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.