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Exploring Effects of Social Justice Youth Programming on Racial and Ethnic Identities and Activism for Asian American Youth

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Abstract

This qualitative study explores the effects of social justice–oriented youth programming on racial and ethnic identities and social justice action for Asian American youth. Study participants were 5 male and 3 female Asian American high school students, ages 15–17, whose ethnicities included Chinese, Vietnamese, and Chinese-Vietnamese. Data sources included multiple in-depth interviews with the 8 participants, both pre- and post-programming, as well as research observations of all programming. Analysis was based in a critical ideological constructivist philosophy utilizing a grounded theory approach. Constant comparative analysis began with open coding during the data collection process, which continued after all data were collected. Open coding was followed by axial and theoretical coding, which were audited by the research team. Results indicated that before program participation, participants generally had superficial understandings of race and ethnicity and little awareness of racism, as well as limited engagement in social justice action. After program participation, they reported more sophisticated understandings of race and ethnicity as well as development of their own racial and ethnic identities. They also reported an increased sense of empowerment and social justice responsibility and greater engagement in social justice action. Implications for research and practice are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract)
Asian American Journal of Psychology
Exploring Effects of Social Justice Youth Programming on
Racial and Ethnic Identities and Activism for Asian
American Youth
Karen L. Suyemoto, Stephanie C. Day, and Sarah Schwartz
Online First Publication, September 22, 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037789
CITATION
Suyemoto, K. L., Day, S. C., & Schwartz, S. (2014, September 22). Exploring Effects of Social
Justice Youth Programming on Racial and Ethnic Identities and Activism for Asian American
Youth. Asian American Journal of Psychology. Advance online publication.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037789
Exploring Effects of Social Justice Youth Programming on Racial and
Ethnic Identities and Activism for Asian American Youth
Karen L. Suyemoto
University of Massachusetts Boston Stephanie C. Day
University of Houston, Clear Lake
Sarah Schwartz
University of Massachusetts Boston
This qualitative study explores the effects of social justice–oriented youth programming on racial and
ethnic identities and social justice action for Asian American youth. Study participants were 5 male and
3 female Asian American high school students, ages 15–17, whose ethnicities included Chinese,
Vietnamese, and Chinese-Vietnamese. Data sources included multiple in-depth interviews with the 8
participants, both pre- and post-programming, as well as research observations of all programming.
Analysis was based in a critical ideological constructivist philosophy utilizing a grounded theory
approach. Constant comparative analysis began with open coding during the data collection process,
which continued after all data were collected. Open coding was followed by axial and theoretical coding,
which were audited by the research team. Results indicated that before program participation, participants
generally had superficial understandings of race and ethnicity and little awareness of racism, as well as
limited engagement in social justice action. After program participation, they reported more sophisticated
understandings of race and ethnicity as well as development of their own racial and ethnic identities.
They also reported an increased sense of empowerment and social justice responsibility and greater
engagement in social justice action. Implications for research and practice are discussed.
Keywords: activism, Asian American youth, racial identity, social justice, youth program
Research indicates that Asian American youth are at risk for
psychological difficulties related to minority status and associated
racism (e.g., Choi & Lahey, 2006; Hyunh & Fuligni, 2010;
Lorenzo, Frost, & Reinherz, 2000). However, research also sug-
gests that development of positive racial and ethnic identities may
relate to more positive psychological outcomes for Asian Ameri-
cans, including collective self-esteem, well-being, lower rates of
alcohol abuse, and protecting against the negative effects of dis-
crimination (Alvarez & Helms, 2001; Chae et al., 2008; Iwamoto
& Liu, 2010; Lee, 2003). Thus, interventions that foster racial and
ethnic identity development could have a positive impact on the
well-being of Asian American youth.
Positive racial and ethnic identities encompass more than gen-
eral self-esteem. Positive racial and ethnic identities include per-
ceiving race and ethnicity as central influences, with positive
ideology and regard about the ethnic/and or racial group that
reflects the negotiation of racism and discrimination (see review in
Chang & Kwan, 2009). Racial and ethnic identity development
therefore relates to the concept of empowerment, as processes
through which Asian Americans foster greater self-efficacy in
relation to negotiating the effects of systemic imbalances in power
through developing awareness and resistance to stereotyping and
its negative effects (Catteneo & Chapman, 2010). Relatedly, re-
search also supports a more explicit connection between ethnic
identity and activism among Asian American college students
(Fabian & Juang, 2005). Fabian and Juang (2005) found that
strong ethnic identity was significantly predictive of participation
in activist behaviors, and racism-related stress moderated the re-
lationship between ethnic identity and activism, indicating the
importance of a strong ethnic identity coupled with an awareness
of and discomfort with the existence of racism.
Recent shifts in approaches to youth programming may be
particularly relevant for Asian American youth in light of the
above findings. Many programs now emphasize how youth can be
positive assets for society, rather than focusing on providing re-
medial or ameliorative services to at-risk youth consumers (Del-
gado & Staples, 2008; Ginwright & James, 2002). These programs
emphasize empowering youth not only as individuals but also as
Karen L. Suyemoto, Psychology and Asian American Studies, Univer-
sity of Massachusetts Boston; Stephanie C. Day, Counseling Services,
University of Houston, Clear Lake; Sarah Schwartz, Department of Psy-
chology, University of Massachusetts Boston.
An extended version of this article was presented to partially fulfill the
requirements for the second author’s Masters of Arts degree from the
University of Massachusetts Boston.
The authors wish to thank the other graduate researchers who contrib-
uted to the data collection and analysis: Julie AhnAllen, Grace Kim, Nancy
Lin, Phuong Nguyen, John Tawa.
We also thank the participants who generously offered their time and
experiences for this project and the CAPAY adult coordinators and AASW
leaders: Sophia Kim, Tri Quach Charles Chear, and Mark Liu.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Karen L.
