Reflections on Year Three

I never reflected on Year Two, so I guess I might as well jump ahead to year three since it occurred more recently. I will also touch upon some of what happened in Year Two in this post anyways. For those who want to see my thoughts following my first year, please click here.

Warning: This post is a little longer than I expected.

At the end of Year Two with support from my unit head, I applied for my first administrative role to become director of the Kutsche Office of Local History. Solid mentors within and outside of my unit encouraged my application. Serving as director this past year has been an incredible journey. I developed our 2016-2021 strategic plan, aligning it with the overall strategic plan of both the university and college. I oversaw continuing projects and launched a new project (Histories of Student Activism at GVSU). Part of why I feel successful in this new role is because of the mentoring I receive from colleagues in administrative positions, but also because the staff and student interns in the office are integral components for keeping the office running. Support from the office coordinator aided the growth of a new signature program—Lunch with the Kutsche Office—in the fall. This new annual program also includes a featured speaker. Last year Dr. James Smither, professor of history, discussed the best and worst oral history practices and the Veteran’s History project. We also launched a new grant program, Community Collaboration Grant, for faculty working with a community partner and mentoring an undergraduate student. My first year as director has been busy to say the least. ❤

The second year at GVSU also saw me serving on my first search tenure-track search committee. It was a great experience and allowed me to witness the search process “from the other side.” By having both perspectives—as someone recently on the market and as a member of a search committee—I could better see the nuances of what makes one candidate jump off the screen more than another. And, how one candidate could resonate more with one committee member over another. This is why committees are essential to hiring, as not every member will “see” the same thing as they read applicants’ materials. In the end you always need to trust your colleagues and their judgment for coming up with the best candidate for the position. It also reinforced advice from my mentors when I was on the market who always noted that searches are quirky and it’s about the committee’s desires not you. (And yes, I realize it sounds like an academic rendition of “He’s just not that into you” or “It’s me, not you, really.”)

The skills learned as a search committee member bolstered my abilities to chair a search committee last year (2016-2017). Chairing a search from start to finish was an interesting opportunity and gave me even greater insight into how the hiring process works from start to finish. It also made me realize the importance of thinking about this process holistically and recognizing that applicants like search committee members are human.

Thoughts on Third Year Review

In addition to chairing a search and transitioning into a new administrative position during Year Three, I completed my third year review process. One of the biggest tools that allowed me to think critically about the review process is the fact that Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen shared her tips for preparing an academic dossier early on with me when I was a graduate student. I kept these tips in mind and made sure to save, save, SAVE all of the things in preparation for my third year review. I also took mental notes as I talked with colleagues about their review processes and went to workshops offered by the college. More importantly, I attended the Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center Personnel Portfolio Workshop offered by my institution the summer before year two. At this workshop, I not only learned more about the institution’s norms for review, I also developed a working draft of my integrative statement. The integrative statement is meant to act as a guide for those reviewing materials in your review binder. It is meant to demonstrate your breadth and depth and underscores your trajectory as a scholar including reflections on teaching, research, and service. The workshop provides a mentor from a senior colleague in a different discipline and you operate in smaller cohorts/teams. This was such a worthwhile experience as it got me thinking about how I would articulate my career at the institution and the contributions I have made since arriving to campus.

Kim McKee Third Year Review Binder
Kim McKee holds her third year review binder.

To give folks a sense of what my binders looked like, see the photographs on the right. In addition to my main binder that held materials related to teaching, research, and service, I had two binders holding the manuscript for my monograph and the essays in the edited volume I am working on. Click here to see my table of contents. I’m sharing my table of contents to illustrate the kinds of material that are included at my institution. I recognize that expectations for review differ institution by institution. It is my hope that by discussing my third year review briefly and sharing my binder’s TOC that I can create a generative conversation around this process. I want to use this moment as a tool for productive conversation around how we can best support faculty during this process. For many faculty, the review process is daunting and we do not often have open conversations about what to expect.

Here are some tips:

K McKee Third Year Review Binder, monograph draft, and edited volume draft
Three white binders. Kim McKee’s Third Year Review Binder, Edited Volume Draft, and Monograph Draft.
  • If your colleagues’ materials are available for you to review or if they offer them to you for review, always review them. See how they organized their materials. Learn the norms of your institution. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid.
  • If you there is a workshop dedicated to preparing faculty for the review process, go! Reap the benefits of colleagues’ expertise.
  • If a senior colleague offers to read a draft of your integrative statement and you want feedback, take them up on your offer.
  • Make sure you review your personnel guidelines. Review them with a fine-tooth comb. Familiarize yourself with the expectations. Try and eliminate as many surprises as possible.

I recognize that not everyone’s review process is smooth sailing; however the four tips above are meant to at least get folks thinking more openly and critically about this process. Sometimes just having someone else encourage you to do X (or Y, or Z) produces an invaluable change.

Remember the annual review process is meant to prepare faculty for their third year review and subsequent tenure and promotion reviews. The annual review process, in theory, should provide you with tangible feedback if you’re on the right track to meet the benchmarks set in your personnel guidelines. And, in addition to updating Digital Measures (if your university uses metrics), don’t forget to continuously update your CV. This saves you time down the road. 🙂

Reminders on Mentoring

I have written elsewhere on my blog about mentoring, but I want to highlight a series for Ideas on Fire and offer a few words. Ideas on Fire has a three-part (as of this posting) blog series on mentoring: How to Find a Good Mentor, How to be a Good Mentor, and How to Be a Good Mentee. They offer useful information on a variety of topics in their blog, but I highlight the mentoring series because often we forget that sometime we need nudges about what good mentoring is and what it is not.

As a reminder, don’t wait for a mentor. Mentors don’t magically arrive at your footsteps. This isn’t a fairy tale and you’re not Cinderella. The mentor fairy godmother won’t appear out of thin air. And we’re not at Hogwarts. Dumbledore won’t come rescue you from a cupboard. I took advantage of my institution’s program for first year faculty. In year two, I also joined the peer-to-peer mentoring program. To complement these formal mentoring avenues, I sought out multiple mentors at my institution and elsewhere to create a vibrant mentoring constellation as no single individual will have all of the answers. A mentor for one issue may not be the same mentor for another issue.

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Protecting Your Time

This past year has been one where I did not protect my writing time. I watched as blocks of time originally carved out in my calendar slipped away into the cloud as the delete button was struck removing them from my iCal. L This is not to say I did not have established writing times. I DID. And, I recognize the importance of them. For those who don’t completely buy into it, check out “Establishing a Regular Writing Practice” from Ideas on Fire.

But I shouldn’t say that I didn’t write. I did. I worked on revisions for my first book and sent them to the press in April. I also fine-tuned the edited volume I’m working on with a colleague. I submitted revisions on a journal article and completed page proofs on two chapters in edited volumes. This isn’t meant to be a listicle lauding my accomplishments over the year; rather a reminder that even if my dedicated writing time shifted, I still managed to write. Writing is writing even if the times are discrete moments. There is no perfect magic hour for writing. At least, I have not found one.

Just as protecting your time to write is important, so is protecting your free time and thinking about self care. Academics and higher ed often make faculty feel as if we’re on the clock all of the time. I am working on developing better practices at negotiating the attempt of balance. I realize that perhaps balance isn’t the best term to describe the healthy place of negotiating personal and professional responsibilities, but it does signal a desire to strive for a holistic life that allows for me to excel without becoming a workaholic.

