For sophomore Adrienne Smith, being adopted never defined her relationship with her parents. However, the social stigma surrounding adoption demeans it to “second best” behind biological parenting, she said. She recalled a time when her friend called his brother adopted as a joke, implying he was beneath him in the ranking of siblings.
“Adoption isn’t second best,” Smith said. “It’s another pathway to creating a family.”
In the wake of a campus community confronting a lack of diversity and inclusion, Smith said students who were adopted face microaggressions, subtle and unintended offenses against people from marginalized or misunderstood groups.
“When it comes to diversity and inclusion, adoption should be talked about as well,” Smith said. “There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to adopted students.”
Smith, adopted from Seoul, South Korea when she was six months old, felt an instant connection with Jockey International Inc.’s philanthropic project, Jockey Being Family (JBF), whose mission statement is to increase the number of successful adoptions by networking with agencies. She was first introduced when one of the clothing line’s catalogues featured a mixed-race family in the fall of 2016. Smith, a model herself, had been turned down by casting directors looking for father-daughter shoots after learning her dad was caucasian.
“There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to adopted students.”—Adrienne Smith ’20
After a few video chats with JBF’s marketing planner Kim Salli, Smith volunteered to bring the organization to Ithaca College as its first campus ambassador. Salli, taken with Smith’s passion and determination, said their first conversation initiated a professional, as well as a personal, connection.
“Within five minutes of our talk, I knew I wanted [Adrienne] in the foundation,” Salli said. “If not, then just as a friend.”
Smith first turned to her roommate, sophomore Irina Noonan and fellow television-radio production major, to take on the role of vice president. Noonan, who was adopted from Russia when she was five months old, said the project felt like home.
“I want to help Adrienne out in any sense that she needs,” Noonan said. “She’s a very hard worker and she always has to keep herself busy.”
As vice president, Noonan manages the organization’s social media to help spread awareness of JBF’s mission. One advantage of working with her roommate and close friend, Noonan said, is that she can help Smith get past any personal concerns and help her focus her attention on JBF’s initiatives.
“I can always tell when something is off,” Noonan said. “I can help take on some of that stress.”
JBF’s mission is to minimize the 10 percent of adoptions ending in the child’s return to foster care by providing post adoption support, according to JBF’s catalog, in the form of funding and volunteers. By providing post adoption support, they complement the work of foundations like the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which helps children living in foster care find permanent homes.
“Many families who adopt face extra challenges and are in need of post adoption support, to help their family remain strong,” according to JBF’s About Us page on their website.
With the right support, the site said families can provide a permanent home for children awaiting a nurturing family or what the foundation terms “forever families”.
Smith’s goal on campus is also ending the stigmatization surrounding adoption and providing a network of support for students who were adopted. She said she always had a positive relationship with her parents. However, for many children and parents, the topic of adoption becomes a source of resentment and alienation, especially if the child confronts hurtful microaggressions.
“A common trend I see is not being able to talk about [adoption] and not being able to share these thoughts,” Smith said. “It’s good to have a place to share those thoughts and ideas.”
For Noonan, her adoption was openly discussed since childhood. She said her adopted mother was sure to include her biological mother during evening prayers, thanking her for giving life to Noonan.
However, she has endured her share of adoption jokes, including allegations she is a Russian spy and she is affiliated with Vladimir Putin and the KGB.
“I usually don’t say anything but it’s definitely not necessary,” Noonan said.
Smith’s enthusiasm has garnered positive support from the campus community as she discovered during this semester’s organization fair on Sept. 6 when she collected over 100 names of interested students. Throughout the day, she connected with numerous students who were also adopted, but equally enthusiastic were non-adopted students.
Noonan attributed campus enthusiasm to her roommate’s natural charisma and passion when talking about JBF to other students.
In the coming months, Smith’s agenda is filled with promoting awareness of JBF. She will be networking with with local adoption agencies and foster homes. With President Shirley Collado, she will be working to install a fundraising drive in the campus bookstore. JBF’s teddy bears, taglined “buy a bear, help a family”, will be sold at the checkout desk, the proceeds for which support the organization.
The first person to be honored with purchasing the first bear, Smith said, will be Collado herself.