Suyemoto, Psychology, University of Massachusetts, 100 Morrissey Bou-
levard, Boston, MA 02125. E-mail: Karen.Suyemoto@umb.edu
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Asian American Journal of Psychology © 2014 American Psychological Association
2014, Vol. 5, No. 3, 000 1948-1985/14/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037789
1
potential agents of positive social change. Social Justice Youth
Development programs (SJYD; Ginwright & Cammarota, 2002;
Ginwright & James, 2002) aim to foster the development of critical
consciousness of the role of power and privilege, stronger individ-
ual and collective identities–particularly those related to race and
ethnicity–and better skills to take action for social justice.
Such programming seeks to empower youth by developing the
leadership skills, critical thinking, and personal investment neces-
sary for youth participation for social justice. Empowerment here
is both outcome and process. The outcome of psychological em-
powerment is viewed as an individual attribute that involves feel-
ing capable of influencing social and political systems, critical
understanding of one’s environment, and taking action to effect
change (Cattaneo & Chapman, 2010). The process of empower-
ment is one way that individuals, organizations, and communities
gain control over their lives and issues of concern; it is generally
defined by a process involving setting goals related to power that
may relate to awareness of the social injustice that exists in the
world and developing skills and active participation in effecting
personal, organizational, and/or community change (Cattaneo &
Chapman, 2010).
Ginwright and Cammarota (2002) describe how SJYD programs
foster self-awareness to promote positive social and cultural iden-
tities while also fostering social awareness. Both levels centralize
a critical analysis of power and privilege. SJYD therefore fre-
quently provides education largely absent in mainstream education
that fosters racial and ethnic identity development; for Asian
Americans this might include the history of Asian Americans, the
nature and experience of racism against Asian Americans, and the
cultural or racialized experiences shared across Asian ethnic sub-
groups. This aspect of youth programming is similar to some of the
goals of Asian American Studies: to increase understanding and
awareness of Asian American experiences and perspectives; to
increase ethnic and racial consciousness and self-awareness; and to
foster community identity and empowerment for social justice
activism (Chan, 2000). Research exploring the impact of Asian
American studies courses indicates that such education is related to
more positive feelings about being Asian American, and increased
feelings of belonging, social integration, empowerment, self-
efficacy, and commitment to community for Asian American
college students (Kiang, 2002; Suyemoto et al., 2009).
Despite the fact that the philosophy of SJYD programming
seems particularly well-suited to Asian American youth, research
has not yet explored the impacts of this kind of programming for
Asian American youth. Can SJYD programming create changes in
racial and ethnic identities, and in self and social consciousness? If
so, what is the nature of these changes? Does such programming
succeed in fostering empowerment and an ability and/or motiva-
tion to take action for social justice? If so, what is the nature of
these changes? This study seeks to address these questions by
investigating the processes and influence of SJYD programming
on Asian American youth participants. A qualitative approach to
these questions is warranted given the lack of prior research and
the goal to develop understanding of meanings and associated
processes, rather than to examine generalizability or the relations
of variables well defined by previous research (Creswell, 2012).
Qualitative method enables the nature and meanings of possible
changes to be understood inductively, rather than imposed through
a priori definition; it is also congruent with the philosophies of
SJYD programming.
Method
Description of the Program
The Coalition for Asian Pacific American Youth (CAPAY) is a
community-based youth empowerment and activist organization
for Asian Pacific American youth. CAPAY was founded in 1993
by young people in Boston who united to challenge racial harass-
ment and exclusion in their high schools (see Kiang, 2004 for a
more detailed description of CAPAY). Since that time, CAPAY
has reached hundreds of Asian American youth from the greater
Boston area through various types of programming, garnering
national accolades. Youth became aware of CAPAY through their
high school guidance counselors and teachers who had experience
with the annual youth-run CAPAY conference and through peer
word-of-mouth.
This research resulted from a request from CAPAY adult lead-
ers, who sought to better understand the impact of CAPAY pro-
gramming, and particularly of the Youth Learn program (YL). YL
was an intensive, year-long program that typically served 10–15
Asian American youth. To become YL members, youth submitted
an application and participated in a group interview. YL consisted
of three major components, each spanning 3 to 4 months: (a)
participation in a series of 10 Asian American Studies Workshops
(AASW) from September to December, (b) a supervised commu-
nity internship, and (c) completion of a youth-developed project.
This study focused on the AASW component of the YL pro-
gram. The AASW component was the most structured and con-
sistent component of CAPAY programming, both from year to
year and across participants in a particular programming year.
Unlike the community internships and independent projects, in the
AASW, every youth was exposed to the same information, which
enabled observations of youth as they were exposed to and par-
ticipated in the programming. As the first component of YL,
AASW provided a foundation of knowledge and a framework for
taking action for social justice for the YL year. Each workshop
lasted 2 to 3 hours and included didactic instruction and interactive
activities. The curriculum was not specifically tailored to particular
ethnic groups, but the instructors did utilize more examples from
Boston and the youth’s home communities and neighborhoods,
which were primarily ethnically Chinese and Vietnamese. Work-
shops were generally grounded in critical race and racial empow-
erment philosophies common to Asian American Studies. Titles
and content of each workshop are as follows:
AASW I—Why Asian American Studies: Introduced Asian
American Studies and highlighted importance of knowledge for
empowerment and community and collaboration for social change.
AASW II—Asian Americans and United States History: Pro-
vided an overview of Asian American history, critiqued the limited
role Asian Americans are accorded in traditional presentations of
American history.
AASW III—Early migration of Asians to America: Provided an
overview of early Asian immigration and exclusion laws aimed to
prevent Asians from immigrating, settling, or succeeding.
AASW IV—Asian Americans in America through World War
II: Reviewed previous AASW to facilitate consolidation, high-
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2SUYEMOTO, DAY, AND SCHWARTZ
lighted the variety and connections of Asian American experi-
ences.
AASW V—Asian American Women: overviewed experiences
of Asian American women, highlighted exclusion of Asian Amer-
ican women in Asian American history and experience.
AASW VI—Asian American/People of Color (POC) Move-
ment: Discussed the 1960s Civil Rights movement, Asian Amer-
ican involvement, and connection to Asian American movement.
