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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.

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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.

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!

Summer updates

I have been traveling for a lot of work-related duties this summer, and have a lot to process. Unfortunately, much of my thoughts are too personal to share on a public blog and although I’ve not been too shy in the past to voice my thoughts on a wide range of topics, I am somewhat torn between sharing some of my thoughts on this blog and protecting people’s privacy. If I can figure out a way to write some of my thoughts without being too publicly invasive, I’ll do so. It would be good to figure out a more consistent groove on the blog either way.

Just some highlights:

  • I spent a week in California at an adoption family camp, where I was privileged to be one of the keynote speakers, facilitated three workshops for parents, two workshops for the teens, and one workshop for the teens and their parents. By far the best part of going to Pact Camp is the opportunity to be with other adult transracial adoptees who are creating, sharing, advising, counseling, educating and mentoring adopted children and youth and their adoptive parents. One of the things that has been difficult is the in-between state we adult transracial and international adoptees who work with adopted individuals and families find ourselves. We are often considered less expert than the Professionals and Adoptive Parents who do the same work. We are also routinely criticized by other adult adoptees for working at camps such as Pact because we are seen as perpetuating the adoption industry. It is such a thin tightrope that we walk. I’m eternally grateful that I have found a cohort of adult transracial and international adoptee professionals that just get it, and with whom I can share both the joys and the frustrations of doing this work.
  • I attended the Summer Institute for Indian Child Welfare in my home state of Minnesota. For several days I learned about best practices in tribal child welfare services by those who are the experts – the tribes. I have to say I was very, very impressed by the speakers and the special opportunities for learning that I was privileged to be invited to participate. One of the biggest takeaways from this conference was that not only are some of the tribes that took over their child welfare services from the state governments doing exemplary work in their communities, that the outside world should be implementing their practices. Shouldn’t every child have active efforts conducted on their behalf? Shouldn’t every placement be determined on a hierarchy of the best interest for a child’s continuation with their family and community (placement first with family, extended family, community, and with new resources outside the community as a last resort)? My greatest frustration in leaving this conference was the huge disservice our child welfare service practices have done to children and families. What arrogance do we as a system of care have that we think children thrive better when completely severed from their families and communities, not to mention cultures? I challenge any adult to think about what it would be like to be forced to move away to a strange new place and start over without anything from your former life and prohibited from talking to anyone from your former life – family, friends, colleagues, everyone – and told to be grateful for it. Imagine being in a witness protection program only you had no choice over whether you wanted to be in the witness protection program because someone else decided it was in your best interest. I would guess it would be your last choice, chosen only if there were no other options available. Now imagine that you have to do this as a child. And that, sadly, is what we are doing to thousands of children each and every day.
  • I presented at a shelter that provides crisis counseling, services and beds for youth that are experiencing homelessness. I was asked to present because in the past few years, this agency has seen a big rise in the number of teens who were transracially or internationally adopted. These teens have either run from their adoptive homes or were kicked out by their adoptive parents. While reunification is the goal, the counselors have been challenged by the difficulty with working with the adopted youth and his or her parent(s). One staff person told me that nearly all the youth they saw at the center during one recent month were adopted.
  • I am continuing to work on my dissertation proposal as well and hope to be finished in early September, so I can begin to collect data for my research and thesis. I am also continuing with my “day job” which is to coordinate the Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate through my university, that will begin this fall.
So in a nutshell, that’s what I’ve been up to this summer. Hope summer has been good for you as well.

Presentation on using social media in the classroom and beyond

As promised, here is a link to the Prezi of our presentation at the Council on Social Work Education Annual Program Meeting. Our presentation was about how to use social media – in the classroom (going beyond the closed technologies like Moodle or Web CT); as a recruitment tool for schools of social work, and for individual faculty professional development.

One of the things we found out is that while many schools of social work are talking about using social media and have added facebook pages or twitter accounts, that few of them interact with these technologies because they want to – more prevalent was the incorporation of social media because it is the “new thing” or because everyone seems to think organizations have to have a twitter now. But if it’s not used well, then what’s the point?I believe one of the strengths Ericka and I have is our extensive use and knowledge of social media prior to entering the academy.