I end with two articles focused on self-care and the end of the semester. They’re good reminders to prioritize YOU and your health.

And, to remind myself daily, I have a print out of the Crunk Feminist Collectives’ “Back-to-School Beatitudes: 10 Academic Survival Tips” (2011, August 25) near my desk.

The Value of Supporting Scholars Interested in Digital Humanities

Last June 2016, I had the pleasure of attending the HILT workshop, Digital Pedagogy and Networked Learning. Lee Skallerup-Bessette and Amanda Licastro facilitated an engaging session exploring various tools for folks with a range of familiarity and comfort with digital pedagogies. Not only did we examine various digital timeline tools, we also discussed annotation tools including and, backwards course/assignment design, providing video feedback with screen capture software, and thinking about ways to use social media to conduct close readings of texts. The work I did regarding digital timeline tools including TimelineJS, informed an assignment (see Digital Timeline Group Project Guidelines and Rubric and Digital Timeline Group Project Digital Video Peer Evaluation) that I created for LIB/HRT/HST 319 Human Traffic and Trafficking. While I have not implemented annotation tools including using Google Docs for a basic method of annotating a text (using the suggesting and editing modes), I have found it extremely useful to have students use the annotations from to deepen their examination of song lyrics. Students’ analyses of cultural productions allows them to rethink what academic texts are as popular culture is a rich source of information.

Funding from my university facilitated my attendance, and I think this is critical as universities begin to shift towards digital humanities as a priority. Supporting faculty and staff as they undergo professional development is key in order to encourage robust scholarship and innovative teaching practices. And, it’s imperative that digital scholarship is made legible because of the way in which tenure and promotion processes differ across institutions. The MLA and AHA provide guidelines for evaluating digital work.

This year I found myself co-facilitating a workshop, “Online Public Intellectual Work Through Social Media: Engagement Strategies and Pedagogical Practices,” with Krista Benson at DH@Guelph (#DHatGuelph2017). When we proposed the course, Krista and I were conscious about centering the experiences of marginalized scholars, who often find social media and public intellectual work particularly appealing. Part of this conversation including exploring how online activism has been blurring the lines between scholarly work and activism around race, indigeneity, and sexuality. Additionally, we reflected on how we teach social media and online engagement in classes, as well as the pedagogical opportunities offered by these digital humanities platforms. We analyzed how social media expands and limits conversations on issues concerning race, gender, sexuality, and diaspora. And, because of the way in which the course is structured, I deeply appreciated the peer-to-peer learning/teaching that occurred as we exchanged best practices for various tools where one of the participants may have a deeper knowledge due to their expertise. For instance, while we did not initially anticipate discussing how universities use Snapchat as part of outreach, it became part of our conversation Day One because of participant interest in learning more.

My engagement in spaces like DH@Guelph, HILT, and DHSI this year and the previous two years facilitated my ability to implement digital pedagogy within the classroom and think through research collaborations with community partners as part of the Kutsche Office of Local History projects. The conversations during workshops and outside of the classroom create opportunities to think through new ideas and rethink existing practices. These spaces are intellectually generative and offer individuals to make connections with people committed to creating accessible, digital projects. In many ways this is also why I enjoy attending sessions at conferences focusing on the way in scholars engage with digital humanities because I always walk away learning something new and gain a resource to share with colleagues and students.

Tracing Our Histories: Making Connections Between Adoption and Ethnic Studies

Originally published in Gazillions Voices in December 2014. The original post may be found here.


Amadou Diallo.
James Byrd Jr.

Two names that some of you may be unfamiliar with. Two men murdered in 1998 and 1999, respectively – one by police in New York City, the other at the hands of three men, two of whom are known white supremacists in Jasper, TX.

My Lai massacre.
No Gun Ri massacre.

Two low points in American military history during the Vietnam and Korean Wars, respectively. Both incidents rarely discussed or highlighted. Blood of civilians resting on American soldiers’ hands.

Two Wongs can make it white.
Big Buddha bash.

Two phrases on shirts produced by Abercrombie & Fitch in 2002.

If you ask many scholars and activists what transformed their involvement in social justice issues, they will most likely be able to reference a moment in their lives when they became politicized. As I transitioned into my new role as an assistant professor this autumn, I reflected on what shaped my interest in history, social justice, Asian American Studies, and Adoption Studies. The above-mentioned historical and contemporary instances of racial injustice and, sometimes, outright murder deepened my passion to link the present to the past.

Without an understanding of the past, we cannot grapple fully and deeply with current events and issues. And yet, more importantly, for adoptees of color, not learning about the histories of people of color in the United States and abroad erases their histories. In other words, if we only operate under the gaze of the unmarked nature of whiteness within adoptive families, adoptees grow up with a lack – a lack of history, memory, and understanding of the experiences of people of color in the United States. Adoptees require access to productive spaces to grapple with these multiple histories of violence and racism, as well as the activism within communities of color to combat these forms of hate.

American Imperialism and Militarism Abroad

To understand the complexities of international adoption, we must explore the impact of American imperialism and militarism abroad. Investigating these connections reveals how geopolitical events remain inextricably tied to systemic and institutional racism. Beginning with the earliest Korean transnational adoptions to 21st century efforts to find homes for orphans across the globe, US foreign policy is inextricably linked to the origins of adoptable children. For example, Soojin Pate traces the genealogy of the earliest Korean transnational adoptions to the post-World War II era when the United States and Soviet Union began occupying the peninsula. By locating adoption in its earliest iterations as taking root in the pre-Korean War era, Pate creates a broader history that links the adoptions of refugee children following World War II to the commonly held narrative that modern international adoption started with the out-placements of mixed race children to the West.[1] Reflecting on the work of Pearl S. Buck, the founder of Welcome House, an adoption agency established initially to aid the plight of Asian orphans in 1949, Christina Klein finds: “[Buck] proposed Welcome House as part of a solution to America’s foreign policy problems: in her view, the mixed-race children for adoption were ‘key children’ who could facilitate relations between the U.S. and Asia and perhaps prevent further losses of Asian nations to communism.”[2] Adoption established American parents’ investment to Asia and by extension, to American foreign policy’s promotion of containment.

When we recognize the origins of Korean adoption as stemming from an American Communist containment policy, it should come as no surprise that transnational adoption offered individual Americans a chance to participate in democracy abroad. Tobias Hübinette writes: “[International adoption gave] ordinary Americans a sense of personal participation in the Cold War.”[3] Similarly, discussing Operation Peter Pan, the airlift of over 14,000 Cuban children to Miami from January 1961 to October 1962, Karen Dubinsky notes how “fears of the Communist baby snatcher” fuelled transnational adoption programs during the Cold War.[4] The promise of American democracy was juxtaposed with the perceived “communist threat” in “sending” countries. This meant that adoption was considered a better alternative to life in Korea or other birth countries of origin.