AASW VII—Refugee Experiences: Provided an overview of
Asian immigration after 1965, with a relative focus on Southeast
Asians, given their relative exclusion within dominant discourse
about Asian Americans and their impact on the current Asian
American experience in Boston.
AASW VIII—Current Discrimination and Resistance: Intro-
duced “model minority” and forever foreigner myths, current
discrimination, and hate crimes with relative focus on Vincent
Chin.
AASW IX—Asian American Communities in Boston: Toured
Asian American areas in Boston, discussed importance of com-
munity and processes of making connections to local communities.
AASW X—Youth Presentations and Feedback Discussion:
Youth presentations of their family histories, connections to
AASW, and feedback about the workshops and learning.
Workshop pedagogy reflected liberatory education philosophies
(Freire, 1970) and aimed to validate youth’s personal experiences
in an Asian-focused supportive space. The workshops employed a
variety of experiential activities and interactive discussions, with a
focus on both imparting information as well as developing the
youth’s critical thinking and analytical skills through encouraging
youth to provide explanations for each other and collaboratively
develop ideas when explanations were not apparent. Emotional
reactions were engaged and processed, while the youth were
continuously encouraged to understand the structural nature of
oppression. For example, several youth expressed anti-White sen-
timent during an early workshop; after validating the anger, the
instructor intervened and told the youth that the point was not to
hate White people but rather to hate the racist system and racist
actions.
Participants
All of the 12 youth accepted to the YL program were invited to
participate. One youth chose not to participate because his parents
felt it would take too much time, one withdrew from YL before the
start of programming, and two did not complete the AASW com-
ponent, although one returned to the program later. Although far
from ideal for research, these kinds of changes are typical for a
community organization. Study participants therefore included 5
male and 3 female Asian American high school students (15 to 17
years old) who completed the AASW component and participated
in pre- and post-AASW individual interviews. Seven of these
youth (four male and three female) also participated in a post-
AASW group interview.
Participants’ ethnicities included 2 Chinese, 2 Vietnamese, and
4 Chinese-Vietnamese,
1
reflecting the only ethnicities represented
within the YL program during the year of data collection. Al-
though the program was not restricted by ethnicity, the composi-
tion reflected the ethnic make up of the Boston Asian and Asian
American population. All participants were children of immigrants
or refugees and spoke English fluently. All of the girls and 2 boys
attended racially diverse, urban, public high schools. One boy
attended a predominantly White suburban public high school, one
boy attended a predominantly White private high school, and one
boy attended a public school but did not specify the racial com-
position.
Procedures and Data Sources
Youth were sent study materials with their YL letter of accep-
tance, including a letter from the CAPAY coordinator introducing
the research study, an informational letter about the project, pa-
rental consent forms, and youth assent forms. Parents received
consent forms in English and in Vietnamese or Chinese transla-
tions according to the language indicated by youth on their appli-
cation. Consent forms were translated by native speakers bilingual
in English and Vietnamese or Chinese, and then reviewed by other
native bilingual speakers.
Data sources included the following: (a) two 45- to 90-minute
individual interviews with each youth: one before the start of the
YL program and one after the completion of the AASW compo-
nent; (b) research observations of all required programming; and
(c) one 90-minute post-AASW group interview conducted after all
individual interviews. Interviews and observations were conducted
by the primary investigator and four graduate student researchers,
all of whom were Asian American. Each youth participant was
assigned to the same researcher for both interviews. All interviews
were conducted in English, recorded, and transcribed verbatim for
analysis.
Interviews
Areas of inquiry for both pre- and post-programming interviews
included participants’ experiences and understandings of race,
culture/ethnicity, and their own racial and ethnic identities; expe-
riences with and responses to discrimination; and understanding of
empowerment and their potential contributions to social change.
Pre-AASW individual interviews sought to elucidate the partici-
pants’ initial understandings before being affected by CAPAY.
Interviewers addressed the areas of inquiry using their own words
and progressed through the different areas in the sequence that
most closely followed the participants’ engagement and narrative.
Thus, interviews were semistructured and reflected an inductive
approach that privileged the voices of participants and the cocon-
struction of meaning (Ponterotto, 2005; Taylor & Bogdan, 1998).
Sample questions by topic might have included How do you see
yourself in relation to your race or culture?,Have you ever had an
experience of discrimination? What did you feel? What did you
do?,Do you feel you can do anything about these kinds of
experiences?, and What kinds of things do you expect from the YL
program?
The post-AASW individual interviews addressed these same
areas and also highlighted the participant’s general experiences
within CAPAY, developing skills and knowledge, learning expe-
riences in the program, and any conscious changes or shifts in
1
Pseudonyms are provided to enable tracking of participant quotes.
Demographic data are presented in aggregate to protect participants’ con-
fidentiality.
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3
ASIAN AMERICAN YOUTH SOCIAL JUSTICE PROGRAMMING
initial perceptions. Sample questions for the post-AASW individ-
ual and group interviews were similar to the many of the pre-
AASW questions, but preceded by statements addressing the rep-
etition: for example, I know I asked you about this before, but I am
curious what you think now: How do you see yourself in relation
to your race or culture? We also asked about the effects of the
AASW through questions such as Do you think that the experi-
ences you had or things that you learned during the AASWs
affected or changed the way you see yourself or others? How?
Individual interviews contributed in-depth understandings while
the group interview enabled ideas to be collaboratively and inter-
actively developed between the youth (Mason, 2000). This inter-
active group process focused on eliciting any additional themes or
issues that might not have emerged in individual interviews, but
might have been catalyzed by interactive recollections. The group
interview therefore primarily provided a context and check on data
from individual interviews. Quotations in the results section below
are from individual interviews.
Observations of Youth Programming
One or two researchers observed all required YL programming
(i.e., orientation, initial retreat, workshops, YL team meetings,
monthly general meetings). All the researchers were introduced to
the participants during orientation, to increase the participants’
comfort and decrease the researchers’ disruption to programming.
