When Beverly Younger, clinical associate professor at the USC School of Social Work, assigned Split at the Root: A Memoir of Love and Lost Identity to her Human Behavior and the Social Environment class, she knew it was the perfect choice to convey how the influence of class, race and ethnicity could impact one’s growth and development.
She didn’t know, however, that she would have the opportunity to discuss it with the author herself, former actress and model Catana Tully, an introduction she owes to her Master of Social Work (MSW) student — and Facebook.
After reading Tully’s autobiographical tale about interracial adoption and growing up in a different culture, master’s student Natasha Cole was moved to comment on Tully’s Facebook page. To Cole’s delight, the note led to several email conversations with the author.
Inspired by the interest, Tully made a lunch date, traveling 500 miles from her home in Sedona, Ariz., to meet with Younger, Cole and a few other students to continue the discussion in person.
“As a fellow African-American woman, I was fascinated by the journey Catana embarked upon for healing,” said Cole, who is studying mental health. “I also have several friends who have been a part of transracial adoptions. Catana really exposed how sensitive and delicate the issue is.”
Tully discussed her search for the roots of her identity, which in the book she explores not as the professor of cultural studies she became, but as the black child of German settlers in Guatemala during World War II. She also spoke about the often-difficult relationship dynamics with her adoptive parents and sister, and the reasons for her separation from her birth mother.
“Meeting Catana in person was even more amazing than I could have imagined,” Younger said. “She is on a mission to teach the world to consider the complexity of needs of what she calls ‘the exotic adoptee.’
“Through sharing her story so openly, she hopes that institutions, counselors and adoptive parents will consider the needs of those adopted across ethnic, cultural or country lines to have knowledge of their birth parents and the biological, social and cultural roots from which they came.”
Cole and fellow MSW student Ailin Dayani agreed that meeting Tully was like “seeing an old friend again.” Even though Dayani is studying community organization, planning and administration, she found the issues surrounding identity and transracial adoption in Tully’s book so compelling that she has since passed the book on to other students to spread the story.
“The highlight of my visit to Los Angeles was by far meeting Professor Younger, Natasha and Ailin,” Tully said. “I am grateful they took the time to meet with me and chat about various issues presented in my book.
“Imagine how blessed I feel that, after barely three months post-publication, my book was selected as a case study in an MSW program at a distinguished institution such as USC.”
Tully was a tenured professor at the State University of New York Empire State College until her retirement in 2011.