This is not to say that a historical understanding of American Cold War politics can solely account for international adoptions. For example, when examining Latin American adoptions, we must contextualize the conditions that generated adoptable children against histories of neoliberal military intervention in the region. This coupled with a rise of “massive human rights violations against civilian populations” created a surplus of children, who would become “orphans” available for adoption.[5] Erin Siegal’s provocative account of fraud in Guatemalan adoptions clearly demonstrates how the profits of adoption both in the United States and in Guatemala fuels a corrupt industry and overlooks the rights of birth parents.[6] Jacob Wheeler’s Between Light and Shadow: A Guatemalan Girl’s Journey Through Adoption (2011) echoes the themes discussed by Siegel in his discussion of reproductive coercion and forged documents to render a child adoptable.[7] In addition, when we examine the increased interest in adopting children from countries such as Ethiopia, Haiti, and Liberia, for example, neocolonialism’s role in adoption becomes increasingly evident.[8]

By linking adoption to the role of US foreign policy in shaping “sending” countries internal infrastructure and politics, it becomes clear that we cannot look at these countries’ adoption practices as discrete events. To understand why children are continually rendered adoptable, we must couple our analyses with an examination of American investment in the region and the geopolitical climate. In my broader research, I unearth the connections between the institutions, governments, and individuals to understand how international adoption arose from an effort to aid Korean War orphans to become a global phenomenon. I expose the growth of what I term the transnational adoption industrial complex (TAIC) – a neo-colonial, multi-million dollar global industry that commodifies children’s bodies. To fully understand the realities of adoption, we must consider how adoptees become commodities sold in the economic marketplace. Recognizing the hierarchies of reproduction that exist within adoption accounts for the broader socioeconomic and social welfare failures that produce the conditions of the adoption economy.

This is not to say that neoliberal and neocolonial understandings of race, family, and social welfare do not impact domestic transracial adoption. In the context of the United States, the coerced adoption of children from ethnically- or racially-marginalized communities is not a new concept. Critiques concerning domestic transracial adoption capture the racially-charged nature of black-white transracial domestic adoption. In 1972, for example, the National Association of Black Social Workers deemed the practice “racial and cultural genocide.” Nations have historically externally and internally regulated their minority populaces through a variety of techniques, including adoption as a tool to mold “good” future citizens.[9] For example, the transracial placement of Native American children into white homes and forced removal from their families to boarding schools up until the 1970s is inextricably linked to racialized understandings of native sovereignty and legal status.[10] Native American tribes gained increased control over the adoption of Native American children as part of the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act. Yet the Supreme Court case, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (2013) and the lower court rulings raised new questions concerning Native American family preservation. Recently, John Raible also discussed the complexities and tensions produced by Native American adoption in his discussion of A Generation Removed: The Fostering and Adoption of Indigenous Children in the Postwar World by Margaret D. Jacobs.

Historical Trajectories of Racism

A deeper understanding the historical trajectories of racism in the United States and the nation’s policies is required to consider the ways in which transracial adoptees negotiate their racial, ethnic, and cultural identities within the adoptive family. For instance, the adoption of mixed race children from Asia so heralded in the 1950s and 1960s was done so against a backdrop of Jim Crow segregation. We also saw adoption agencies focusing on the white-Asian children as opposed to the adoption of black-Asian orphans. Michael Cullen Green writes: “[T]he Cold War imperatives that encouraged the cultural celebrations of the adoption of Asian orphans and abandoned white-Asian children…did not extend to Afro-Asians.”[11]

We simultaneously need to wrestle with how we continue to discuss racial difference. While the assimilationist model of adoption that dominated parent approaches throughout the 20th century has been widely discredited and critiqued, the colorblind and multicultural era of adoption has become the new method to avoid honest discussions of race and racism in the adoptive family. By examining the histories of racism in the United States, we can better understand how racial microaggressions function and impact adoptees in childhood and adulthood. A woefully ignorant parent who lacks knowledge of the Asian fetish may not understand why their daughter is troubled by the attention she’s receiving by men and innuendos concerning the film Full Metal Jacket. At the same time, the parent who lacks understanding of the forever foreigner myth and other racialized stereotypes may not understand why the question, “Where are you really from,” elicits pain, anguish, frustration, and anger in their son. Yet, what is more disturbing is the parent who does not understand how the murders of unarmed black teens Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, in addition to scores of other killings, impact their adopted sons of color.

When we problematize the histories of people of color in the United States and the legacies of American military and political intervention abroad, it becomes evident that overlap exists. The racist images of black men from slavery to Jim Crow to today and the rise of the prison industrial complex is inextricably linked to the experiences of adopted sons of color. These depictions and stereotypes circulate across the globe and impact how birth parents of children from Ethiopia, Haiti, Liberia, and elsewhere are pathologized and treated less than. When we demonstrate to adoptees that the lives of men and women of color who look like them are less than, the question adoptive parents should be asking themselves is: “What is the lasting impact of this racism on my child?”

To illustrate the importance of bridging multiple histories to understand the lives of adoptees, I utilize the experiences of adoptees from Asia as an example. Adult adoptees routinely recall multiple examples of how their adoptive nuclear and extended families perpetuated Orientalist stereotypes and contributed to the racial microaggressions they encountered in their daily lives. Joining these voices is scholarship that documents adoptive parents’ racialized assumptions concerning Asian countries and their adopted offspring. Whether it’s through fetishizing Asian culture vis-à-vis an alleged celebration of multiculturalism or by deploying terms like “China doll” to describe their newly adopted daughters, adopted parents are complicit in the commodification of adoptees as consumptive Orientalist products to purchase and flaunt as examples of “their commitment to diversity.” Adoptive parents should consider the following questions to better comprehend how female adoptees are constructed as hypersexual Asian women in the American imaginary in adulthood:

  • When you adopted your daughter were you prepared to discuss issues of racialized sexuality with her?
  • As part of your pre-adoption checklist, did you learn more about Orientalism and the lotus blossom and dragon lady stereotypes? I ask because female adult adoptees recount instances of racial microaggressions concerning the Asian fetish. The experiences in videos that circulate online of Asian American women being harassed apply to us too.
  • When we discuss slut-shaming, have you considered the legacy of Miss Saigon? In other words, what is the impact of decades old stereotypes that render women of Asian descent as hypersexual bodies?
  • What happens when stereotypes of submissive and demure Asian women (a legacy of Orientalism and military intervention in Asia) impacts assumptions people have concerning your adult adopted daughter with her father or her brother? In other words, are you prepared to negotiate conversations where she may be mistaken as your mistress or mail order bride?

While these examples and questions may seem as if they are incongruent with adoption, take a step back and consider how white privilege has blinded adoptive parents and practitioners to the lived realities of adoptees of color. In her memoir The Language of Blood, Jane Jeong Trenka captures how Asian women are located in the imaginary: “exotic, petite, lotus blossoms, pale, fragile, docile, geishas.”[12] Trenka also recounts how a friend clearly internalized the belief that if adoptees like Trenka and others did not leave their countries of origin that they too would have “turned into what Asian girls tend to turn into if left to their own devices: a prostitute.”[13]

Imagining Culturally Competent and Ethical Adoption

The failure to make connections and recognize our role in reshaping the histories of adoptees of color does a disservice to all parties involved in international adoption. As international adoption persists as one form of family creation, we must also recognize the corruption and coercion involved. No longer can the adoption community remain blind to the intricacies of the transnational adoption industrial complex. In doing so, we become complicit in the circulation of children for sale. We must ask ourselves what a more culturally competent and ethical adoption looks like. This is the question I posed to my students this semester in our unit on adoption. The course focused on intercultural communication and competency and covered a wide variety of topics and themes.

