Someone asked me recently why I felt the need to pursue my doctorate. The question was motivated, I believe, by genuine rather than morbid curiosity; and as this blog is an ongoing gift to my sons and this is a question to which they may also want to know the answer, I thought I would answer it here–and the personal statement I wrote in support of my application seems the most apt way to respond.
So, here is my 500-word response to the question: Why do you feel the need to pursue your doctorate?
To say that I have been on a path that has brought me to this moment is probably an understatement. Though I received my Bachelor of Science in Education 22 years ago and my Master’s in English 18 years ago, my professional life as a public high school English teacher since 1990 has ensured that my content knowledge and research skills have stayed relevant. I am in as much awe of my discipline as I was in my late teens and early 20s; however now, two decades later, I bring experience to my work and a perspective that I necessarily lacked long ago. Further, as the parent of three young sons whom my husband and I adopted as infants, I also bring an increasing and uncompromising awareness to the place adoption holds in our world. As a literature scholar, I am compelled to examine how adoption functions in literary texts past and present; however, as a freelance writer for Adoptive Families magazine as well as the author of an award-winning blog, I am also acutely aware of how our modern world looks at issues related to adoption as well as adoption itself.
Pernicious mindsets that existed in the past about families that were formed through adoption, about birthparents, about children who were adopted on the surface have seemingly given way to acceptance and inclusion. However, even the most superficial examination of what passes for humor on Twitter or Facebook or in the latest Hollywood blockbuster reveals that negative attitudes do not merely linger—they pervade. And despite the laudable work of publications such as Adoptive Families and the strong voices of adoptive parents and their children, adoption in the minds of many is still often relegated to second-best, those whose lives are touched by it viewed as a subgroup—and a marginalized one at that.
Not unlike others who have been consigned to roles of lesser status, adoptive parents and their children are fighting against a tradition—including a staunch literary tradition—that undermines (or in some cases demonizes) the adoption process. While stopping short of saying that one causes the other, it is not disingenuous to suggest a connection. Literature reflects societal attitudes, but I would argue that it also helps to create them. And it is my contention that before true movement can take place, these literary assumptions need to be exposed, confronted, and inverted. To analyze this aspect of the human condition accurately and with integrity, I need the help of the interdisciplinary approach of Salve Regina University’s Humanities Ph. D. program.
Writers are told to write what they know and to write about the issues that inspire them that seem to move few others. This is what I know; this is what moves me. As the mother of three sons who came to me through adoption, I am called to do this work—to thwart past and present assumptions from making their way into the future–for my children and for all families touched by adoption.