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SJU's Adoption Conference Explores Societal Challenges

Monday, July 7, 2014

Over 200 students, scholars, and adoption activists from around the country assembled at St. John’s University to explore the challenges of adoption at a conference entitled Sleeping Giants in Adoption: Power, Privilege, Politics, and Class.

The eighth biennial event, held May 29–31 on the Queens campus, was hosted in collaboration with Montclair State University and offered numerous perspectives on the issue through keynote addresses, roundtable discussions, poster sessions, and workshops.  

“St. John’s University is delighted to be the host of this important gathering, as we are very proud of our Catholic, Vincentian, and metropolitan heritage,” said Robert A. Mangione, Ed.D., R.Ph., provost, in his opening remarks. “I am a personal stakeholder in what you do—I not only greet you as provost, I also greet you as a very proud and grateful adoptive parent. This event helps families like mine and so many others.”

The conference kicked off with a screening of the award-winning film Somewhere Between, which tells the story of four teenage girls adopted from China now living in the United States.  Keynote panels included activists representing birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees—known as the “adoption triad.” Roundtable discussions ranged from “The Open Adoption” to “Poverty and Adoption, a Perfect Storm,” from “A Racial Identity Narrative” to “An Intimate View of Race, Culture, Power, and Privilege in Transracial Adoption.”  

Delivering the keynote address was Gina Samuels, Ph.D., associate professor at the School of Social Service Administration and faculty affiliate of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago. Samuels theorized that “colorblindness” is harmful rather than helpful in adoption.

“The idea of ‘just seeing people as people’ is a contemporary ideal often espoused as a racial socialization preference among parents adopting transracially,” Samuels said. “While advocates believe ‘colorblindness’ will lessen race-related barriers between people, I believe that it actually erects barriers between members who have a privileged status and those who do not.” 

Laura Briggs, Ph.D., professor and chair of women, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, spoke about the history of inequality in adoption. In her presentation, she posed the question, “Should we be trying to ensure that birth parents have stronger legal protections to keep the children they want?”  

Rafael Art. Javier, Ph.D., A.B.P.P., professor of psychology and director, Postgraduate Professional Development Programs at SJU, stressed that the conference goal was to educate. “We’ve always had a mission of turning a critical lens on the practice of adoption and the social issues that impact it: ethics, politics, religion, privilege, and social class,” he said. “Each time we do this conference, we get closer to fulfilling our goal of educating future professionals.”

“It was enlightening to meet the young girls who were the focus of the film Somewhere Between,” said Alexis Liberto ’15G, who is majoring in general experimental psychology and plans to pursue a Ph.D. “They all have unique stories that highlight issues I will face in my career as a psychologist.”