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The Adoption Question
A new endowed chair will closely study the condition of adoption and its effects

—Faye S. Wolfe

Andrew and Jinny Rudd
Andrew and Jinny Rudd believe that too little is known about the “trauma that adoptive children suffer.” Their generous gift to UMass Amherst should help change that. (photo by Ben Barnhart)
ARISTOTLE WAS ADOPTED. SO WAS Apple co-founder Steven Jobs. Not only an ancient social phenomenon, adoption is still making headlines: This year movie star Angelina Jolie adopted her second child. It’s a pervasive phenomenon; a 1997 survey by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute ( www.adoptioninstitute.org/ ) found that 6 in 10 Americans have had personal experience with adoption, meaning that they themselves, a family member, or a close friend was adopted, had adopted a child, or had placed a child for adoption. According to the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse ( http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/ ), an estimated one million children in the United States live with adoptive parents. Yet although adoption is a thread well woven into the familial fabric, there has been relatively little research done on it. Misconceptions abound not only among the general public, but also within public policy.

Andrew and Jinny Rudd hope to change that. They have given $2.5 million that, with matching funds, has created an endowed chair in psychology at UMass Amherst. In addition to supporting a new faculty member within the clinical division of the department of psychology, the money will establish lectures or seminars to foster communication between scholars and public policy experts in adoption.

Anyone who has driven onto campus from Route 116 knows that the Rudds have given to UMass Amherst before. When the Rudds’ daughter, Alexi, was a student here (she graduated in 2004), the Rudd Family Foundation gave money to build Rudd Field, just off Massachusetts Avenue, an outstanding soccer facility for the men’s and women’s Division I teams. Andrew also serves as a founding director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Foundation.

“Few people have looked at the trauma that adoptive children suffer,” says Andrew Rudd, speaking of why endowing the chair was important to him and his wife, Jinny. “The trauma of rejection may occur in lots of different ways. Through research, we hope that the different kinds of trauma might be better understood, and, of course, minimized.”

Rudd notes that “urban legends abound” about how far more adopted children end up in therapeutic settings and prisons than one would expect from the percentage of adoptees in the general population. While more research is required to confirm or refute this idea, Rudd notes that equally incomplete is the “typical explanation that many of these children had terrible beginnings—either because they came from ‘monster’ birth families, or because they came from third-world countries and suffered from dislocation at an early age.”

The ignorance about adoption doesn’t end there. “There is a belief that adoptive children are just like other children, except that they are being brought up by non–birth parents. When they get into trouble, courts will frequently treat them with disdain, as individuals who, having been given great opportunities through adoption, turn their backs on and reject the very help that has been offered.”

Sally Powers, who heads the clinical division of the psychology department, acknowledges that the field of psychology hasn’t weighed in on the phenomenon of adoption to the degree it might. She sees the new chair as an opportunity to promote cutting-edge research into the nexus between child development and the environment, in particular as it relates to adoption.

“We construe environment very broadly,” she explains, “to mean the natural environment; constructed environments, such as urban landscapes and neighborhoods; all the way down to the family level. The scholar we’re looking for will be studying a variety of environments, and their interactions, to understand how environmental factors affect children—especially what additional significance they might have for adopted children.” A child adopted from an orphanage under the shadow of Chernobyl, for instance, will potentially have a different set of issues based on her native environment than those of a Guatemalan child, or a child from Springfield, Massachusetts.

In speaking of the issues that led them to endow the chair, the Rudds have posed the question, “Can we raise awareness on an institutional level that children who are adopted are not ‘lucky’ but carry with them a set of issues or live with a ‘condition’ that should be taken into account by those who deal with them—teachers, doctors, etc.—so that they can be better understood in context, just as those with other emotional or physical conditions might be?”

It may be a tall order, but it’s one that the Rudd Family Foundation Endowment Chair in Psychology is designed to meet.

UMass Psychology department home page: http://euryale.sbs.umass.edu/psych/index.html


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