During our discussion, my students questioned why there are different country fees/pricing schemes, why families consider international adoption over domestic adoption, and considered how African American children find themselves being adopted to Canada and European countries. They also noted that prior to reading the two articles discussing The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption by Kathryn Joyce and religion’s role in 21st century adoption, they believed adoption was good. The articles opened their eyes to how adoption is more complex than just finding good homes for children. We also discussed the documentary Girl, Adopted (2013). As part of their reflection on the class lecture, I asked them to respond to the question: “What do culturally competent and/or ethical adoption practices look like?” Below is a sampling of student comments:

  • Make sure you would have access to organizations that help adoptees
  • At the most basic level, the prospective parent[s] should ensure they are not kidnapping a child from an impoverished single parent, rather they are taking in a child with no parents and a true need
  • Once adopted, the parents should invest time and energy into learning about their child’s culture (and perhaps language) and pass on to their kid
  • When adopting remember three terms – the child’s past, the child’s present, and the child’s future – in relation to your environment, family, friends, and daily activities.
  • Understand it isn’t going to be simple, and complications and confusions will occur. Just because you are adopting a child, does not necessarily mean they will be immediately grateful
  • A full understanding and appreciation to preserve the original culture of the adoptive child
  • An adoption where the child’s [birth culture] is preserved and a family conforms more to the child than the child conforms to them
  • Understand that things aren’t black and white – adoption can be just as complex as any other relationship, if not more so
  • I would warn people that it will get harder as the child grows up because even though they are raised in a white American family, the child will still go through the process of being treated as another race –something they might not have prepared for
  • [C]onsider what type of life/school/friends your adopted child would have and if this would be something that this child would be happy with
  • I think if they adopted a child from a different ethnicity they should either move somewhere more diverse or get involved with groups/organizations that the adoptee can relate to
  • Don’t adopt because you think it’s cool

I highlight my students’ voices to encourage us to create a dialogue concerning the injustices associated with the adoption process. It was when I spoke to my students about the politics and histories of adoption in the United States that I recognized the transformative nature of a holistic understanding of adoption. By complicating the narrative of adoption as rescue and situating it within the historical trajectories of racism and colonization, we begin to see how adoption is more complex than we originally thought. For this, I need to thank my students for providing permission for me to utilize their reflections in this column.

By considering what it means to be culturally competent and ethical, we take into account the long histories of violence that have cultivated and shaped contemporary adoption practices. My students’ comments echo the myriad of themes that adult adoptees and their allies touch upon in their activism within academia, the community, and adoption industry. By bridging the various facets of adoption that make it a racialized endeavor, a richer conversation concerning the future of adoption can occur amongst stakeholders. Erasing the legacies of racism and the events that preceded adoptees’ existence only serves one purpose – the perpetuation of systemic and institutional racism with little critique. Only through examining the limits of white privilege in the lives of adoptees of color can we truly enter meaningful dialogue concerning the importance of historical memory. As we contend with the contradictions that adoption creates in our lives, let’s not forget that we are part of a wider social justice movement linked to the injustices experienced by people of color across the globe.


[1] SooJin Pate, From Orphan to Adoptee: U.S. Empire and Genealogies of Korean Adoption, Difference Incorporated (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

[2] Christina Klein, Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 144.

[3] Tobias Hübinette, “The Orphaned Nation: Korea Imagined as an Overseas Adopted Child in Clon’s Abandoned Child and Park Kwang’s Berlin Report,” InterAsia Cultural Studies 6 (2005): 227–44, doi:10.1080/14649370500065946.

[4] Karen Dubinsky, Babies without Borders: Adoption and Migration across the Americas (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2010), 7.

[5] Laura Briggs, Somebody’s Children: The Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), 161.

[6] Erin Siegal, Finding Fernanda: Two Mothers, One Child, and a Cross-Border Search for Truth (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011).

[7] Jacob Wheeler, Between Light and Shadow: A Guatemalan Girl’s Journey through Adoption (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011).

[8] Kathryn Joyce, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, 1st ed (New York: PublicAffairs, 2013).

[9] For example, Linda Gordon examines the class and racial inequities that fueled the orphan train movement in the United States; Linda Gordon, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction (Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press, 2001). Recent apologies from the Canadian and Australian governments also document the ways in which nations utilized adoption as a practice to limit the population growth of aboriginals and first nation peoples; Stephen Harper, “Prime Minister Harper Offers Full Apology on Behalf of Canadians for the Indian Residential Schools System,” (Speech, June 11, 2008),; Forced Adoptions Implementation Working Group, “Forced Adoption Practices,” Australian Government Department of Social Services, June 26, 2014,

[10] See Pauline Turner Strong, “To Forget Their Tongue, Their Name, and Their Whole Relation: Captivity, Extra-Tribal Adoption, and the Indian Child Welfare Act,” in Relative Values: Reconfiguring Kinship Studies, ed. Sarah B Franklin and Susan McKinnon (Chapel Hill, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 468–94; Briggs, Somebody’s Children.

[11] Michael Cullen Green, Black Yanks in the Pacific: Race in the Making of American Military Empire after World War II, The United States in the World (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 2010), 89.

[12] Jane Jeong Trenka, The Language of Blood (Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2005), 65.

[13] Ibid., 226.

Well…clearly I haven’t been writing

I thought that by putting in deadlines in my previous post that I would be able to hold myself accountable to blog. Clearly that was not as successful as I hoped.

Blogging like any other type of writing takes time and this semester has been rather busy. I chaired a search committee the 2016-2017 academic year and search duties came into full swing this earlier in the second semester of the year. And, I underwent my third year review in February. I also coordinated the Kutsche Office of Local History Annual Local History Roundtable in March, where we had Bich Minh (Beth) Nguyen serve as the keynote speaker. My good friend and colleague Adrienne Winans, assistant professor at Utah Valley University, and I also announced our call for papers for a special issue of Feminist Teacher. This is really only a snapshot of what kept me from writing. It doesn’t account for the fact that I have been trying to carve out time with my family and for self care.

I do want to keep my commitment to blogging about my experience compiling my third year review binder and lessons learned from my first months in my new position. My experience at HILT 2016 will be in a condensed post where I also discuss facilitating a workshop at DH@Guelph in May.

Hello, again.

Welcome to 2017.

2016 did not see me blogging. At least, I was not blogging on my personal blog. In fact, in the one instance that I did blog, it was on adoption-related issues and appeared on The Lost Daughters where I am a contributor. For those of you interested in my posts concerning adoption, please note that these posts will now be featured primarily on The Lost Daughters. Once I started blogging on that platform in 2015, I shared three essays before the year ended:

As I reflect back on my lack of blogging last year, I am reminded of the challenges in public scholarship and balancing the commitments of scholarship, teaching, and service along with maintaining or attempting to maintain a balance of my personal and professional lives. In February, I signed an advanced contract for my first book project. The end of my second year resulted in a new administrative appointment to become the director of the Kutsche Office of Local History, which seeks to give voice to diverse communities through history via projects and partnerships with entities on-campus and in the broader West Michigan community. These two events resulted in a busy summer of manuscript revisions and transitioning into my new appointment, which officially started in August. Additionally, I continued to work on various pieces of academic scholarship throughout the year.

The everyday academic tasks related to my professional life were also shaped by my preparation for my third year review for contract renewal. With a binder due in January 2017—six days before my revised book manuscript—I used summer 2016 to plan and begin preparing my materials in advance. Having completed the Personnel Portfolio Workshop offered by the university in Summer 2015, I had a solid working draft of my integrative statement. This statement is meant to tell a narrative of my teaching, scholarship, and service—providing an overview of what I have accomplished in years one and two as well as the first half of year three. In February, I will post a more in depth essay exploring my tips for creating a stress-free binder for review and reflect on the things I wish I knew in advance. I spent the fall polishing my materials and binder, in order to spend winter break focusing exclusively on revisions for multiple projects in addition to preparing my book manuscript for it’s January deadline.

