Trans-racial Adoptees and Historically Black Colleges and Universities


Through interactions, conversations and new friendships with other transracial adoptees the felt need of wearing multiple racial hats, while simultaneously feeling confused as to ones original racial identity has become apparent to me. I’ve listened to wonderful trans-racial adoptive parents (mainly white) discuss thoughts of relocating for the sake of their children’s budding identities and have begun to wonder how often racial aspects are factored in to decisions around college choices and if it typically mirrors the climate in which we, adoptees grew up.

For many people of color, leaving a predominately white college or university comes with a mixed bag of emotions: will that ridiculously expensive degree actually help us find some semblance of financial security? If it does, how do we adjust to not having our humanity directly questioned every day – without using this newfound privilege to contribute to systems that dehumanize others? What does it mean to perhaps no longer function entirely in resistance mode once our bodies physically leave the dungeons of the ivory tower?

A newly-minted graduate of a very tiny, very white liberal arts college in New England, I’ve been wrestling with these questions since before I even crossed the graduation stage. What I didn’t anticipate then—and has become incredibly clear now—are the ways that my chosen family would help me beyond the confines of our campus. I was lucky enough to feel truly held by my communities, surrounded by a circle of warmth that even the coldest acts of discrimination and the iciest winters could not destroy.          Hannah Giorgis (An Ethiopian-American)

I’ve been privy to engage in conversations with adoptive parents who want to discuss how their community may or may not reflect their child’s identity. Quite likely those decisions will mimic the adoptee’s choice of ongoing adult friendships, and college decisions as well (if they so choose this life route). Like Giorgis, I chose to attend a private university that was predominantly Caucasian, having never even considered HBCU’s like Howard, Spelman, Fisk or Morehouse. The decision made sense at that time on a number of levels – athletics, academics, location – to name a few. But was there also something else at play in my decision? Going to a predominately White college in the northwest helped me to further understand my own identity and ultimately fueled my search for my birth family and my southern roots. I don’t have any memories of being singled out by classmates or professors while in college yet perhaps the continual, yet relatively harmless questions that I fielded impacted my psyche and my sense of self? Comments about my hair; “It’s so neat how your hair can stick straight up on it’s own like that,” comments about my fashion; “I wish bright colors would look that good against my skin tone,” or sports; “I knew you were good at basketball just by looking at you” are called micro-agressions and they weren’t easily stomached, even if it appeared as such on the outside.

As visions of graduate school swirl around my brain, I wonder if attending an HBCU would provide an opportunity to think critically about these dynamics in a zone where others are familiar with these experiences. I wonder how that may impact my studies, worldview, and my intended thesis topic (Black adoptive parents and trans-racial adoption). I wonder about my husband instantly becoming a minority. Have any other black transracial adoptees considered or attended an HBCU?

Living with wonder seems to have become my permanent mental home.

***Hannah Giorgis is not an adoptee***

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