and I will be doing it largely by myself. Because I have one child who has one year left of high school, I will be moving alone and the rest of my family will hold things down at home until my son is securely settled post-graduation. This will not be the first time I’ve spent a year apart from my family but the last time, it was my husband who commuted and I had my family and community at home for support. Moving to a new community at this stage in my life is a little bit daunting but this job and the opportunities ahead are so exciting and I feel ready for this new phase and new career.

I’ve thought about this idea of courage over the past few years. In a way I’ve been working toward this step for a long time and made small steps along the way. I was going to blog about this in November but I was so busy working on my dissertation that I didn’t have time. My birthday this past November marked my 10th anniversary of my name change. Changing my name to incorporate my Korean name was a huge decision and signaled a new path for my life. It was a decision that took a lot of courage as I knew many people in my life would not understand. Yet, it was the decision that was right for me, and now even all the people who at first were upset about this change have come to understand and respect that decision.

There are many opportunities this next year when I will need to be courageous. I looked at a lot of quotes about courage in preparation for this blog post. Some quotes are about triumphing in the face of adversity, others talk about courage as being the opposite of fear. To me, courage is recognizing that trying to do something that seems scary and outside of my comfort zone that matters more than worrying about whether or not I might actually fail. Because I might actually fail, but I will have learned a lot about what I am capable of in the process.

When I think about all of the people who have managed to find peace through the most difficult circumstances, circumstances that have been much more difficult than anything that I would ever experience – those who have the courage to stand up and advocate, at person cost, for equality and justice – my own personal failures pale in comparison.

My lovely colleagues gave me the card that I posted above as a congratulations for a recent award I received and it was such a wonderful reminder to be true to who I am and what I want to be in this life. The quote by Leigh Standley:

Have only one rule: Be your wild, courageous, brilliant self every single day. No matter what. May you never fail to express all the wild and wonderful things you are.

With those words, I wish all of you a COURAGEOUS and Happy 2015.

Article about race in Evangelical transracial adoptive families

Hi everyone, and happy holidays!

I just popped in to let you know that I was quoted in an article by Religious News Service about evangelical Christians adopting transracially and the work that needs to be done in terms of honest conversations in the church about race.

You can read it here: “How adoption has forced evangelicals to grapple with race relations” by Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

Happy Indigenous Peoples Day


Like many others, I do not celebrate Columbus Day. I am proud to live in a city that has also recognized the importance of honoring the indigenous peoples in the state through re-claiming this day. If you live in Minnesota, join the community celebration today!

For more about the celebration, click here and here (for their facebook page).

For an article about Minneapolis’ Indigenous Peoples Day click here.


Middle Brother post-show discussion


Join me September 21, 2014 for a post-show discussion after Eric Sharp’s Middle Brother performance.

From Mu Performing Arts

The plan was so simple.

1.) Eat Korean food.

2.) Drink Korean beer.

3.) Live and work in the homeland for the first time in 22 years.

But only days away from moving back to the Midwest, Billy is unexpectedly reunited with his Korean birth brother and must somehow reconcile his modern American life with his newfound Korean past.

Written by and starring longtime Mu performer Eric Sharp (Yellow Fever, Into the Woods, Ching Chong Chinaman), Middle Brotherexpands Mu’s body of work exploring the Korean adoptee experience. Director Robert Rosen (Theatre de la Jeune Lune) helms this imaginative world premiere with his signature physical theatre style.


For ticket information, click here.

Springing ahead

After what felt like a steady stream of non-stop polar-vortexes unleashing a record-breaking winter upon my state, I am almost giddy with the melting snow and warmer weather, even if we still receive a day here or there with some snow. At least whatever snow or wind-chill we get now is quickly gone. In springing-ahead for daylight savings, I am springing ahead with my research and work.

Thanks to the wonderful participants who have been part of my study, I am finally finished collecting interviews and am working night and day to analyze and write. I’ve had so many a-ha moments listening to the adoptive parents in my study. I may be earnest in hoping that their experiences will help change how adoptions are currently done. There have certainly been several paradigm-shifting insights gleaned from these parent’s experiences. I am already thinking ahead to a couple of follow-up studies I will likely pursue based on this study.

Onward I go –

February doldrums

So we have been experiencing quite the winter weather this year, what with the polar vortex and all, making a day like today (19ºF, what?) feel like springtime. In my personal life, things have been pretty normal (that means great) and academically I’ve been making substantial important progress on my dissertation and am where I need to be for right now. Work wise, I continue to enjoy the work I do. So why the doldrums? Is it more than an endless winter?

Lately it seems that a fair number of people I know have been more than a little frustrated by life on a systemic, more than personal, level; in the academy (for academics and/or graduate students) or in the profession (for social workers) and in the adoption community. I am definitely no Pollyanna to begin with, so all the news I read easily makes me feel a little more pessimistic about the state of our world and my fellow humans. I inherently believe in the strengths and empathic capacities of people, but wow, do our institutions often just wear us down until it feels we are all playing a more polite, yet just as ruthless version, of the office-place hunger games. I admit I sometimes need to skip through my facebook and twitter feeds because of all the dismal and wretched news about the academic landscape. Since this is what I hope(d) to be someday when I grew up, it’s disheartening. In addition to the dismal academic stuff, there is all the frustrating news I read, hear about or witness regarding the way the system chews up and spits out social workers and clients alike – and particularly in child welfare and adoption, my areas of professional and academic interest.