For those interested in what it means to be pre-tenure and in an administrative role, check back in April for a post discussing my lessons learned from my first months in my new position. I will also repost essays originally posted on Gazillion Voices as I was alerted that they are no longer available.

One of the things that I do really enjoy about this blog is that I am able to share what I’ve learned from conferences and meetings that I attend. Later this month, look out for a new post discussing my experiences at HILT in June 2016.

Hope you enjoyed this short update. And I look forward to blogging a whole lot more this year.

Controlling Our Reproductive Destiny: Rethinking Adoption as the Better Option

Originally published in Gazillion Voices magazine on June 9, 2014. The original post may be found here.

I first would like to thank Kevin Haebeom Vollmers, Shelise Gieseke, and the many others who are part of the Gazillion Voices family. I am excited to join the research team.

“Adoption across political and cultural borders may simultaneously be an act of violence and an act of love, an excruciating rupture and a generous incorporation, an appropriation of valued resources and a constitution of personal ties.”

– Pauline Turner Strong[1]

When I taught my students in Introduction to Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies in Spring 2014, we watched A Girl Like Her (2012), directed by Ann Fessler. I paired our discussion of the film with articles that examined the activism within communities of color to guarantee women’s autonomy over their bodies. For some, it was clear that reproductive justice and adoption intersect. For others, it was the first time they were seeing birth mothers as real people, out of the shadows.

Our unit on reproductive rights included a discussion of how this concept has become linked to a singular choice: abortion. Nevertheless, a more expansive definition of choice exists. Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee write: “Reproductive choice involves being able to have safe and affordable birth and parenting options; reliable, safe, and affordable birth control technologies; freedom from forced sterilization; and the availability of abortion.”[2] Even as we recognize that choice encompasses multiple options concerning parenthood and reproductive autonomy, the term remains fraught with tension when considering legacies of forced sterilization, removal of children, and promotion of dangerous contraceptives in communities of color.[3] The utilization of a reproductive justice framework is rooted in my desire for a holistic approach to understand how the concept of “choice” is not merely about access to safe and affordable abortion. As SisterSong, a women of color reproductive justice collective, notes:

 The reproductive justice framework – the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments – is based on the human right to make personal decisions about one’s life, and the obligation of government and society to ensure that the conditions are suitable for implementing one’s decisions is important for women of color…

 … Reproductive Justice addresses the social reality of inequality, specifically, the inequality of opportunities that we have to control our reproductive destiny. Moving beyond a demand for privacy and respect for individual decision making to include the social supports necessary for our individual decisions to be optimally realized, this framework also includes obligations from our government for protecting women’s human rights. Our options for making choices have to be safe, affordable and accessible, three minimal cornerstones of government support for all individual life decisions.[4]

While Fessler’s film and book, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade (2006), address the maternity homes of the mid-twentieth century and their impact on young, white women, her message is clear: women lacked control of their reproductive destiny. For women of color, in particular, this message continues into the twenty-first century in the US and abroad. This is not to discount the experiences of white women who also face similar economic, social, and political situations. However, I urge us to consider how the lack of reproductive choice continues to inhibit the ability of black, indigenous, Latina, and Asian women to contemplate the remote possibility that their parental rights will never be challenged, curtailed, or eliminated. These communities traditionally face population control methods that undermine autonomy of their reproductive capabilities.[5]

Which Parents can Assert Reproductive Destiny?

When considering adoption from Asia, it is far too often that birth mothers in particular are either valorized as selfless (i.e. Kim’s “altruistic” suicide in Miss Saigon) or continually rendered as prostitutes.[6] Adoptee memoirs discuss how the trope of birth mother as prostitute is discussed within the adoptive family and amongst one’s friends.[7] Mia Farrow and her supporters also utilized this simplistic caricature during the Soon-Yi Previn and Woody Allen scandal to weaken her daughter’s credibility.[8] The complex realities of birth mothers and biological parents, more generally, are rarely depicted in far less pathologizing terms in mainstream society. By rendering these individuals as deficient or defective, society undermines the possibility that these women – these allegedly “bad” mothers – from entering our imagination as potential equals to the “good” adoptive mother.[9] Rooted in notions of mothers as reproducing citizens of the nation, white mothers, under the Christian American rubric, are deemed “fit” parents not only in the context of transnational adoption, but also in existing discussions concerning the moral imperative of motherhood in domestic adoption debates.[10] Laura Briggs finds: “Stranger adoption is a national and international system whereby the children of impoverished or otherwise disenfranchised mothers are transferred to middle-class, wealthy mothers (and fathers).”[11] Notions of parental “fitness” underscore the ways in which national and racial hierarchies operate to fuel transnational and domestic, transracial adoptions.

As the narrative of birth mothers and birth fathers becomes complicated and society recognizes the complexities of “choice” in decisions to place children for adoption, it is evident that any decisions concerning adoption are constrained choices. First parents have limited options – whether it is the unwed mother living in a Florence Crittenten maternity home to the Guatemalan mother unknowingly relinquishing her parental rights to the Korean mother facing societal stigma and lacking economic support. This lack of choice was evident in recent cases of domestic adoption from Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (2013) to Robert Manzanares’ fight to gain legal custody of his biological daughter, who was placed for adoption without his consent.

When adoption is presented and often encouraged to adoptive parents at the expense of the reproductive rights of birth parents, we should ask ourselves why. Who decides parental fitness? How is the adoptive parent who re-homes his/her child more fit than the birth parents of lesser socio-economic means? Or, how can individuals at the center of a national racism scandal be able to continue adoption proceedings? While this is not a call to debate parental fitness of prospective and current adoptive parents, it is an appeal for members of the adoption triad and the adoption community to rethink what the end goals are with adoption as a form of family building and family destruction.

A reproductive justice framework thus offers a lens to understand how the ability to control one’s reproductive destiny is challenged in adoption practice. Maternity homes affiliated with an adoption agency raise questions concerning reproductive coercion. Reproductive justice includes an individual’s right to parent children in a safe environment without fear of consequences that could penalize their ability to parent. The work of the Korean Unwed Mothers’ Families Association (KUFMA) in South Korea is one organization that advocates for the rights of unwed pregnant women, mothers, and their children.

When socio-economic inequality, societal stigma, and government understandings of “good” families intersect, barriers are constructed that encourage specific types of families, while undermining the ability of other families to sustain themselves as an intact unit. In her interview with Shannon Gibney, legal scholar Dorothy Roberts comments:

My main contention with the people who support transracial adoption as a solution to the needs of Black children is that, not only are they not looking at the source of the problem and addressing that, but that they also tend to devalue the relationship that Black children have with their mothers and the rest of their family. In fact, to the point where some of them have argued that there should be easier and speedier termination of Black mothers’ rights so that these children can be adopted transracially. I just think that’s a horrific argument that completely demeans Black women and devalues their relationships with their children, and doesn’t account for the harm that children experience when they’re unnecessarily removed from their mothers; it just doesn’t show understanding for the reason for the large number of Black children in foster care. It’s a racist argument when they specifically cite termination of these Black women’s parental rights as a way to have these children adopted into white homes.[12]

Roberts’ discussion of the fast-paced termination of black mothers’ rights is similar to the above-mentioned cases involving birth fathers. Yet, this devaluing of birth parents of color is not limited to the US. Consider the language deployed to discuss birth parents of internationally adopted children. Whether it’s the Asian birth mother as prostitute or the hyperfertile, illiterate birth mother from Latin America, these individuals are considered ready or somehow more willing to sacrifice their parenthood. At the same time, agencies and orphanages have characterized these parents as either altruistic or too morally deficient to function as “good” parents.