To maintain primary roles as observers rather than active partici-
pants affecting youths’ experiences, researchers physically situated
themselves on the margins of the room and minimized participa-
tion in discussions. When attending YL programming, each re-
searcher documented descriptive and reflective observations. De-
scriptive notes included workshop content and activities and
youths’ responses, interactions, and presentation (e.g., a seating
chart or descriptions of clothes). Reflective notes included the
researcher’s impressions of the youths’ responses and emotions
and the workshop overall (e.g., youth seemed engaged or confused
or angry; content seemed disorganized or focused, etc.) and re-
flections on connections to emerging themes. Researchers also
maintained journals of personal reflections and reactions for re-
flexivity. Observations and reflections were shared and discussed
each week with the research team as part of beginning data
analysis, to check bias, and to ensure researchers were familiar
with what had occurred prior to attending the next programming
event.
Data Analysis
Analysis was based in a critical ideological constructivist phi-
losophy utilizing a grounded theory approach informed by con-
sensual qualitative research (Ponterotto, 2005; Charmaz, 2006;
Hill, 2012). After preprogramming individual interviews were
completed, each researcher presented an overview of her/his in-
terview(s) to the team and contributed to discussions of themes
emerging in the preprogramming data. The initial interviews were
then read in greater depth and analyzed for broad content themes
by the project coordinator (PC: the second author). This initial
analysis was discussed with the research team and served to
familiarize all members of the research team with emerging issues
that might relate to programming observations of participants.
Analysis of programming observations began with weekly discus-
sions in research meetings described above. Both immediate re-
sponses to the recent programming and overarching themes across
programming were discussed and recorded in detailed memos
(Saldaña, 2009). These meetings were also recorded so that initial
impressions could be referenced during the PC’s subsequent more
detailed data analysis of the interview transcripts. This analysis
and specific data from the written observations were used to
provide a context for the interview data analysis and utilized in
constant comparative analysis with themes emerging from the
interview. A similar process to that described above was initially
followed after the post-programming interviews: the research team
presented their interviews and discussed emerging themes.
Once all the interviews for this study were completed and
transcribed, the PC immersed herself in the data by reading
through all of the interviews to establish an overview of their
content. Themes and questions that arose were then collaboratively
discussed with the research team in a process similar to consensual
qualitative research (Hill, 2012), but with less formal structure, and
led by the analysis by the PC rather than analysis by multiple team
members. This collaborative process resulted in “chunky” codes
that were consensually agreed upon (Bazeley, 2007) that largely
reflected the areas of inquiry but sometimes challenged these as
well (e.g., a code such as lack of understanding/naming racism).
The PC utilized these agreed-on codes as the starting point for a
more detailed analysis of all interviews, utilizing the qualitative
data analysis program NVivo. First, initial or open coding was
conducted to develop initial differentiated categories that repre-
sented units of meaning through a constant comparison process.
After the initial coding, the data were axial coded into categories
that more accurately reflected the meaning that was emerging from
the data and connected open codes into larger themes. Finally,
theoretical or selective coding was completed where the categories
from the axial coding were integrated into primary themes and
relations (Saldaña, 2009).
Validity and Reflexivity
Reflexivity, consensual analysis, and internal and external au-
dits were utilized to ensure validity. The research team consisted of
the female, multiracial 3rd generation Japanese European Ameri-
can primary investigator and six graduate student researchers (one
multiracial 2nd generation Japanese European American male, one
1.5 generation Vietnamese American male, one 2nd generation
Taiwanese American female, two 1.5 generation Korean American
females and one 1.5 generation transnationally adopted Korean
American female). Throughout the process of data collection and
analysis, all researchers participated in journaling and group dis-
cussions to bracket assumptions and reflect on ways that personal
experiences may be affecting data collection and analysis. Internal
auditing was conducted through conversations with CAPAY pro-
gram staff. External auditing was conducted through review of the
process, results, and interpretation by two additional doctoral level
psychologists.
Results
The primary aims of this study were to (a) explore the effects of
participation in race-related psycho-educational youth program-
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4SUYEMOTO, DAY, AND SCHWARTZ
ming on the racial and ethnic identities of Asian American youth,
and (b) examine the effects of such programming on social justice
understandings and actions. Participants’ discussions of race, cul-
ture, and ethnicity indicated that participation in the Asian Amer-
ican Studies Workshops (AASW) fostered deeper understandings
of race and ethnicity, facilitated the claiming of an American
identity (i.e., Asian American or Chinese American), and increased
the salience of racial identity. Participants also described increased
feelings of social responsibility and empowerment as well as
greater participation in social justice actions following AASW. In
accordance with inductive qualitative methodology, themes were
not ranked by the number of youth endorsing them. However, all
themes presented here were discussed by at least two youth, except
when singular exceptions are noted. An overview of themes is
presented in Table 1.
Before Participation in AASW: Understandings of
Ethnicity, Race, and Identities
Before participation in AASW, youth’s understandings of race,
culture, ethnicity, and their own racial and ethnic identities were
relatively superficial. Although many of the youth seemed to be
trying to address the complexities of ethnicity, race, and their own
identities spontaneously during the interviews, they generally
lacked the language or depth of understanding to successfully do
so, leading to expressions of uncertainty.
Ethnicity and ethnic identity. Ethnically, the youth self-
labeled as Vietnamese, Chinese, or Vietnamese and Chinese, and
sometimes included American as part of their identities (e.g.,
Chinese American). Although the youth had a deeper and more
personalized understanding of the meanings of ethnicity as related
to their identities than they had for race (see below), this under-
standing was still relatively superficial and vague. Zach stated,
“Culture’s hard to describe. Culture is just who you are with. I
mean, your background, right.” The majority of the youth de-
scribed a concrete understanding of culture strongly connected to
observable behaviors (e.g., language, food), rather than to identity,
values, or personal characteristics. This lesser personalization may be
related to the relative emphasis the youth placed on ethnicity as differ-
entiating among Asian ethnic groups, rather than ethnicity as
personally meaningful. For example, Jinny emphasized that it was
important for her to identify as Vietnamese and challenge people
who perceived her to be Chinese.