Yesterday at a department meeting, a colleague I respect a lot talked about changing the paradigm of “preventing burnout” to “sustainability” and that clicked something in me. Several of my women of color friends in academia and I have discussed Audre Lorde’s “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of warfare” and read bell hook’s “Sisters of the Yam” as preventative measures against burnout.

In every social work class I teach, I bring up the concepts of burnout, secondary trauma, and vicarious trauma, all related but slightly different concepts (at least in the way I have conceptualized them). Because social workers are often working with clients that are or have experienced trauma (both crisis and sustained), they are susceptible over time of experiencing burnout, secondary trauma and/or vicarious trauma themselves.  It seems to me that once upon a time we talked in hushed whispers about “burn out” typically when referring to someone we knew who was crabby, mean,  sometimes overtly hostile to clients, or maybe generally unprofessional. When the shift toward viewing burnout as a symptom of vicarious and secondary trauma came, it felt more strengths based in that at least we could recognize the behaviors as being symptomatic of a larger issues and could see our colleagues as more than their symptoms (novel idea – we often forget this).

I like thinking about this in terms of sustainability. Sustainability is even more strengths focused. Social work in general, despite it’s value in strengths based perspectives, still tends to focus on symptoms to be managed instead of people and communities to grow and thrive.

sus·tain·able  (according to Merriam Webster) is:
– able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed
– involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources
– able to last or continue for a long time

How do we support each other in our personal and collective self-care, in a profession that often not just expects, but requires, us to go over and above on a regular basis? How can we look at each other’s self-care activities and think of them as being integral to long-term sustainability in the profession, rather than being selfish or disengaged?


One of my favorite snacks when I was growing up was a piece of bread, lightly toasted and buttered, with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top. In a way it’s a surprising favorite food for me, because I’m not much of a bread person in general and even today I rarely eat bread in any form. Cinnamon toast was a standard after-school snack. I was good with restraint – I liked my bread barely toasted golden brown. My mom kept the butter in a butter crock so it was always room temperature and spread easily without tearing the toast. A light dusting of sugar and cinnamon was all I needed. Comfort.

I like coffee, I like toast, and I like the Bay area, so when I came across this headline, A Toast Story: How Did Toast Become the Latest Artisanal Food Craze, from a friend’s social media site, I had to check it out. But what I thought was going to be a story about hipsters and the over-priced “craft food” industry was instead a deeply moving story about mental illness, community, and comfort.

I encourage you to read this piece. Having spent two years working with people with schizophrenia-related disabilities, I have a particularly soft spot for people who are afflicted with this disability. It was through working with this population that I learned just how razor’s edge the line is that can separate “us” from “them” and learned to really see people with dignity and acknowledge their gifts and talents.

Theme for 2014

In December, a friend and colleague of mine retired. Before she left our center, however, she gifted each of us with a lovely homemade present. In a little tin, nestled amongst multi-colored pebbles, was a metal circle etched with a word specially chosen for each of us. My friend picked out a word that she felt had meaning for us and in addition to the charm was a quote that gave additional context and meaning.

The word chosen for me was “empathy” and the quote that went along with the word: “There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart, is our temple, the philosophy is kindness.” — Dalai Lama


How strikingly simple and beautiful.

What a way to think about the new year.

I don’t do resolutions, but I do have goals and this year is no different. Of course I’d like to be more healthy and eat better, and exercise more, and get better sleep and write more productively and manage my time better. But these are aspirations that won’t make or break me – the kind of baby step improvements that for me would be nice but are not critical as I try to be mindful of these things anyway.

For the past several years I’ve gone the “word for the year” route. Many others do this as well. What I like about choosing a word for the year is that it helps me focus on my inner state – it’s more of an exercise for mindfulness if you will. In general, the word I choose provides a framework for how I make decisions in my life. The word I choose should fit into this sentence: “Am I doing this [choice, activity, task, project] with __________?” If, in fact, I am/was not doing said choice, activity, task, or project with _________ then I was prompted to reconsider if it was worth participating in that choice, activity, task or project.

Past words have included: intention, compassion, and integrity.

It is with gratitude for my friend and former colleague that I’ve chosen empathy as my word for 2014.

Empathy is a core skill that the social work profession, and social workers themselves, must have. Unfortunately I know far too many people who are more skilled in sympathy than empathy. There is no room in social work for sympathy. Sympathy is pity; it’s feeling sorry for someone else and trying to “help” them stop having those feelings. Empathy is not about feeling sorry for someone but being willing to try to understand what that person is going through — walking in someone else’s shoes, not trying to eliminate the pain per se, but sitting with them as they work through the painful or difficult time or situation. It is difficult to have empathy, because other people’s pain is scary and difficult – we often want to “fix it” out of them. And, sometimes people behave in ways that can be hurtful to others. In addition, if we are only capable of sympathy, it’s hard to deal with anger and depression and other such behaviors. We see those behaviors as being about us – we get offended, we feel victimized by other people’s actions and feelings toward us. Empathy allows us to look at the person underneath those behaviors, recognize that it’s the pain talking, their trauma, or loss – not the person.

