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“There is a tremendous need for adult adoptees to add their voices as scholars to field of adoption research. Our perspective lends tremendous insight in framing critical research questions and ethically pursuing answers.”: My Conversation With Kripa Cooper-Lewter

Per “I’m a dick: Part 1,” I met Kripa for the first time during our stint on the now defunct Marvin Foundation’s Adoptee Empowerment Project.  Although she and I disagreed on certain topics and issues, I never questioned her “adoption credentials” (as one person had the audacity to do) during the kickoff weekend for the project because she was and continues to be an impressive person.  Indeed, we in the adoption community are fortunate to have folks like Kripa, and all of us, including individuals like Susan Cox, can learn so much from them.

Kripa, thank you for all that you do.


Land of Gazillion Adoptees: You spent some time here in MN. What were you doing here in the tundra?

Kripa: That’s a long story – where do I begin? The short version is that I grew up in northern Minnesota after my adoption from India in 1975. Although I do not know any information about my first family, I do know I lived in two orphanages and an Indian foster home prior to my adoption. When I arrived at my first orphanage, I was given the name “Kripa,” and then as my adoption paperwork was being finalized prior to leaving India, I was named “Stephanie” by my adoptive mother. Many people in the adoption community call me Kripa, although I am called Stephanie by some. I appreciate being called Kripa because it makes the connection to my Indian roots stronger. However, I feel both names honor and reflect different pieces of my journey – having an Indian heritage and beginnings, then being raised within the American context.

After graduating from highschool, it was very important that I encounter more diversity so I moved to the Twin Cities. While there, I pursued my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Social Work. Some of my professional experiences in Minnesota ranged from working for a foster care agency and developing a Rites of Passage program that served primarily African American youth, ages 16-21, transitioning out of foster care, interning in Hennepin County’s Indian Child Welfare Unit (focusing on child protection and foster care), working as a school worker at Harding High School in St. Paul Public School District (which had a large immigrant student population), and serving as an on-call hospital social worker at Regions Hospital (working on a range of floors including pediatrics, labor and delivery, neonatal intensive care, and the burn unit). My daughter attended Adams Spanish Immersion School in St. Paul, and on weekends we also attended the School of Indian Languages and Cultures. My first introduction specifically to the professional field of adoption was in 1994 when I spoke on a panel of adopted teens and young adults at a national conference hosted by Adoptive Families of America.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: You’ve accomplished quite a bit over the years. What are you up to?

Kripa: After twenty-five years of living in Minnesota, I moved to South Carolina in 2000. Since moving, I have provided individual therapy within a nonprofit setting to children and parents involved in the child welfare system, served as President/CEO of a local affiliate of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and taught undergraduate social work at Benedict College and Columbia College, as well as undergraduate and graduate courses at the University of South Carolina.

I have also served in leadership positions within the Indian adult adoptee community, transnational and transracial adult adoptee community, and have spoken at numerous adoption heritage camps including Colorado Heritage Camps and Pact. These younger generation of adoptees touch my heart. While speaking at a heritage camp several years ago, a little girl adopted from India asked me, “Kripa, do you ever think about your India mom?” I responded, “Yes, I do.” She then shared, “I cry every night when I think about her. She is like dust blowing away by the wind – I cannot hold on to her. I miss her a lot.” I have never forgotten this little girl – so young, experiencing such a deep, profound loss. Her eyes penetrated mine for the answers her soul seemed to be seeking.

Given my varied personal and professional experiences, I am curious about how identity is formed and revised across the life journey – particularly among adoptees, immigrants, minority and mixed-heritage populations. Currently, I am a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of South Carolina’s College of Social Work completing analysis of twenty interviews for my dissertation which focused on listening to the life stories of women of color who were transnationally adopted before the age of three to white families in the United States. The women involved in my study were between the ages of 25-38, and represented eight countries of origin across Central America, South America, and Asia. I look forward to sharing the findings of this research and I deeply appreciate the women who participated.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: A Ph.D. program can be a long and grueling process. Any recommendations for other adoptees who are considering it?

Kripa: You got that right. Ph.D. programs are incredibly intense! They require a huge commitment of time, energy, and focus. Since starting the Ph.D. program, I reunited in person with my Indian foster parents, had a baby, knee surgery, returned to India for the first time (nearly 35 years after my adoption), and celebrated my daughter’s graduation from high school – major family life transitions, along with working full-time since completing my doctoral coursework. Thankfully, I have had a husband who has supported me every step of the way.

There is a tremendous need for adult adoptees to add their voices as scholars to field of adoption research. Our perspective lends tremendous insight in framing critical research questions and ethically pursuing answers. I encourage adoptees to seek out scholarships and graduate assistantships to help financially (I was the recipient of a CSWE national fellowship which enabled me to quit work during the intense phase of doctoral coursework). However, the most important advice I have for adoptees interested in pursuing a doctorate is to ensure they have a strong support system in place. For me, this has been my family. In addition to the support my family provides, my support system also includes adult adoptee scholars and practitioners, as well as other adult adoptees who understand balancing marriage, parenthood, careers and the adoption journey.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Word…

2 Comments on “There is a tremendous need for adult adoptees to add their voices as scholars to field of adoption research. Our perspective lends tremendous insight in framing critical research questions and ethically pursuing answers.”: My Conversation With Kripa Cooper-Lewter

  1. Kevin, Thanks for interviewing me – I am always glad to share my perspective. As you mentioned in your above introduction, we have often respectfully “agreed to disagree” on the approaches and stances to various issues we are both passionate about. However, out of the Adoptee Empowerment Project/International Adoption Congress, I met a tremendous group of adult adoptees who have served as my colleagues over the years in a variety of ways – whether it be presenting together for conferences, or just meeting to catch up on our lives along the adoption journey. I cannot imagine my life without some of these connections – Kripa

    • And thank you, Kripa! I, too, have enjoyed connecting with other members of the Adoptee Empowerment Project/International Adoption Congress. If nothing else, the project introduced me to a great number of people who have over the years taught me a great deal about adoption and even more about my own personal experience.

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