In Memoriam: Maurianne Adams, Social Justice Education Pioneer

Maurianne Adams
Maurianne Adams

Maurianne (Schifreen) Adams, professor emerita, UMass Amherst College of Education, died on Oct. 6, at the age of 82. She began working at UMass Amherst in 1973, retired in 2008, and continued to teach part-time until 2015. 

Her obituary is as follows: 

Maurianne (Schifreen) Adams, Professor Emerita, UMass Amherst College of Education, died on October 6, 2020 at the age of 82. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she was the older daughter of Rita (Fuld) and Clement Solomon Schifreen. At the time of her birth, Nazi invasions in Europe were affecting many members of Maurianne’s extended family and her relatives in the U.S worked tirelessly to bring as many family members as possible to safety. From an early age, Maurianne understood that only an accident of history enabled her to survive and it was this awareness that contributed to her early involvement in the civil rights and feminist movements and her lifelong commitment to social justice.

After teaching English Literature at Smith College from 1964 to 1973, Maurianne moved to UMass Amherst where she served as the Coordinator of Academic Affairs for Project 10, an experimental residential education program in the Southwest Residential Area. At UMass, she worked closely with John Hunt, who supported her creation of a new social justice curriculum and, in 1982, she became the Director for Social Issues and Instructional Development for Residential Academic Programs for the College of Education.

Maurianne and John became close friends and sailing buddies, as well as working partners. They married in 1991 and lived in downtown Amherst. Together they enjoyed traveling, music concerts, theater, and movies. Maurianne was a devoted wife to John and cared tirelessly for him when he became ill in his later years. Their marriage was adventuresome, happy and mutually supportive and Maurianne was devastated when John died in 2015.

Maurianne was a prolific scholar and presenter who wrote more than eight books and 50 journal articles and book chapters, was a keynote speaker or presenter at more than 80 conferences, received 21 awards and grants, and was deeply involved in over 50 types of university service, including the Faculty Senate General Education Council and the Faculty Senate Rules Committee. She was an outstanding and passionate teacher who taught both undergraduates and graduate students and directed many doctoral dissertations, while also serving as Editor of the College of Education’s journal, Equity & Excellence in Education, for twelve years.

In 1988, Maurianne completed post-doctoral work in Cambridge, MA, to better understand how cognitive development might address the challenges of teaching in the burgeoning field of social justice education. Back at UMass, she identified other faculty with an interest in social justice and, together, they founded the first Social Justice Education (SJE) Program in the U.S., a ground-breaking masters/doctoral program. Maurianne will be remembered for her outstanding contributions to the development of the academic discipline of social justice education and, by her hundreds of former students and colleagues, for her leadership, vitality, thoroughness, high standards, bureaucratic diplomacy, intelligence, keen sense of humor, irreverence, and unstinting support.

An avid reader and gardener who loved spending time at her summer home and beloved family retreat on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, Maurianne was also active in Amherst town politics. Among her many contributions to Amherst, Maurianne researched and wrote the history of several hundred historical properties in her own 19th century Amherst neighborhood and established a Local Historic District to protect it. For this effort, she was awarded a Founders Day Conch Shell award from the Amherst Historical Society. In 2014, Maurianne helped found and became an officer and board member of the Amherst Community Land Trust, which seeks to help low- and middle-income workers achieve affordable home ownership in Amherst.

While recovering from several joint replacement surgeries, Maurianne discovered earlier this year that the cancer that had been successfully treated many years earlier had returned. Maurianne brought her skills as a scholar to her understanding of her illness, thoroughly researching the disease and all of the possible treatment options. After a brave, and all too brief, battle for her life, Maurianne died peacefully in her sleep of acral melanoma, one of the most aggressive forms of the disease. Throughout her illness, Maurianne continued to live life to its fullest and, typically, was still trying to complete several book chapters for the 4th edition of Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice during the last weeks of her life. When it was clear that the “endgame,” as she called it, had come, Maurianne faced her death with courage and equanimity.

A gathering to celebrate Maurianne’s life is currently being planned for the Spring. Donations in Maurianne’s honor can be made to the Fisher Home (Amherst, MA), Dakin Humane Society (Springfield, MA), Amherst Survival Center, Amherst Community Land Trust, or a nonprofit of your choice.