There is a time for fixing and there is a time to just be with someone and share in their grief or pain or difficulty. This year, I am going to try and remember to ask myself, “Am I doing this [choice, activity, task, project] with empathy?”

Interview with author Deborah Jiang Stein about adoption themes in literature

Happy New Years to everyone!

Here in the upper Midwest we are experiencing the Coldpocalypse. -21 degrees as I type, with -40 windchills throughout much of my state. I am feeling incredibly fortunate to have a warm house with heat, food in my fridge and an employer who told me to work from home today.

I am also fortunate to have friends and fellow adoptee professionals such as Deborah Jiang Stein, author of two incredible books (Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus and the upcoming Prison Baby) with whom I can have invigorating conversations.

Deborah invited me to have one such conversation about adoption themes in literature. Please read it at her blog here.

While I don’t believe in making “resolutions” I DO hope that 2014 sees more blogging here. I really miss it. And despite what is likely my most busy semester in the last decade coming up here, there are a lot of exciting things happening in my world that I hope to have time to share.

So Happy New Years to all!

Recommended readings to get that hamster wheel spinning

My lack of blogging has nothing to do with having little to write about, rather too much to write about! As an avid social media user, I find terrific, challenging, mind-blowing, thought-provoking articles written by people so much smarter than me every day, and if I had all the time in the world, after spending the time needed to thoroughly digest these words of wisdom, I would ideally be able to craft a reflective response. There is just so much great stuff out there that I am mulling over – everything I’m reading and making connections makes it difficult to even begin putting together my own thoughts on these coherently.

So instead, let me direct you to some things I’ve read that are occupying my thoughts lately.

You can probably see from these links that much of what I’m really thinking about lately has to do with race, privilege, and what allyship is really about.

To end, I’m linking a video that a friend showed me this morning highlighting all the ways one can think they are being an ally but really are not.

Presenting at 2013 Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network Conference

August 3, 2013 – Transracial Adoptees: Commonalities Across Countries

10:30 – 11:45 am, 2013 KAAN Conference, Grand Rapids, MI

As the authors of the book  “Parenting as Adoptees” have shown, adult transracial international adoptees from different countries  have a huge amount in common. Adoptees from South Korea, Vietnam, India, and Colombia, all of whom were part of “Parenting as Adoptees,” will lead a wide-ranging, adult adoptees-only, discussion.

Mark HaglandKevin Haebeom VollmersJaeRan KimSusan Branco AlvaradoStephanie Kripa Cooper-Lewter

August 4, 2013 –  Seeking Asian America: Finding Culture in Contemporary Literature

8:30-9:45 am – 2013 KAAN Conference, Grand Rapids, MI

Asian American authors provide windows to the social history that has shaped the perceptions of a “model minority” and the pervasive stereotypes and racist attitudes that are part of today’s American experience. This discussion group will use themes presented in books by popular authors as pathways to understanding Asian American culture today.

Terri SheridanJaeRan Kim


Interview on MPR now available

The interview with MPR about the contested adoption case and the MN Supreme Court’s ruling is now available on the MPR site. It was a real honor to be asked to provide some context to the case and although I was very nervous, I hope that I was able to add some additional context and understanding to this very sad case. In the end, two sets of parents had oodles of love and ability to raise these girls;and both of them would be able to meet these girls’ needs.  My biggest concern is that family connections will no longer be considered as important as material goods, even though the research has shown that children adopted by relatives fare the best. I am unaware if any research has been done on contested adoptions by foster parents and relatives – what I would want to know is how often race factors in to where children end up. If the grandparents were white and of the same socioeconomic status would the same decision have been made?

For a very thorough and in-depth examination of the case and the response by the grandmother, I recommend reading the articles by City Pages journalist Olivia LaVecchia.

Discussing a contested adoption ruling on MPR


Tomorrow morning I am scheduled to be a guest on Minnesota Public Radio to discuss the Supreme Court’s ruling in a contested adoption case. The conflict, which was profiled by reporter Olivia LaVecchia for the City Pages in January, centers around the adoption of two little girls. The lower court had ruled in favor of the foster parents that had cared for both of the girls since their births and the grandmother in Missouri who had been trying to adopt them for nearly the same amount of time.

The show is scheduled to air at about 11 am. I’ll post a de-brief after the show.

Seeking participants for a study on internationally adopted children with disabilities

paper doll family holding hands

I have reached that stage in my doctoral program where I am finally embarking on my research project. I am seeking participants for my study on the placement stability of internationally adopted children with disabilities.

Are you an adoptive parent of an internationally adopted child with a disability?

Since the finalization of your child’s adoption, has the child been placed – either temporarily or permanently – in a group home, residential treatment center, foster care or another adoptive family?

If so, I am interested in speaking with you.