Some youth also included reference to American as part of their
ethnicity or culture, sometimes directly identifying as Vietnamese
American and/or Chinese American but more frequently speaking
about acculturation. Jim stated: “I think I’m pretty Americanized
but I still want to be part of my culture. So, I try to stay Vietnam-
ese, and learn about it.” In contrast, other youth rejected American
as a racialized term, even in relation to acculturation. Zach de-
scribed how becoming Americanized was “becoming basically
‘White-washed.’” Jinny stated that American meant Black and
White. Overall, the youth viewed their relation to American cul-
ture as different than an identity as American.
Race and racial identity. Most youth used the label “Asian”
to identify racially. However, they seemed uncertain about this
label and its meanings, demonstrating a lack of understanding of
what race is or why it matters. Calvin hesitantly identified as Asian
and when the interviewer noted that he seemed hesitant, he ex-
plained, “Because I don’t know, look at me, yeah Asian...Iguess
human beings can be a race, but I don’t know. I try to be specific.”
Explorations of the youth’s understandings on which they based
their identities indicated two themes specific to race as distinct
from ethnic cultural values: race as a categorical distinction and
race as physical appearance. Many of the youth described a basic
Table 1
Summary of Results: Youth Understandings of and Engagement With Ethnicity, Race, and Social Justice Before and After AASW
Before participation in AASW After completion of AASW
Understandings of Ethnicity, Race, and Identities: Superficial understandings,
lack of exploration of identities.
• Ethnicity: Ethnic labeling without personalization. Specific ethnicity as
differentiator within pan-ethnic or racialized group (e.g. being
Vietnamese means not being Chinese). American as acculturated or as
“White.”
• Race and racial identity: Confusion about meaning. Racial identity as
label related to physical appearance and categorization by others
without personalized meaning, centrality, or pride.
Understandings of Ethnicity, Race, and Identities: More
sophisticated understandings, shift from ethnic specific
identities as differentiating to pan-Asian identity as
unifying.
• Ethnicity: greater personalization of ethnic identity,
increased pride. Incorporation of “American” as
recognition of bicultural experience and as political stance.
• Race and racial identity: Understanding of race as power
and hierarchy, increased tendency to identify racially and
emphasize shared experiences of discrimination and unity
among Asian Americans to resist racism.
Understandings of and Engagement in Social Justice: Confusion about
meaning of social justice, lack of awareness of social problems, limited
engagement in social justice action.
• Social justice meaning and awareness: confusion about distinction
between helping and justice. Denial and minimization of experienced
microaggressions as discrimination, framing of racism as “making fun.”
• Limited engagement in social justice actions related to uncertainty about
the nature of social justice, a reluctance or inability to perceive racism
and discrimination, and lack of skills or knowledge for intervention.
Understandings of and Engagement in Social Justice: increased
awareness of social problems, increased understanding of
racism, sense of obligation to take action, increased
action.
• Increased awareness in seeing and naming racism, framing
denying racism as problematic.
• Increased motivation to take action: empowerment and
increased belief in ability to effect change. Sense of social
responsibility to take action on behalf of others.
• Increased engagement in social justice actions such as
confronting racism and educating others about social
problems and social justice.
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5
ASIAN AMERICAN YOUTH SOCIAL JUSTICE PROGRAMMING
understanding that race was a social category, used to aggregate
some (sub)groups of people and to make distinctions between
other groups. Lauren, for example, recognized that the ethnic
group Chinese was a subgroup of Asian, which was “the bigger
picture.” For some youth, the definition of race was related almost
entirely to the institutional demand for categorization, with little
personal meaning or exploration of the category, even as they used
it to self-label. Katie described race as “how they categorize you
on MCAS [standardized state test] forms.” Although youth were
aware that race was related to categorical distinctions, the bound-
aries of categories as well as the meanings or reasons for the
categorization were confusing to them. Jim posed the question
“Are Russians Asians? Because it’s in Asia.” Stuart stated, “Race.
It’s a really hard one....It’s just something just to make someone
different from another person, this race looks different from this
race and...It’s kind of like, how scientists categorize animals or
species.”
Like Stuart, most of the youth were aware that the meaning and
categories of race had some relation to physical features. Some
youth explicitly named specific physical features (e.g., skin color,
eye color) when discussing their meanings of race. Others, such as
Calvin and Jim, referred to “looking Asian” or being similar to
others (Asians) because of a shared physical appearance. Many of
the youth seemed to self-label as racially Asian, not because they
felt personally connected to the Asian label but instead as an
acknowledgment that others viewed or categorized them as such.
These youth seemed to have unexamined racial identities that
acceded to social demands without personal meaning-making.
Although the majority of the youth’s meanings of race included
physical appearance, none of the youth understood race as solely
based upon physical traits and none of the youth explicitly dis-
cussed genetics or biology.
Only Calvin directly expressed awareness that race as physical
appearance might be linked to sociohistorical contexts and racism,
although he expressed uncertainty about this:
It’s very tricky. Usually, before, I was taught it was skin color. Then,
I don’t know, I kind of thought that’s how it is because in the
textbooks and stuff how racism developed because Whites hate
Blacks. So, I thought it was all this issue about color, not really about
ethnicity or anything like that, but I’m, I don’t know how to describe
it. It’s hard.
Youth’s racial identifications were also frequently confounded
with ethnic or cultural identity. Many of the youth racially iden-
tified as Asian or Asian American but their explorations of this
identity frequently included both physical appearance and cultural
identity and heritage, reflecting knowledge that certain ethnic
cultures (e.g., Chinese, Vietnamese) were categorized in the Asian
aggregate.
Before Participation in AASW: Understandings of and
Engagement in Social Justice
Despite CAPAY being a social justice youth organization and
YL requiring an application, many participants lacked a clear
understanding of social justice or the language to discuss it before
AASW. In fact, many of the youth initially expressed that they saw
the world as a relatively problem-free place and were generally
unaware of the existence or persistence of racism and discrimina-
tion, even as they described experiencing daily microaggressions.
