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Post-Doctoral Fellow

Minority Post-Doctoral Fellow Soo Ah Kwon

Post-Doctoral Fellow

Minority Post-Doctoral Fellow Desiree Qin

Soo Ah Kwon

Department of International and Transcultural Studies

 

As a graduate student at U.C. Berkeley, Soo Ah Kwon worked as a liaison for the Asian and Pacific Islander community in an Oakland School district. There she was surprised to find a group of second generation Asian-American young people who were advocating for school reform.

 

"Asian-American scholars talk about how Asian Americans are an apolitical minority, devoid of any political agency," says Kwon, now a TC Minority Postdoctoral Fellow established in the College's Anthropology program. Yet the Oakland students had collected 500 signed complaint forms covering everything from unfair grading policies to locked bathrooms. They also had mobilized to fight construction of a "juvenile hall" (correctional facility) planned for their community, arguing that money being put into prisons could be better spent on youth programs. They approached the city council with a petition to maintain funding for recreation centers in Oakland and ultimately shut down the juvenile hall project.

 

 Kwon, who helped the group organize itself, wrote about her experiences in a four-year ethnographic study that eventually became her dissertation.

 

"Numerous studies in education sociology talk about young people's adaptation path-'"language retention, how they do in school," she says, "but nothing looks at their political participation."

 

Traditionally, schools have performed the work of educating foreign-born students for citizenship, but Kwon-'"who is continuing her research with youth groups in the Bronx and Chinatown-'"has looked at alternative ways that this is happening, particularly in the Asian community. In doing so, she has become interested in how young Asian-born students are "transferring notions of civic participation to their parents or understanding it from their parents"-'"work she is now pursuing among all ethnic groups.

 

"I am talking about working class young kids trying to change social aspects of life and community," says Kwon, who after leaving TC will become an Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies and Human and Community Development at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. "Many adults don't even know city council members the way these kids do."

 

Desiree Gin

Department of Human Development

 

What lies behind the stereotype of the overachieving Asian student? Desiree Chin first began pondering that question when she was working as an English teacher in China in the 1990s. She had noticed that some of her students were struggling psychologically.

 

One young man, in particular, wore a sad expression whenever he came to class. He had few friends and rarely interacted with other students. Qin later found out that his father had recently passed away.

 

 At the time, students in China were not provided with psychological services. In fact, psychology in general was understood by the Chinese as something to be used only for serious mental problems, and words like "depression" simply did not exist in everyday language.

 

Qin left China to pursue graduate work at Harvard, where she produced a dissertation based on a five-year study of why Chinese immigrant girls in the U.S. outperform their male counterparts. She found that the boys were more likely to lose their sense of ethnic identity and were more concerned about conforming to expectations of their gender at school. The girls, on the other hand, appeared to have what Qin calls a "shield of ethnicity." They also enjoyed a better network of support among teachers, friends and parents in pursuing their education.

 

In a postdoctoral program at New York University, where she further examined the psychological adjustment of Chinese immigrant students, Qin found high levels of alienation and psychological distress among both girls and boys.

 

"We are so familiar with how well Asian students are doing," she says. "Educationally, they might be doing well on the aggregate level, but what is happening with their relationships with peers and teachers at school, and with their relationships with their parents? What is happening with their psychological adjustment? In fact, Asian girls between the ages of 15 and 24 have the highest rate of depression and suicide in comparison to other ethnic groups in this country."

 

As a Minority Postdoctoral Fellow at Teachers College, Qin, based in the Department of Human Development, has begun developing a study that will look at the psychological adjustment of high achieving Asian-American students in a highly competitive New York City high school.

 

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