Who: Minnesota adoptive parents whose internationally adopted child:

  • Is currently between 6 and 21 years of age
  • Has a disability diagnosed at least 6-months ago (or more) by a medical professional, mental health professional, or school professional for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) including (but not limited to):
    • Intellectual/Developmental disability including Austism Spectrum Disorders
    • FASD
    • Mental health disability
    • Learning disability
    • Physical or medical disability including sensory (vision/hearing) impairment
  • Is currently, or has in the past, been placed in any of the following for any period of time other than a respite or 72-hour hold:
    • Shelter
    • Foster care
    • Residential treatment center
    • Group home
    • Hospital treatment center
    • With another caregiver (in legal or informal transfer of custody)
    • With another adoptive family after a dissolution of the adoption

What is involved: I am asking adoptive parents for about 60 to 90 minutes of their time to interview them about their experiences. Participation is voluntary and your information will be protected and confidential. Your participation in this study will never be disclosed.

Why: Adopting a child with disabilities can be both challenging and rewarding. Parents who have adopted children from outside the United States with mental health and intellectual/developmental disabilities sometimes struggle to find appropriate pre- adoption education and/or post-adoption support to help them manage the challenges of parenting a child with a disability. The purpose of this study is to inform adoption practices and improve adoption supports for families that adopted children with disabilities.

How: To participate in this study, or to find out more information about this study, please contact JaeRan Kim at or 612-626-3831. You may download the FLYER Placement stability for intercountry adoptees and distribute to others who may be interested in participating in this study.

For up to date information on this research project, please visit my research site – at JaeRan Kim Research. Thank you for your consideration!

This study has been approved by the University of Minnesota Institutional Review Board #1301P26761

Thank you!

I just wanted to publicly thank Relando Thompkins, one of my favorite bloggers, for including me in his 13 Compelling Social Work Blogs post. Relando’s blog, Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian is a lovely blog full of inspirational and thoughtful posts about social work, society, culture, working for social justice and peace. Relando and I share a passion for improving the experience of students of color in higher education. Always thoughtful and thought-provoking, please add N.A.H. to your blog roll!

In looking for answers, we ignore the forest for the trees

America is in mourning.

On Friday morning, I first saw the news on my facebook page. Shooter at an elementary school in Connecticut. Soon after, more posts on social media sites and online news outlets. The facts of the event continued to become more and more terrifying. For most of the weekend, I, like so many others, shed many tears and continued to ask, “why?”

People are hurting and outraged and angry and are looking for answers as to why anyone would commit such an atrocious crime. So in watching and reading the news, and in online discussions, people are sending petitions to strengthen gun control laws, calling for a ban assault weapons, saying this horrible event was because we “took God out of the schools,” and writing blog posts about the serious lack of services for those with mental illness.

But this post is not about any of those things. I will save my critiques about how the news and media outlets responded in the early hours of the aftermath of the event for another day. I will discuss the issue how difficult it is to get quality mental health services on another post. But I do want to talk about violence.

From the time the shooter was named* people have begun to attempt to put together a profile that might explain the person that committed this heinous act:

  • People are speculating that the shooter’s mother was cold and demanding
  • They wonder if his supposed diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome played a role
  • They insist that of course he was mentally ill
  • They blame his mother for keeping guns in the house
  • He was a “loner”
  • His parents were divorced and he took it hard
  • He was very intelligent but socially awkward

We will never know if individually, or in combination, any of these factors may have contributed toward making this person into the kind of person that would kill so many people. In attempting de-facto to put together the elements we believe must provide us with the answers to our question, we are missing a much larger conversation about violence – who commits it, what it looks like, why it happens, and how we as a society handle it.

By focusing on the individual elements of this person we accomplish two things. First, we further stigmatize everyone that has any of those traits because now we are establishing a correlation between factor and violence, even if we can’t truly establish a cause and effect relationship.But stigmatizing people does the opposite of helping prevent violence from happening because it makes it more unlikely people will ask for help given the increased negative perception. Secondly, we further look for individual reasons that violence is committed rather than looking at larger cultural values around violence that are not being addressed. We tell ourselves that if we, or our loved ones, don’t have any of these stigmatizing factors then we can be absolved from violence prevention because we are not the cause.

In talking about these events with family and friends this weekend, I was struck by the way our society tends to deal with these incidents of mass shootings – at schools, at the Aurora, CO theater, and recently at the mall in Oregon – by looking at the individual profiles of the perpetrators; yet violence occurs on a daily basis in our neighborhoods, on national level and on a global level every day, and we seem to be inured to it. Are we conditioned to only respond to one kind of violence – the kind in which a lone perpetrator sprays bullets into a mass of unknown victims – but not care as much about intimate partner violence, violence against children, wars, and other forms of violence that happen on a daily, if not hourly basis?

On Saturday while watching the news (for a full 10 minutes before I had to shut it off because I was so disturbed by the reporting), I said to my partner, “this must be what it feels like for both the Israelis and Palestinians – this kind of assault, this kind of violence, this mass murder of its citizens. Imagine if we had a Sandy Hook every few weeks, what would we be like as a nation?”