As a result, the youth’s engagement in social justice actions
pre-AASW appeared to be somewhat limited.
Social justice meaning and awareness. In general, youth
seemed confused or uncertain about the meaning of social justice.
Discussions of social justice and activism tended to be brief and
often included the youth asking the interviewers to define or
explain social justice. Youth tended to define social justice as
“helping people” and did not acknowledge the issues of power and
privilege related to social justice. For example, Lauren stated, “I
think it’s [social justice] well, it’s good. It can’t do any harm. It’s
just trying to help people, and I’m trying to get into that.”
Youth also seemed to lack the awareness of social problems
related to racial social justice, or to minimize their impact. Al-
though most of the youth described situations when they were
called names or treated stereotypically, they were reluctant to use
the terms racism or discrimination and tended to minimize the
intent, meaning, and impact of discriminatory acts. Lauren denied
that she had experienced racism, stating “the stereotypes that come
up are mostly always positive.” Katie also said she had not been
“exposed to racism, personally,” defining racism as making fun of
or discriminating against others because one feels superior. How-
ever, Katie went on to say, “except for those annoying little people
that walk around the street and walk by me and go, ‘ching, chong,
ching’ or whatever.” Most other youth also described times where
they were teased or called names, both by strangers and by peers
in school, but generally framed this as “joking,” “having fun,” or
“unintentional.” Jim stated “They’re just doing it [saying ching
chong chin] to have fun, and I guess it doesn’t really bother me if
they weren’t doing it to be mean to me.” Only Calvin described a
situation that he clearly identified as racist, although only after
noting, “I don’t really experience much racism.” He described a
time when he and his friends were in a public park “minding our
own business” and a stranger told them, “‘you damn Japs go back
to your own country. You’re just a hassle to us.’”
Limited engagement in social justice actions. Social justice
or empowered action refers to actions taken to confront or address
social problems in order to bring about more equal treatment for
members of society who are oppressed or discriminated against
(e.g., racial minorities, disabled persons, gay and lesbian people).
Because the youth demonstrated uncertainty about the nature of
social justice and a reluctance or inability to see racism and
discrimination, their engagement in social justice actions was also
limited. For example, although Jinny expressed a desire to con-
front racist or ignorant comments, she instead walked away to
avoid confrontation:
I’m thinking in my head that I want to tell them that if you tell me to
go back to my country, then neither Whites or Blacks should be here
because America is originally for Native American people. So, if they
tell me to go back to my country, shouldn’t they themselves? It’s not
nice to think that way...Ijust walk away. Because I don’t want to,
if I stay and I yell back or argue with them, it would bring too many
conflict, right? So I just walk off since I won’t probably see them
again. Not many times. So, I just ignore it.
The youths’ examples of social justice action were generally
constrained to telling friends, “that’s not true” when they voiced
explicit stereotypes about Asians. Michael emphasized that he did
not “get all crazy on them” when he heard a stereotype. Lauren
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6SUYEMOTO, DAY, AND SCHWARTZ
reported that she would rebut a stereotype if it came up, but
otherwise would not “go out there and do stuff.” Only Katie
expressed a willingness to actively confront racism by “tell[ing]
them off,” but only when she felt it was intentional. She seemed
motivated by a sense of responsibility to protect others, suggested
by her use of the word “should”:
They probably just think it’s funny [to make racist comments], and
they do it for fun and laughs. That’s why I don’t take much thought
into it. But if they actually mean it and they’re trying to offend me,
first, I would laugh at them, and then I would defend myself. I’d
probably just tell them off, “I don’t know what you are speaking, but
that’s definitely not Chinese.”...Ithink I should stand up for my
peop-, me and everyone else that might be made fun of for that, and
just, yeah, just stand up for my people.
Despite a tendency to avoid confronting racism and discrimina-
tion, the youth did react to witnessing or experiencing racism. In
fact, several of them described internal dialogues such as Jinny’s
about the inappropriateness or hurtfulness of such interactions and
ways that they would like to respond. However, before participat-
ing in AASW, most of the youth found the idea of actively
confronting social problems to be a daunting proposition and were
more likely to explain the incidents as harmless or intended as
jokes.
After Completion of AASW: Impacts on
Understandings of Ethnicity, Race, and Identities
Participation in AASW contributed to more sophisticated un-
derstandings of ethnicity, race, and racial and ethnic identities.
These understandings contributed to a primary effect where youth
shifted from emphasizing ethnic-specific identity to emphasizing
pan-Asian racial identity. Overall, the youth presented as more
comfortable and confident, not only when talking about race and
ethnicity abstractly, but also when discussing their own racial and
ethnic identities.
Ethnicity and ethnic identity. AASW participation affected
ethnic identity through encouraging a process of moratorium and
related personalization. For example, Lauren, who had previously
tied culture to her grandparents and family, now expressed per-
sonal responsibility for maintaining her Chinese culture, explain-
ing, “It’s [ethnic culture] kind of something that I want to keep in
my life. Because it really, it kind of, if you don’t have culture then
what do you have? You know, it kind of like makes up your
personality.”
In addition, AASW affected some participants’ ethnic identity
through a greater incorporation of “American” in ethnic identities.
Three of the youth who had previously not identified as American
adopted an American aspect to their ethnic identity after AASW.
Calvin felt that this label reflected his incorporation of the Amer-
ican culture with being Asian. Jinny, who had previously identified
as Vietnamese and defined American as “Black or White” now
actively identified as Vietnamese American, stating “[this] shows
that I’m an American citizen and I have the right to be here.”
Race and racial identity. The shift to thinking about rights
and self-assertion relates to the primary change in the majority of
youth evidenced after participation in AASW: the greater tendency
to identify racially. After participation in AASW, youth no longer
focused on physical appearance as the primary basis of race.
Instead, they discussed the social meanings connected to race and
how and why other people made racial distinctions. For example,
Katie stated, “Race is made up....Just a made up sort of way to
put people in different, different categories, or to oppress people.”