Adoptees as Consumer Goods: Overlooking Adoptee and Birth Parent Rights

The pathologized construction of birth parents provides the groundwork that promotes adoptive parents in the US to encourage speedier timelines for transnational adoption completion. Discussing their family’s experiences, an adoptive parent notes:

We waited longer than four years. International adoptions slowed down tremendously when the Hague convention was enacted. There has also been an increased interest and demand in international adoptions, so the process became backlogged. We were waiting to adopt a healthy, young child and there is a long waiting list to do so from China.[13]

The lengthy nature of the adoption process is best illustrated when comparing the average wait times for a child by country of origin. According to Adoptive Families, 53% of parents adopting from China wait a minimum of twelve months for a child referral and then 42% of parents wait an additional three months prior to the child’s entrance into the United States.[14] In total, adoptive parents wait a minimum of fifteen months until adoption completion from China. In contrast to this lengthy process, the minimum wait for a completed adoption from Ethiopia is six months.[15] Even as the timelines for adoption from Ethiopia is markedly shorter on average, an adoptive parent of an Ethiopian child notes: “Unfortunately, we got stuck in the switch over from 1 to 2 trips in Ethiopia, as well as the annual summer court closure. So we were delayed more than we should have been in bringing our son home.”[16] The language utilized by the adoptive parents of Chinese and Ethiopian children positions these delays as personal inconveniences. In particular, when looking at the second adoptive parent quote, it is interesting that visiting Ethiopia twice is considered a hassle versus as an opportunity to learn more about the adoptee’s ethnic background. Further, phrases such as “the process became backlogged” or “unfortunately, we got stuck” demonstrates how adoptive parents locate themselves as consumers, who should receive quality service. This consumer frustration was highlighted in a 2013 article from The Chicago Tribune, which discussed the obstacles of intercountry adoptions.”[17]

Framing adoption as a set of “inconveniences” or “obstacles” to adoptive parents – the consumers within this process – ignores broader sociopolitical concerns over corruption and the black market of children. To this end, adoptive parent Margie Perscheid writes: “We promote institutionalized abandonment by establishing baby boxes and baby hatches, and by creating practices that work around existing law and common sense to allow adoption agencies to hide first parent identities and fabricate them for adoptees.” When the larger concern is which country program will get me a child faster versus which country ensures birth parents are not forcibly coerced to make a fast decision for me to obtain my child, then we have a problem. This is not to say I lack empathy for adoptive parents who hold a strong desire to adopt and form their families. Rather, I ask if a more ethical adoption practice can ever be implemented without encountering charges that these regulations produce a backlog and impediments for adoptive parents.

Situating adoption within the rubric of reproductive justice activism provides space to discuss the tireless work of adoption triad members to support the rights of biological parents. From the work of Ohio Birthparent Group’s founder and director, Kate Livingston, to the efforts of Jane Jeong Trenka, Shannon Heit, TRACK (Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea), among others, in South Korea, it is clear that we have a arrived to a new moment in adoption history. No longer clouded in secrecy, unacknowledged by mainstream society, individuals working to secure the rights of all members of the adoption triad are coming out of the shadows. For example, TRACK began Single Moms’ Day in 2011 in South Korea, “to challenge the government’s Adoption Day.”[18] TRACK notes: “We were inspired by the First Nations people in the U.S. who celebrate ‘Native American Day’ on Thanksgiving in order to challenge the dominant narrative and draw people’s attention toward a different center of gravity.” Recently, TRACK and the Korean Unwed Mothers and Families Association held a two-day event in May 2014 with support from KoRoot, Dandelions, InTree, Korean Single Parent Alliance, Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network, Seoul Single Parent Alliance, Seoul Single Parent Support Center, MP Nam Yoon In-soon (Democratic United Party), and MP Hyun Min-ju (Saenuri Party).

Valuing the Rights of All Parents

A reproductive justice lens disrupts narratives of adoption as a form of child rescue and humanitarian practice. It requires adoptive parents to question the ways in which their children arrived into their homes. This is not to elicit white liberal guilt; instead, it is meant to dismantle historical inaccuracies concerning adoption stories. The happy narratives of the stork or the tale that “you were born in someone else’s tummy, but were meant for our family” can no longer function in that we have pulled back the curtain. The great and powerful Oz (the adoption agency in this case) can no longer sell this chicanery of adoption as the better option.[19] The continued deception by Oz has allowed for a singular narrative that promotes adoption as best while simultaneously presenting birth parents and sending countries as pathological, negative individuals and places. The voices of birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees counter this deception as they weave a narrative that exposes the complexity of adoption.

If we recognize birth parents’ rights as human rights and in turn recognize reproductive rights as birth parents’ rights, it becomes evident that we must continue to change the conversation to meet our communities’ various needs. We need to acknowledge the multiple and intersecting power arrangements that allow for the continued decimation of communities of color at the benefit of adoptive families.[20] This existing power inequity was recognized at the end of the twentieth century as developing countries increasingly defined international adoption as “imperialistic, self-serving, and a return to a form of colonialism in which whites exploit and steal natural resources.”[21] By characterizing adoptees as “resources,” we become more aware of how adoptees represent lost members of a future generation of their birth country.

This essay aimed to encourage us to have a broader understanding of adoption and the violence it has on families. In doing so, I sought to create space to rethink how adoption is discussed as a reproductive option versus part of the wider reproductive justice framework. While I focused on the experiences of women of color, I recognize that white birth parents are still limited in freely fulfilling their reproductive destiny. Therefore, as more instances of abuse with adoptive families gain media attention, the international and domestic adoption communities must be called to act. The complacency and silence associated with adoption practice in the twentieth century cannot persist for it comes at too high of a price.

[1] Pauline Turner Strong, “To Forget Their Tongue, Their Name, and Their Whole Relation: Captivity, Extra-Tribal Adoption, and the Indian Child Welfare Act,” in Relative Values: Reconfiguring Kinship Studies, by Sarah Franklin and Susan McKinnon (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), 471.

[2] Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee, Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings, Fifth ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), 290.

[3] Joel Sillman et al., “Women of Color and Their Struggle for Reproductive Justice,” in Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings, ed. Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee, Fifth ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012).

[4] SisterSong, “What Is RJ?,” SisterSong: Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, 2014, accessed May 8, 2014,

[5] See: Laura Briggs, Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); Salamishah Tillet, “Forced Sterilizations and the Future of the Women’s Movement,” The Nation, July 9, 2013, accessed May 09, 2014,

[6] Kim Park Nelson, “Guest Post: Assisted Suicide: Adoptee Perspectives and Miss Saigon,” Gazillion Voices, 2013, accessed May 08, 2014,

[7] See Jane Jeong Trenka, The Language of Blood: A Memoir (St. Paul: Graywolf Press, 2003).