Prezi is a new way of presenting that goes beyond the linear and more static presentation form of powerpoint or keynote. Here is the link to see the presentation for yourself. I believe you will have to sign up for Prezi to be able to make it interactive; if you are a student or educator you can get a free upgraded version but you can also sign up for a basic program and it’s free!. Enjoy!

Prezi of Moving Beyond Moodle

Social media and social work

I’m currently in the midst of putting the finishing touches on my presentation for the Council on Social Work Education conference/annual meeting in Portland OR, which begins tonight. Along with two of my colleagues, including Ericka Kimball, we are presenting a think tank on connecting the community to our professional scholarship through social media to enhance and develop our classroom teaching experiences, as a tool for being a presence out in the community, and for academics as a way to share ideas, network and professional development.

The three of us believe that blogs, twitter and social network sites have great potential for facilitating a social work profession-community connection. We will post our presentation on our blogs too as an open source.

IKAA Gathering Korea 2010

IKAA_Gathering_2010_Banner_728x90_v4

The International Korean Adoptee Associations (IKAA) Network will
host the IKAA Gathering, the third of its kind, scheduled to take place
from August 3rd to August 8th 2010 at the Lotte Hotel in Seoul, Korea.

The IKAA Gathering is held only once every three years in Seoul, Korea
and continues to gain momentum and significance as the most
internationally inclusive and largest Korean adoptee conference in the
world. With each Gathering in Seoul, the attendance garnered has grown
at an impressive rate, from over 400 participants representing over 15
countries in 2004, to over 650 participants from over 20 countries in
2007. The IKAA Gathering 2010 is expected to continue this tradition of
development and maturity, anticipating the participation of over 800
adult adoptees.

In addition to cultivating community among adoptees, the IKAA
Gathering 2010 will differ in its efforts to promote dialogue and a
greater understanding between the global Korean adult adoptee community
and Korean society. This Gathering will encourage cultural exchanges
that provide both communities with the opportunity to forge
international relationships and become active participants in Korea’s
globalization project by offering programming that includes “membership
training” and team-building activities, as well as a business seminar
and professional networking events with Korean nationals.

Additional new programming at the IKAA Gathering 2010 will feature
a mini-film festival, which will also be open to a Korean audience, and
an “Adoptee Amazing Race,” a series of activities specifically tailored
to adoptees returning to Korea for the first time. The Gathering will
once again host the highly successful Korean Adoptee World Cup soccer
match, a comprehensive range of workshops, forums, and presentations,
an ArtGathering, and the Second International Symposium on Korean
Adoption Studies (SISKAS), where scholars from around the world will
present their research.

Early registration for the IKAA Gathering 2010 ends on March 15,
2010.  More information about registration, flight, and hotel prices
and discounts is available at www.ikaa.org.

Formally established in 2004, IKAA is the largest existing network
of international Korean adoptees, reaching out to thousands worldwide.
Common for all IKAA associations is that they have demonstrated
long-term stability, their organizational structure and membership are
comprised overwhelmingly of adult adoptees, they have a long history
and experience working with adoptees, and they organize activities and
events for their members on a regular basis.

IKAA_Gathering_2010_Banner_120x240_v4 International Korean Adoptee Associations (IKAA)

IKAA
was established to better serve the Korean adoptee community, create a
strong communication forum, build global relationships and provide a
location where Korean adoptees can turn when in need of a resource.

The mission of the IKAA Network is to enrich the global adoption
community, promote the sharing of information and resources between
adult adoptee associations, strengthen cross-cultural relations and
innovate post-adoption services for the broader international adoptee
community.

IKAA Network Organizations

Adopted Koreans’ Association (Sweden) | Arierang (The Netherlands) | Korea Klubben (Denmark) | Racines Coréennes (France) | AK Connection (Minnesota, USA) | Also-Known-As, Inc. (New York, USA) | Asian Adult Adoptees of Washington (Washington, USA)

IKAA Gathering 2010 Supporting Organizations

Korean Adoptees of Hawai’i (Hawai’i, USA) | Asian Adult Adoptees of British Columbia (Canada) | Boston Korean Adoptees (Massachusetts, USA) | Forum for Korean Adoptees (Norway) | Korean Adoptees of Chicago (Illinois, US)