This shift in understanding racialization seemed to be related to
a greater emphasis on racial identification as foundation for unity
to resist oppression and work for social justice. Jinny described
discovering the shared struggle of Vietnamese and other Asian
ethnic groups:
Before, I can’t imagine the bigger picture. I don’t know. I was just
connected to my family and my relatives only....Before, I wouldn’t
see connection between me and other, Asian, besides the Vietnam-
ese....right now, we see this as some of the, we’re experiencing
the same, similar experiences in America. We struggle the same,
we have the same struggle.
Similarly, after AASW Calvin stated, “I would like to refer to
myself as an Asian American [rather] than to be more specific
about it....Idon’t want them [White people] to separate me.”
Several youth described how their shift toward an Asian racial
identity was connected to an understanding of power and privilege,
specifically, how Asians as a group did not have the same power
as the dominant White group, and how racial prejudice from
Asians was different than the combination of racial prejudice and
power that defines racial oppression from the dominant group. For
example, Katie explained:
And if I use the word, oppression, before I don’t think I knew what it
meant really. But then CAPAY made it more clear, putting down
someone else, and Asians can’t be racist because we don’t have
power...insociety to put down White people or Black people or
something. (How do you, how do you think of power? Like what does
power mean?) Being in authority in society, being able to really put down
someone. If you wanted to move a whole group of Asians into a ghetto
area or something, that’s power and being able, that’s being racist, too, if
it’s for no apparent reason.
For some youth, this new lens of power analysis led to exploring
the connection of race and economics/social class, and to questions
about whether it is race, per se, that is the problem, or whether it
is the intersection of race and class. For example, Zach initially
believed that class contributed to racial tensions between groups
but did not seem to incorporate class into his understanding of
race. After AASW, Zach understood race and class as inexplicably
tied:
[I]f you look at the people who are fighting each other, it’s usually the
poor Blacks, and poor Whites, and the poor Asians....Race is a class
construct....Ibelieve that after a certain point when you have
enough money you can buy yourself in, when you going [to be]
buying up into the upper class levels, right, race doesn’t matter. But
race matters more, as you go downward, because it’s all about social
economics.
After Completion of AASW: Understandings of and
Engagement in Social Justice
The youth also reported changes in their awareness of social
problems and the development of feelings of social responsibility
and empowerment. As a result, the youth expanded engagement in
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7
ASIAN AMERICAN YOUTH SOCIAL JUSTICE PROGRAMMING
social justice actions including confronting racism and educating
others.
Increased awareness of social problems. After completion
of AASW, youth described seeing racism more, and reflected that
denying racism was actually problematic. Jim explained:
Now I’m thinking, maybe some people do know that all this stuff is
happening in the world, and all this stuff is going on but then, they,
they’re ignoring it and acting like nothing is going on. And just going
on with their daily lives. Trying to make their lives better by not
seeing it. It’s like in The Matrix, you know. When the real world is
actually really bad. So, then people want to stay in the dream world.
Other youth also described increased recognition of racism and
discrimination, which they now explicitly named as such. After
AASW, many of the youth were also able to understand that active
intention to directly harm was not necessary for something to be
racism, to make distinctions between institutionalized racism and
face-to-face racism, and to describe the power dynamics associated
with racism. For example, Stuart stated, “I don’t look at race for
myself, but as long as I’m going to live in a place where everyone
sees race, I’m just going to look at race as well....itisironic
because they don’t [see that they see it]. They don’t understand the
word institutionalized racism as opposed to face-to-face racism.”
Increased motivation to take action: Emerging feelings of
social empowerment and social responsibility. In the context
of increased awareness of social problems, youth described an
increased sense of empowerment, reflected in the feelings of
self-efficacy expressed by the youth and their increased belief in
their ability to effect social change. They also described an in-
creased sense of social responsibility, a concept that has been less
examined in previous research, characterized by feelings of obli-
gation or duty to take action to address the social problems in the
world. Notably, for these youth, personal empowerment and col-
lective responsibility were highly related concepts; having the
education and skills to effect change was attached to a sense of
obligation or a duty to take action.
Some youth connected their feelings of social empowerment
and responsibility to the Asian community specifically, whereas
others focused on society as a whole. Calvin, Lauren, and Jinny
focused on the importance of creating change within the Asian
community as a first step. For example, Lauren stated, “So, I feel
like, when I empower myself and all the other racial groups are out
there empowering themselves, we can collaborate.” Zach de-
scribed wanting to make change more broadly and introduced
feelings of obligation or responsibility to the United States, even as
he recognized that the nation had caused difficulties for his com-
munity:
We [Vietnamese] owe a shit load, we owe a shit load both ways, they
caused the war, the U.S. caused the war...butthey also took us in.
And whole thing of it is why you have to, have to hold up every evil
thing that they do, shine it in the light and try to change that shit, right.
For the greater good of everybody, right. At the same time, you got to
be willing to defend the country. That’s how, in my view a lot of my
activism, that’s where it comes from. You know what I mean. It’s, “I
owe something to this country.”
Katie also described feeling motivated by a sense of responsi-
bility, explaining, “I feel empowered that because I’ve been edu-
cated this way, I think it’s my responsibility. Or not, it doesn’t
even have to be my responsibility. It’s just something I know I
should be doing to stand up for other people.” Later in the
interview, Katie related her increased sense of empowerment to
increased confidence that she could make a difference:
I never really believed in myself that I could do something if I wanted
to. I was always afraid, “oh what if this, and what if that?” I’m still
like that now, but not as much as before....Ican’t understand why
it doesn’t matter to them [people at school] that these things [racism]
are happening. All they can say is, “oh, that happens. You can’t do
anything about it.” It’s like, “yes I can” if I can get enough people, and
you help me, and give me support.
Michael and Lauren also emphasized their responsibility to
increase and use their knowledge, both personally and within the
Asian American group. Lauren stated: “I feel it’s our responsibility
as Asian Americans to know these things...theAsian American
community is comprised of mostly immigrants or people who
aren’t really politically aware of, you know, issues and so, I feel
it’s my responsibility to educate them about it.” In sum, the youth
described their newly developed sense of empowerment and social
responsibility as a powerful force in their lives, motivating them to
take action to effect change. They did not view their responsibility
as a burden, but rather were strongly compelled by their newfound
sense of duty to take action.