[8] See Mia Farrow, What Falls Away: A Memoir (New York: Doubleday, 1997).

[9] Discussing how this Madonna/whore complex impacts domestic birth mothers, Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy notes: “Why is it so hard to see a birth mother as a real, live person? Both of the views — the sinner or saint, the Madonna or whore, the selfless or the abandoner — are just so limiting and not real.  Instead, they are parts cast in this play we call “adoption.” They are roles that need to be filled so that the storyline works out, so that at some point the main characters get a happy ending. It is nothing more than a parroting of the carefully honed adoption-marketing message. It is the opening prologue that sets the tone for the adoptee’s life”; Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy, “Between the Extremes,” Gazillion Voices, December 5, 2013, accessed May 08, 2014,

[10] Nora Rose Moosnick, Adopting Maternity: White Women Who Adopt Transracially or Transnationally (Westport: Praeger, 2004). See also: Barbara Melosh, Strangers and Kin: The American Way of Adoption (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002).

[11] Laura Briggs, Somebody’s Children: The Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), 4.

[12] Dorothy Roberts, “On Stories That Become Policies That Become The Black Family Destroyed; An Interview with Dorothy Roberts: Part I,” interview by Shannon Gibney, Gazillion Voices (audio blog), January 8, 2014, accessed May 8, 2014,

[13] Adoptive Families, “Latest Adoption Cost and Wait Time Data,” Adoptive Families, 2013, accessed April 07, 2013, The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption aims to standardize adoption practices for countries that signed the agreement. Designed to safeguard “the best interests of the child,” the Convention also seeks to create transparency concerning the adoption process from relinquishment to adoption finalization.

[14] Ibid. Yet, please note The Adoption Guide notes that when adopting from China, “for healthy children, approximately four and a half year from completion of dossier to referral. Waiting time is considerably shorter for special-needs children”; The Adoption Guide, “The Adoption Guide: Getting Started on China Adoption,” The Adoption Guide, 2013, accessed April 7, 2013,

[15] 53% of parents adopting from Ethiopia wait at a minimum of three months or less for a child referral and then 42% of parents wait an additional three months until the child enters the U.S.; Adoptive Families, “Latest Adoption Cost and Wait Time Data.”

[16] Adoptive Families, “Latest Adoption Cost and Wait Time Data.”

[17] Leslie Mann, “Foreign Adoption Comes with Obstacles, but Parents Advised to ‘stay the Course'” Chicago Tribune, April 1, 2013, accessed April 9, 2013,,0,6301893.story.

[18] TRACK, “The 4th Annual Single Moms’ Day Is Here! – TRACK,” TRACK, April 20, 2014, accessed May 08, 2014,

[19] In her essay, “Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain: Learning how to be a critical consumer of adoption research,” JaeRan Kim explores how research is placed upon a pedestal in similar ways to how Dorothy and her friends in The Wizard of Oz place the Great and Powerful Oz; JaeRan Kim, “Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain: Learning How to Be a Critical Consumer of Adoption Research,” Gazillion Voices, October 2, 2013, accessed May 08, 2014,

[20] Gretchen Scisson notes: “In adoption, there are always questions of reproductive choice and the potential for coercion…There are families being created, and families being separated – and people adapting to new, lifelong identities in these roles altered by adoption”; Gretchen Scisson, “”I Want In”: Bringing Adoption into Reproductive Justice,” Spectrum, April 30, 2014, accessed May 13, 2014,

[21] Howard Altstein and Rita J. Simon, Intercountry Adoption: A Multinational Perspective (New York: Praeger, 1991), 2.

NWSA Graduate Caucus Reception Remarks

On the evening of November 13, 2015 I gave remarks at the National Women’s Studies Association Graduate Caucus Reception. The Facebook event invite noted:

Header for the Facebook invite re: the NWSA Graduate CaucusA common refrain among graduate students, particularly those who scholarship is in Women’s and Gender Studies, is the need for more mentorship. Decrypting the unspoken language and conventions of the academy presents a structural obstacle to our achievements. As many of us are first-generation students, gender minorities, students of color, we are traditionally underrepresented and multiply marginalized with/in graduate school, and we realize a difficult journey can be made easier by someone who can show the way forward. And so we find ourselves searching for that “perfect” mentor: an advisor, faculty member, or senior scholar that can lead us to our success. When finding mentors and engaging in productive, empowering mentoring relationships proves elusive, what should we do?

For more information regarding my thoughts on mentoring and the tenure-track, please view the following posts and pages on this website:

NWSA Graduate Caucus Reception Remarks

Thank you to the Graduate Caucus co-chairs for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to be here this evening. The focus of my remarks this evening will be on mentoring, and hopefully, you will find them brief, but interesting.

Often we’re told to find multiple mentors and establish a mentoring circle since one mentor will not fit your various needs. If you have not been proactive about finding and establishing relationships with mentors, I encourage you to do so. As a graduate student, I took advantage of the Preparing Future Faculty program offered by the graduate school. I also sought out additional professional development opportunities. I hope many of you signed up for the NWSA Mentoring program offered this year. I recognize that not all disciplines and interdisciplinary fields have these built in mentoring components, which is why I encourage you to take advantage of the fact that NWSA supports graduate students and junior faculty. All too often academia may seem isolating, especially when you are the only one doing ethnic studies, for example, at an institution. As someone whose research intersects with the fields of Women’s Studies, Asian American Studies, and Adoption Studies, I am extremely grateful that I work in fields that include mentoring components into their conferences.

Photo Credit: Krista Benson
Photo Credit: Krista Benson

Remember that many mentors come from unexpected places. As you consider your mentoring needs, I suggest that you develop a list of questions concerning research, teaching, service, the job market, etc. and contemplate who would be the best person out of your network to ask. And remember, mentors come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t be shocked when some of your best mentors come from unlikely places and that those who you think will be kickass mentors end up not being interested in the job.

I should emphasize that mentors also do not solely exist in formal mentoring spaces. I have met countless mentors along the way as I transitioned from my status as a master’s student to PhD student/candidate to postdoc to tenure track faculty member. These individuals and I crossed paths at conference, via introductions through other colleagues/friends, and because I just asked for their advice.

I also continue to forge friendships with colleagues across disciplines. These relationships are critical when seeking feedback from perspectives outside of one’s own field. They bring a wealth of experience and new teaching strategies. It’s refreshing to hear about how they facilitate discussion or deploy active learning in the classroom because someone in modern languages or chemistry will use methods that may benefit me in my humanities classroom. Moreover, once you transition from graduate student to junior faculty member, forging relationships with colleagues across the university will strengthen your ability to get to know your institution.

My mentors range from senior scholars (full professors and associate professors) to junior scholars (those further along the tenure-track than myself) and peers (members of my tenure-track cohort, postdocs, and folks I knew from graduate school). It’s the last type of mentoring that I will focus more deeply on in my remarks this evening. Peer-to-peer mentoring is critical. Remember the people you’re in graduate school with in your departments, programs, and even across the university are your future colleagues. The way you treat your peers today will inform how you treat your colleagues tomorrow.

