Manhattanville Reid Castle In the Spring

Jean Strauss to Discuss Her Work and Advocacy at Manhattanville College
Wednesday, 11 April 2012 15:46

Jean StraussJean Strauss has done many different things in her life; she was a professional tennis player, nearly made the 1980 Olympic Rowing Team, and then had the opportunity to work on the 1984 Games where she met her husband Jon. However in 1988, the life changing experience of meeting her birth mother and seven brothers and sisters sent her in a different direction all together.

"My inspiration definitely came from meeting my birth family," Strauss said. "When I found my birth mother it turned out she was also adopted, which led to my first documentary film about finding her and helping her find her birth mother, and the friendship that developed between the three of us."

Five books, several short films, and one feature film (with a second one on the way) later, Strauss found that her story inspired others and had an impact that she could have never expected.

Her short film Vital Records was seen by every legislator in Illinois before they passed a new law which provided access to original birth certificates to the 350,000 citizens adopted in the state.

Jean Strauss Lecture FlyerJean Strauss will be lecturing in Student Center Theatre at 7:30 p.m. on April 17.On Tuesday, April 17 at 7:30 p.m. in Manhattanville College's Berman Students' Center Theatre, Strauss will discuss how her life experience became the foundation of a writing career and then later a film career, which ultimately led her to becoming a national advocate for adoption reform.

"I'm going to show a lot of film clips and talk about writing, filmmaking, and women's and social issues," Strauss said. "And how a small story that occurred in my life became part of a larger narrative that helped change the law."

Changing laws is not always easy or successful. In 2009, Strauss founded the California Adoption Reform Effort, which supported legislation authored by then Majority Whip of the California Assembly, Fiona Ma. The initiative did not succeed in opening adoption files in that state.

"It was a marvelous, educational experience," she said. "I learned a lot about law in California. It's actually the only state that promised confidentially to birth parents. It will be very hard to do what was done in Illinois in California."

In the same year, Strauss received the Emma Vilardi Humanitarian Award from the American Adoption Congress in honor of her legislative and film work.

Her most recent documentary, Adopted: For the Life of Me, is about the journey of two adopted men finding their birth mothers. The film is about secrets and what secrets cost people when they're imposed over an entire lifetime. It engages us all in a dialogue about who adoption laws serve. The film brought together Strauss' passion for adoption reform and filmmaking.

A graduate of UC Berkeley and USC, wife of Manhattanville College President, Jon Strauss, and mother of two grown sons, she began making documentary films at the age of 50. Her short films won numerous honors, including American Cinematheque's list of top women directors in "Women in Shorts." Her books include Penguin's Birthright: the Guide to Search and Reunion, her memoir, Beneath a Tall Tree, and the New York Times bestseller, Forever Liesl: a memoir of The Sound of Music.