Office Hours: John Palmer



Associate Professor of Educa­tional Studies John Palmer recently published “The Dance of Identities: Korean Adoptees and Their Jour­ney toward Empowerment.” The book, which details the challenges facing Korean-American adoptees, was published by the University of Hawaii Press in October of last year. It is available for order at the Colgate Bookstore.

Palmer first entertained the idea of doing the study as a doctoral student at the University of Iowa. However, as a Korean-American adoptee, he was wary of doing a study that would involve issues that were so personal to him.

“I didn’t want to do this study because it would involve my own life,” Palmer said. “But I wanted people to better understand the Korean-American adoptee. I felt that I needed to be better prepared, and I thought I would come back to it someday.”

Palmer eventually decided to revisit the idea as a way to meet with the leaders of the Korean adoptee community. As more and more members of the community expressed their desire to be part of the ethnography, his study be­came too large to treat properly in a couple of articles, and thus the book was born.

As a Professor of Education at Colgate, Palmer devoted his study to understanding how racial minorities – the Korean- American adoptees – encounter the educational system.

“It is an in-depth ethnography using on-site visits of these Kore­an-American adoptees,” Palmer said. “My focus is on social and cultural issues and racial identity. If we can understand racial iden­tity we can understand how the minorities encounter the educa­tional system social and cultural foundations of education.”

Building off the concept of racial identity, Palmer explores the “identity awakening” that many Korean-American adopt­ees undergo. According to Palm­er, Korean-American adoptees can go through life without feeling a sense of belonging to either the Korean community or the white American community. This leads to a general sense of disempowerment which comes to define them. It is not until they find a connection with their fellow Korean-American adoptees and become empow­ered that they fully realize their identity awakening.

“Throughout the entire com­munity, they [Korean-American adoptees] are viewed as or­phans,” Palmer said. “You have this pity. Always pitied, never empowered. They become an­gry; this is what they are up against. Their disempowered identity is who they are.”

Palmer found solace in the dedication and enthusiasm of leaders in the Korean-American adoptee groups.

“The dedication that these leaders had to these groups was inspiring,” Palmer said. “They were all volunteers. I just met some incredible people.”

Currently on sabbatical in Seoul, South Korea, Palmer has several projects underway. He re­cently turned in a manuscript on the influence that globalization has on higher education in South Korea. He has several articles forth­coming, and is currently occupied with some extensive work in in­stitutions of higher education in South Korea.

“I’m looking at the develop­ment of multicultural education in South Korea. I’ve been asked to give lectures on multicultural per­spectives from the U.S. viewpoint,” Palmer said. “I’m also going to be a consultant there. I’m hoping to have some influence on the poli­cies of multicultural education in South Korea.”