As a parent, I tell my children that bullying and violence is about control and power; and that those who commit violence do so because they want to have control over someone or something and exert their power. I believe that violence is about getting what you want when you can’t get it through other means. It’s about having a sense of entitlement, that someone took something away that was supposed to be yours, whether it’s something tangible and material or whether it’s an ideal or behavior. It’s the fist in the partner’s face because they don’t respect you; it’s the assault of a child because you can; it’s the war over land because you want it and you don’t want them to have it.

What’s missing is an honest dialogue about violence – about the kind we individually and collectively condone or promote. And what else is missing is how we handle our feelings of anger, entitlement, desire to control and disempower others, jealousy. And also, why we are not talking more about how we teach compassion and reconciliation?

I am devastated by Friday’s events. As a parent, I can’t begin to fathom the grief and loss that the parents, siblings, friends and community of the victims are feeling. That such an act of violence happened is overwhelming. The acts of kindness – in particular the story of the therapy dogs comforting grief-stricken children and parents, and the news that out-of-town volunteers helped fill in at local businesses so employees could attend the funerals for the first two victims – were especially touching.

Violence is about making someone else feel disempowered, out of control and powerless. It’s about the perpetrator establishing their dominance. And so it’s not about the size of the weapon (fist, knife, gun, tank), it’s about the underlying motive to disempower someone else, to take it out on someone less powerful than you. The choice of weapon merely allows someone with the intent to harm the tools to harm more people, more cruelly.

*I’m not linking or naming the shooter because I want to avoid search engines, etc.

Pain and empathy

This past week in the New York Times Magazine I came across this article, The Hazzards of Growing Up Painlessly, about a teenager who has a genetic condition that makes her unable to feel pain. Coincidentally on the same day I read this blog post by a Korean Adoptee, Joy Lieberthal. Joy writes, “It is so bittersweet to realize that without the pain, there can be little in the way of true joy and I struggle to make sense of the idea that oftentimes in adoption, this paradox exists time and time again.”

I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot in the past few years. I’ve talked about it in terms of something I’ve noticed frequently with adoptive parents who tend to over-compensate for the pain and trauma their child has experienced by attempting to eliminate pain in their children’s lives. One of the things I found most interesting about the story of people who do not feel pain is that some question whether or not these folks that can’t feel pain can also feel empathy or emotional pain.

The idea that empathy is driven from being able to relate to someone else’s pain based on one’s own knowledge of pain is fascinating. Roland Staud, the doctor who treated the teenager profiled in the NYT article, wondered if the connection between feeling physical pain and emotional pain would affect the teen. Author Justin Heckert writes, “[w]e sometimes experience emotional pain physically — Staud used the tried-and-true example of heartbreak, how the end of a romance can cause a physical pain — and he wondered if the relationship between the body and emotions also goes the other way; if a person lacks the ability to feel physical pain, is her emotional development somehow stunted?”

As it turns out, Ashlyn Blocker, the teenager at the center of this article, does cry and does react to others’ pain, even if she can’t describe hurt or pain. Is it true that to experience joy once must feel pain? Is it imperative to have a physical understanding how pain and suffering feels in order to be able to develop empathy? This study on folks with Congenital Insensitivity to Pain (CIP) and empathy found that those with CIP relied on their (what I imagine must have been learned) empathetic skills to imagine others’ pain.

In the past I have used the analogy that when we experience “growing pains” both physically and emotionally that it is a time of development and growth; like Joy, I have always subscribed to the idea that to know happiness and to be empathetic, one must have known pain personally. I have told adoptive parents who describe the ways they try to take the pain involved in adoption away that they can only provide a “soft landing” for their child because you can’t take away or prevent pain, and that it’s a normal part of growing as a human being – and further that those who don’t experience “growing pains” don’t “grow.” But this article gave me pause; clearly there are those growing and developing without first-hand experiencing the “pain” associated with growth; however I am still left curious about how pain is defined; and if the brain still reacts to painful stimuli even if it doesn’t tell your nerves to react.

How much is empathy a learned concept that can be taught or modeled by parents and how much is it a factor of our own experiences? And in what ways does this impact social work?  How schools of social work teach empathy for students who haven’t experienced much personal experience with pain or suffering?  On the other hand, how do we help students that have experienced trauma, pain or suffering to be reflective of how their own experiences impact the way their empathy is triggered and/or applied?

Taking care of yourself and each other

 Yesterday I attended a conference session titled “Facilitating Genuine Dialogue on Diversity While Instructors’ Own Marginalized Identities are Evoked” with Izumi Sakamoto (University of Toronto), Lorraine Gutierrez (University of Michigan) and Billie S. Allan (University of Toronto). I attended a panel by the same presenters a few years ago on “Decolonizing social work curriculum” (I can’t recall the exact title but it was something along these lines). These women are fantastic; Billie began by thanking the ancestors of the land that we were standing on for their gifts which immediately made me feel at home, and brought to mind my first nations colleagues and friends back home.

I attended this session based on the following description:

Although there is a plethora of literature on how to teach cultural competency to students, rarely covered is how instructors with multiple marginalized identities negotiate the classroom space and engage students in genuine dialogue on marginalization and privilege. Presenters will share their experiences in navigating through tension and vulnerabilities.