Unfortunately, the low stakes of the academy are not necessarily conducive to supporting collaboration, mentoring, and even sharing information. Yet academia should not be a bizarre version of The Hunger Games. Peer-to-peer mentoring is one of the first steps in changing this culture and creating supportive and encouraging networks. Once you realize that people are not out to get you personally, it changes how we understand how the academy works. This is not to say that the academy is perfect. Yes, sometimes spaces are toxic. But don’t let that toxicity consume you and infiltrate your interactions with other colleagues. Making that distinction is key. Don’t fall into the cyclical trap where this competitive environment looks like a version of academic Mean Girls. On Wednesdays we can wear pink, but we don’t need to all be like Regina.

Here are seven tips that I found to be helpful as I transitioned from graduate student to tenure track faculty member.

  1. Be comfortable with sharing your writing early and often. Too frequently, the writing experience is isolating. We are concerned with perfect chapter or essay. It also creates anxiety and fuels imposter syndrome. What if someone thinks X, Y, or Z? This question holds us back. Sharing early drafts will only strengthen our work. A draft will never be exactly where you want it. Embrace the imperfections. This is what the revision process is for. This is also why feedback at all stages is important.
  2. Writing groups are critical. In graduate school my advisor convened a dissertation writing group with her advisees. This allowed us to build a culture of peer review. Since then, I have started online writing with friends at different institutions and locations. We also share our writing. And, it’s also a way to keep yourself accountable. When writing gets isolating and you’re about to shame spiral because X number of words need to get done, a writing partner is helpful. Let’s not pretend we don’t need someone from time to time to remind us that we kick ass. Because for real, sometimes we need a trusted colleague to give us a little push.
  3. External funding is not you against the world. Rather, it’s about “how does your project fit with a particular call for funding.” This also means that you’re not in competition with friends or colleagues applying for the same grant. It’s about your project, the call for papers, and whether or not you clearly make the case for the funding. It also means that just because one friend’s research interest is being funded by an organization focusing on their topic that it’s not an indictment on your field. It’s also not a competition if your research interests do not overlap. Don’t ever forget that. Yes funding is competitive, but very rarely are your topics so similar that funding bodies will compare them with one another.
  4. The job market is not for the faint of heart. It can be demoralizing. As someone with friends currently on the market who have been at various visiting positions and knowing folks who previously were visiting or on postdocs, I’m aware that the supply and demand of the market favors departments and programs. Often we’re hearing of one position garnering more than 150 applications. From there the pool is narrowed to ten or so for interviews and then down to the top three for on campus interviews. Rejection is common. Rejection is also slow. Bearing all of this in mind, keep a cheerleader in your corner to remind you of why you are qualified. If you’re also nervous about the market, ask your mentors for feedback on your materials. If you ask someone recently hired in a TT position, they will tell you that not only did they receive feedback from at least one other person, but that they also revised their materials more than once.
  5. Collegiality is key. Remember at the end of the day when one person succeeds, we all succeed. Supporting the successes of our friends and colleagues means that when we all get into our future positions we will have someone to celebrate with. Success isn’t fun if we’re alone. At the same time, you are capable of doing the same thing even as a peer. As you join the ranks of faculty and start working on your book proposal and meeting with presses, highlight the work of your colleagues. Sometimes a series may not fit with your project, but it does with a peer. When I know a friend is talking with the same acquiring editor, I also make sure to highlight their work.
  6. Building networks with one another is critical. I have seen how these initial friendship and relationships in graduate school blossom throughout one’s career. My mentors continue to see these friends from their early days at conferences. These are the names you see listed in the acknowledgements, connections forged and reconstituted as series editors on a university press series, and individuals open doors for one another’s mentees. Our sub-fields are often small worlds. Think six degrees of Kevin Bacon. We’re all interconnected. Let’s make sure the first thing a person can say about you, is oh they’re great! Not, oh they’re terrible with email.
  7. Don’t be afraid to discuss rejection. And here, I mean rejection from funding opportunities, conferences, journal articles, the job market, and even, once you get there, academic presses. Recently in The Chronicle of Higher Education published Devoney Looser’s article, “Me and my Shadow CV.” Looser writes,

Rejection is something you’re supposed to learn by experience, and then keep entirely quiet about. Among academics, the scientists seem to handle rejection best: They list on their CVs the grants they applied for but didn’t get — as if to say, ‘Hey, give me credit for sticking my neck out on this unfunded proposal. You better bet I’ll try again.’ Humanists — my people — hide our rejections from our CVs as skillfully as we can. Entirely, if possible. That’s a shame. It’s important for senior scholars to communicate to those just starting out that even successful professors face considerable rejection. The sheer scope of it over the course of a career may be stunning to a newcomer. I began to think of my history of rejection as my shadow CV — the one I’d have if I’d recorded the highs and lows of my professional life, rather than its highs alone. 

I quote Dr. Looser at length because all too often we keep quiet. If we actually discussed what we were rejected from we would see that we’re not the only ones. It’s from that openness that I learned of colleagues both junior and senior who experienced rejection in all stages of academic publishing. If I were not open about my own experiences, I would never have learned that information.

I hope that these tips are helpful as you consider what type of person you seek to be and become in graduate school and as a junior faculty member. Keeping your eye on the long game of academia is important. Don’t be short-sighted and think of what’s happening right now. Also keep in mind the fact that what’s going on today may inform your opportunities tomorrow and thereafter.

Again, the successes of your friends and colleagues are your successes. If we want to change the academy we cannot step one another to get to the top. So how do we do that?

First, we need to have open and honest conversations about the job market and professionalization. Mentor a first or second year graduate student if you’re ABD. Teach them the ropes about preparing for conference, networking, how to effectively work with faculty, etc. Offer workshops on what to expect when sitting candidacy exams. When you all get ready to apply for postdocs, fellowships, or tenure-track and visiting positions, crowd source for feedback. Ask your close friends to review your letters, CV, teaching and research statements for clarity and readability. If you know folks more senior who are in the early days of their career, ask if they would be willing to share their job materials. You won’t know they will say no until you ask.

Second, ask yourself how are you presenting yourself to your colleagues. Sometimes we need to be reminded of the basics. Are you using Facebook, LinkedIn,, and Twitter effectively? What do people find when they Google you? While this at first may not seem related to peer-to-peer mentoring, remember that a good friend and colleague will want you to put your best foot forward. Also, remember that networking depending on your field may occur in spaces such as Facebook where the personal meets professional. Figure out how you will use social media.

Finally, remember that it’s important to tell people that they are making a great impact. If you ask my colleagues, they often will say I’m a good cheerleader. You’re here in this room today because you deserve to be here. Don’t forget that no matter how demoralizing the job market can be. Or how toxic others spaces in the academy may be – depending on where you are. Remember that there are people who believe in you. Never forget that. At the end of the day, after a bad teaching day or a bad day of writing you need to be able to rely on your close and trusted colleagues and friends to get you out of your funk and remember that you belong here.

Last month at the Minority Scholars Breakfast at the American Studies Association, Mark Anthony Neal said, “Mentors mentor because they were mentored.” I took this message to heart. And it’s not just mentoring relationships between senior and junior faculty or between faculty and graduate students. It’s also peer mentoring. A good peer mentor has already been mentored by their peers. They’ve witnessed the effectiveness. They’ve seen what happens when you get support from one another.

Perhaps at the end of the day, you walk away thinking I’m an academic Pollyanna. But please know that I’ve witnessed the gamut of successful and unsuccessful mentoring relationships. The rough starts and the fantastic ones. Cultivating a network of mentors including from yours peers will only benefit you in the long run. I am continuously amazed at the generosity of my colleagues once you demonstrate your willingness to share and build community.