The shared experiences were, at times, overwhelming and painful and for the larger-than-expected audience for this session, often times quite emotional. I watched as several accomplished and tenured professors shed tears as they described very confrontational and emotionally violent actions that privileged white students had brought to their classrooms. It is experiences like this when I struggle with whether I want to, or have the energy to, continue to hold ground and/or push on within the institutional and social systems that oppress marginalized communities – and that includes schools of social work and social service agencies.

I am fortunate that I have some amazing women of color friends walking with me on our doctoral education journeys but I have to admit that I wish there were more of us in my field. I am concerned that there is a lot of talk about social justice and anti-oppression in social work but in the daily business of social work practice, education, and research there is a surprising silence about confronting the arc towards the status quo. I go to these conferences and have very different experiences that seem to be so dichotomous as to be splitting; on the one hand I can have amazing conversations with radical social workers who speak of decolonizing social work practice while only hours later I’m questioned about my race and ethnicity by a white social worker who thought it was her right to know where I was *really* from (and then proceeded to “guess” based on her ideas about my name).

A few weeks ago at the Adoption Initiative conference in New York, I had the luxury of spending several days with deeply thoughtful and intellectually and socially grounded professors, doctoral students, artists and practitioners with whom I could speak deeply and emotionally about the challenges of being in academia as someone who challenges the current operating paradigms. One of the themes that came up was how important it is to take care of ourselves so that we don’t burn out, self-destruct, or lose ourselves in this difficult work. One of my new friends suggested reading Sisters of the Yam by bell hooks. My copy arrived the day before I left for this conference and I had been sneaking in little moments to read over the past couple of days. So when the group presenter asked each of us to say something about how we move forward, I pulled out this book from my bag, and promised that I would finish reading Sisters of the Yam.

I mentioned on this blog the other day how privileged I am to be facing these choices; but attending this session also increased my sensitivity to the ways in which people of color or people from other marginalized communities make these choices with much greater stakes than those from more privileged backgrounds. This isn’t necessarily a matter of just making choices;  rather if people don’t stay and fight hard to claim a space in the academy (or in the profession) it becomes more difficult for those coming up after to see themselves, as well as perpetuates the hierarchies and gatekeeping that exist. One of the participants of this session I attended mentioned that she carries with her the spirit of her mother, grandmother, aunts and all the other women in her family who came before her who never had the opportunities because they were denied access.

I left this session with more questions than answers and more sadness than hope. And this thought: we already know we are strong and capable because we made it this far, even with the many obstacles in our way; the question is, are our institutions, professions and colleagues with privilege strong enough to change the status quo? Perhaps we’ve been asking the wrong people to shoulder the burden of inclusivity and social change.

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality

Last night after a full day of conference sessions and dinner with my colleagues, a friend and I decided to take an evening visit to the MLK memorial. This is my 6th visit to DC in the past few years and the last three times I’ve walked the MLK memorial at night. There is something quite profound about the starkness of the sculpture of MLK and the simple, clean lines of the walls of quotes.

My favorite quote from this memorial always makes me think about social work, because I believe what is expressed through these words exactly sums up what I think social work is all about.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

– MLK, Alabama, 1963

Photo © Will Marlow

Conference musings from a late bloomer

I’m sitting in my hotel room desk, preparing for the first of my two presentations at the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Annual Program Meeting conference. It has been very interesting to observe this conference (or, as they prefer to call it, Annual Program Meeting, or APM) as a doctoral candidate. When I attended the APM a few years ago I was a graduate student who hadn’t completed all my exams or dissertation proposal, and I was pretty starry-eyed and overwhelmed. Perhaps it’s because of all the traveling I have done since then, the many conferences I’ve attended and presented, but this time feels very different.

Several of my good friends and members of my doctoral cohort are on the job market this year, and they are busy rushing from interview to interview. I’m exhausted just watching them and of course it makes me very reflective about my own job search in a few years. I am learning a lot from my friends, most importantly that thinking strategically and thoughtfully about what I want to do in a couple of years needs to be figured out fairly soon. I could go in many different directions right now.

However, no matter how confusing it seems right now thinking about all the things I want to do in the future and what might be the best direction(s) for me I am not for a second forgetting how privileged I am to have this “problem.”

I was never supposed to be here in the first place. Given my disadvantaged early childhood, thrown away like trash – although  I was given the opportunity to have better than my humble beginnings would have allowed, expectations were fairly low. I was not the “smart one” in my family. It wasn’t until my mid-30s that I first realized I had the capacity to do well academically and that in fact, I loved learning. People can rise to expectations if they’re given both the opportunity and the support. I had both thanks to a very supportive partner in life who encouraged me to take the first step. Then I had some amazing professors who wouldn’t let me self-sabotage my trajectory as a non-traditional student trying to finish her undergraduate degree. They even encouraged me to pursue a master’s degree, which I first found ludicrous. Ten years ago it would have seemed incomprehensible that today I’d be embarking on a research study for my doctoral dissertation and considering which schools I’d like to apply to when I am finished with my program.

These are the things I remember when feeling overwhelmed with all the “choices” I have before me. What a luxury to have them. Not everyone is as fortunate.


Is it really November already? I had promised myself that I was going to do a better job of keeping up with the blog. Clearly that did not happen! 

I have an over-commitment problem and that often gets me into trouble. Working full time, teaching, presenting at conferences, working in collaboratives and volunteering on top of working on my dissertation and parenting and spending time with my partner and friends is exhausting and I need to work harder on saying “no.” Problem is, I truly love all these things that I am doing and it is hard to take any of them out of the equation!

Now that I have only one conference in the near horizon to prepare for, I’ve been working more on preparing my IRB for my dissertation research. I should have things in order within the next week – in fact my goal is to have it submitted before I go to this conference next Thursday.

And then maybe I’ll find time to blog more. I particularly want to share my thoughts about some of the conferences I’ve attended over this past year. 


Transracial adoption theme on CSI

One of the things I take note of is how adoption and foster care is portrayed in popular culture. I happen to like to watch crime/investigation/law shows but don’t have the chance to watch them as they air – so as usual I was up late one night recently when I caught CSI-New York. A character in the episode, portrayed by Sela Ward, was shown with her daughter Ellie, who is played by a multi-racial black teen (Sydney Park). I poked my husband and said, “Really? They are actually going to have a white female lead on a network news show that has a biracial child? I’ll bet she [the daughter] is adopted.”

The joke – or rather, the intuition – was on me, because of course I was right. Unfortunately there are some things you still can’t do on network television, such as having a white female lead with a mixed-race black child unless said child is adopted.

As typical, this information is exchanged through an irritating conversation between Ward’s character Jo and Mac Taylor, played by Gary Sinise, in which the character of Mac waxes on about how Jo “saved” this girl, blah blah blah.  There was a lot of cringe-inducing language regarding Jo’s adoption of Ellie.

Here is a clip of Sela Ward talking about the adoption theme. I didn’t realize that Sela Ward started an “orphanage” in her home state of Mississippi, the Hope Village for Children. They show a clip of an upcoming episode on this video that reveals that “Jo” basically put her daughter’s mother in jail and “rescued” her from becoming a foster child through the CPS system (episode 18). Another clip here.

Teaching my children how to talk about race and racism

I’m very excited to announce that I have a chapter in this new anthology, “Parenting as Adoptees”  edited by Adam Chau and Kevin Ost-Vollmers. This book is now available through Amazon as an electronic book and will be printed in book form in the next few months.

The fifteen authors include fourteen parents who were adopted as children, and one chapter was co-written by an adoptee and her daughter. The editors are also both adoptees who are parents, and the illustrator, Kelly J. Brownlee, is an adoptee.

My chapter is titled : Breaking the Silence: Teaching My Children to Talk About Race and Racism.

From the website:

Through fourteen chapters, the authors of Parenting As Adoptees give readers a glimpse into a pivotal phase in life that touches the experiences of many domestic and international adoptees – that of parenting. The authors, who are all adoptees from various walks of life, intertwine their personal narratives and professional experiences, and the results of their efforts are insightful, emotive, and powerful. As Melanie Chung-Sherman, LCSW, LCPAA, PLLC, notes:

“Rarely has the experience of parenting as an adopted person been laid to bear so candidly and vividly. The authors provide a provocative, touching and, at times visceral and unyielding, invitation into their lives as they unearth and piece together the magnitude of parenting when it is interwoven with their adoption narrative. It is a prolific piece that encapsulates the rawness that adoption can bring from unknown histories, abandonment, grief, and identity reconciliation which ultimately reveals the power of resiliency and self-determination as a universal hallmark in parenting.”

Moreover, despite its topical focus, the book will interest individuals within and outside of the adoption community who are not parents. “Parenting As Adoptees,” writes Dr. Indigo Willing, “contributes and sits strongly alongside books by non-adoptees that look at issues to do with ‘the family’, race, ethnicity and migration. As such, this book should appeal to a broad audience interested in these various fields of inquiry.”

More reviews are available here.

You can read an excerpt of my chapter (and two others) on the Parenting as Adoptees website.

Guest panelist on MPR’s Daily Circuit

 On Friday, July 13, 2012, I was invited to be a guest on MPR’s Daily Circuit Roundtable show. The show was a response to a broadcast earlier that week that focused on the trend toward fewer international adoptions that have been occurring since 2004, when international adoptions to the U.S. peaked at over 22,000.

Here is the broadcast of the roundtable discussion: click here

The original show focused tightly on the business side of international adoptions spurred by the recent news that Children’s Home Society and Family Services, Minnesota’s longest-running adoption agency, had merged with Lutheran Social Services in large part due to the loss of millions of dollars in revenue over the past few years because of declining numbers of international adoptions. Both the StarTribune and Daily Planet as well as MPR covered the merger and in doing so framed the issue as a matter of supply and demand. Had CHSFS and LSS merely been two businesses and  “adoptable children” been replaced by “widgets” I am sure no one would have given this story much notice.

Here is a link to the original discussion: click here

However, two things happened that led to this story getting a LOT of notice.

First of all, for many reasons, the decline in international adoptions actually is about supply/demand and the commodity that led to the loss of revenue unfortunately is “adoptable children” and that in itself gets attention since no one likes to think of children as merchandise. The focus on the merger and the loss of millions of dollars due to the decrease in the number of international adoptions makes children seem like widgets, even when that is not the intent by the majority of the professionals and other players involved in adoptions. Unfortunately, the host of the Daily Circuit, Tom Weber, kept going back to the decline in numbers, using discourse and rhetoric such as “precipitous drop,” “precipitous decline” and “plummeting.”

Even when the guests, representatives from LSS and CHSFS, Dr. Dana Johnson from the International Adoption Clinic at the U of MN, and an adoptive parent, stated there were good reasons behind some of this decline in number of international adoptions, the continued use of “chicken little” rhetoric (i.e. the sky is falling!) sets the paradigm so strongly in one way that to see it any other way is framed as bad. Deeper discussions into the reasons why declining numbers of international adoptions may be a good thing were not really given space, even as the guest speakers attempted to do so. I see this as an issue with the way the media understands and reports on adoption. Clearly there needs to be more nuanced discussions about adoption in the media. There is a precedent for thoughtful reporting on adoption by public radio outlets – a few years ago Sasha Aslanian produced a wonderful, deeply thought provoking and nuanced series about adoption in her piece, “Finding Home: 50 years of international adoption.” Ms. Aslanian sits only a few feet away from the producers and reporter at the local MPR station and could have been one resource on accurate reporting on adoption.

Why is this distinction important to me? The hyperbole about “falling numbers” within the context only of how this affects adoptive parents does several things:

  • it sets up adoptive parents as victims and is thus adult-centric without looking at the best interests of children
  • it automatically frames high numbers of international adoptions as the goal
  • in a global context it speaks to American entitlement at the expense of developing nations and their concerns about managing the welfare of their children
  • it does not address how sending nations are attempting to provide better care and better options for their children

Continue reading “Guest panelist on MPR’s Daily Circuit”

Lazy blogger

…but not lazy in other ways!

My personal life has been full of celebrations lately. My daughter graduated from high school and was accepted to her first choice college, and several of my friends have graduated with their PhD’s and successfully defended dissertations. Last semester I also taught a BSW course at a local university, wrote two full-length articles, worked full time, and sporadically worked on my dissertation. Clearly, however, the dissertation was given the least amount of focus. Poor neglected dissertation. Well, the dissertation and the blog.

I also did some housekeeping on the blog today. I changed the look, updated the publications page and added a page for upcoming events (conferences or panels) that I’ll be participating in over the next year.

Children’s Bureau conference

I am currently in Washington, DC to attend the 18th Annual National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect.  While there are many things I’m am sure I will be impressed with here at this event, one of the things that surprised me was the technology available for participants. I was able to go to the conference website and download an app for my iPhone listing the conference programs, sessions and events information, and even giving me the chance to “add” it to my calendar!

PhD Elitism

In addition to posts of cute kitty videos and pictures of food (and I’m guilty of both) I find facebook to be a site of a lot of thought-provoking conversations recently. In particular, I have been following a thread about the people who have PhD’s and their elitism.

There is a lot of this sentiment going around lately; I hear political candidates whose parties encouraged higher education a few decades ago now bashing the push for college educations, much less advanced degrees.  I expect sweater-vest-wearing politicians to say such things, but when it comes from within your own community? Where is this critique coming from, to make such generalizations. What does this mean for those of us from under-served or marginalized communities with, or currently pursuing, doctoral degrees?

Continue reading “PhD Elitism”

The racialized classroom

Yesterday I attended a round table at my university titled, “Teaching and Learning in the Racialized Classroom.” From the program’s description: the “engaging roundtable discussion seeks to provide students, teaching assistants, instructors and faculty with a candid discussion about the myriad ways in which race impacts the teaching and learning experience — especially in classes in which women are teaching about racialized identities, power, and communities.Questions up for discussion include: How are instructors’ and students’ bodies and identities being read? How do instructors and students respond to one another given this reading of identities? What are some multiple strategies of addressing identity in the classroom?”

I was interested in this discussion because it intersects with two aspects of my life right now. I’m currently teaching a course that could be called a “diversity” class for a local undergraduate social work program. This class is actually the second in a series, the first of which honestly was more in-depth and substantial than the diversity course I took in my Master’s program. I have taught the first course in the series twice, and was happy to be asked to teach the second course, which delves much further than just learning about different racial/ethnic populations to explore social work practice. So, as a woman of color teaching a class on issues of diversity for a professional program dominated by white practitioners, I was very interested in hearing what others had to say about the ways I, as a female teacher of color, read and are read by the students in my class.

In addition, over the past month, this topic has come up in a couple of conversations amongst a group of friends who regularly get together. However, we are not only discussing the educator of color in the classroom but including the reverse situation of white educators teaching in a diverse classroom of K-12 students. This group of friends includes several educators, three of whom are white women and three of whom are women of color (myself included). One of the things that happened was that comments made by the educators of color were viewed negatively by the white educators, the white educators attempted to “educate” the educators of color based on a White, liberal framework that did not account for the differences and nuances with teachers and students of color, and feelings were hurt on both sides.

Continue reading “The racialized classroom”