Increased engagement in social justice actions. Previously,
the youth had highlighted the difficulties of engaging in social
justice actions. After completion of AASW, they expressed per-
sonal investment and more frequent action to address social prob-
lems. The actions most frequently described by the youth were
confronting racism and educating others about social problems and
social justice. Several youth discussed reaching out to friends as an
important first step. Michael described sharing CAPAY materials
about racism with friends during a free period in school. Similarly,
Jim stated, “I guess I’m trying to make change by educating people
first....sometimes the things that I learn in CAPAY, I go out and
like I try to preach to my friends.” Other youth, including Lauren,
Calvin, and Stuart, talked about education more generally, or about
confronting peers and teachers. Lauren stated an intention to
conduct workshops for political awareness and said “Even when
there aren’t racial attacks going on, I can talk to people about it
[racism].” Calvin explained further:
[White people] do things that are, they don’t realize. That I point out
to them, sometimes they say something that shouldn’t be said or like
it stereotypes someone....Sometimes in history class, if the teacher
says something that’s totally different and totally biased to the White,
White culture and race. He always says, “White people help the Asian
people do this,” but when I heard it in CAPAY, they, they forced us
to do some things. And so, so, I bring up the point in class, and I just,
I challenge his ideas of racism.
Interestingly, several of the youth denied that the actions they
were taking constituted social activism and minimized the impact
or extent of their efforts to confront racism or educate others.
These youth may have had relatively narrow understandings of
social activism that involved rallies and protests rather than edu-
cating others and making them more aware. Regardless of the
youth’s specific definitions of social justice actions, most were
actively engaged in combating social problems in their lives.
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8SUYEMOTO, DAY, AND SCHWARTZ
Discussion
This study indicates that programming reflecting the philoso-
phies of SJYD may be a powerful intervention for addressing
social and psychological challenges that some Asian American
youth face by strengthening racial and ethnic identities and relating
this growth to Asian American youth’s awareness of, motivation
for, and ability to take action for race-related social justice. Find-
ings demonstrate parallels between participants’ racial and ethnic
identity development and existing stage models (e.g., see review of
models in Chang & Kwan, 2009). At the start of programming,
many of the youth had unexamined ethnic identities and racial
identity attitudes characteristic of the conformity status. After
participation in the workshops, the youths’ racial identity attitudes
were more typical of the resistance and immersion status; they
described placing greater value on being a member of the Asian
racial and/or pan-ethnic group and stronger perceptions of racism.
Most of the youth had also moved toward endorsing a more fully
explored ethnic identity, characterized by greater attachment to
their ethnic cultural affiliation and more developed personal
meaning within their identity. Given prior research indicating
positive relations between developed ethnic and racial identities
and psychological health (e.g., Alvarez & Helms, 2001; Chae et
al., 2008; Iwamoto & Liu, 2010; Lee, 2003), these changes
could contribute to youths’ well-being and resiliency. This
possibility is supported by the fact that these results support
past research on effects of Asian American Studies courses on
racial and ethnic identities of Asian American college populations,
which also indicated that Asian American Studies fosters positive
self-esteem, positive regard for one’s own racial and ethnic groups,
and empowerment and increases students’ awareness of and ability to
cope with racism (Kiang, 2002; Suyemoto et al., 2009).
Although there is much that is positive about such shifts, it is
important to remember that racial attitudes reflecting resistance
and immersion are not fully aligned with racial social justice.
SJYD programming with Asian American youth should carefully
attend to messages that may reify the tendency of those who are
oppressed to ignore their relative privilege (Vasquez & McGraw,
2005) to foster alliances to resist shared oppression. For example,
Katie’s statement that she had learned that “Asians can’t be racist,”
likely comes from observed programming that discussed the rela-
tion of racism to power and how racism from White people is
qualitatively different than racial discrimination from people of
color (Pinderhughes, 1989). However, if Katie were to uncritically
believe that Asians are incapable of racial prejudice, she could
justify and enact prejudicial attitudes toward others in detrimental
ways (Tawa, Suyemoto, & Tauriac, 2013). Katie’s statement ac-
cords with the racial identity stage of immersion, where one’s
attitudes are strongly prideful and positive in relation to one’s own
group, but not yet thinking beyond to address shared issues of
oppression with other racial minorities related to locating the
problem of racism structurally. The changes in youths’ racial and
ethnic identities described here should therefore be seen as posi-
tive, but clearly still in process.
Results of this study also indicate that participation in AASW
had stronger effects on racial identity than on ethnic identity. This
is likely related to participants’ racial identities being less devel-
oped at the start of the program. Because racial identity involves
developing a positive sense of oneself as a member of a racial
minority group within a racist society (Chang & Kwan, 2009), the
youth’s preprogram tendency to minimize or attempt to deny the
existence of racism may have contributed to their unexamined
racial identities. It is also possible that the stronger effect is related
to ways in which AASW emphasized the shared Asian American
experience and provided an Asian American affinity space, con-
tributing to the development of pan-Asian consciousness. The
greater observed effect on racial identity than on ethnic identity
may also relate to a potentially greater impact of peers on racial
identities, whereas ethnic identity may be more influenced by
parents and family (Kim, 2006).
Results support previous research suggesting that SJYD pro-
gramming can create changes in self and social awareness, with
associated youth outcomes of pride, increased positive regard,
racial and ethnic esteem, critical thinking, and motivation and
capacity to contribute to community change (Ginwright & Cam-
marota, 2002). These data suggest that increased awareness and
ability to resist oppression may be associated with increased
awareness of social injustice and increased feelings of empower-
ment. Youths’ initial reluctance to actively confront social prob-
lems before starting the workshops may be attributable in part to
general socialization not to see or address racism and discrimina-
tion. AASW provided active and explicit resocialization to identify
racism and discrimination and develop skills to address it.
This awareness can only contribute to action, however, if it is
accompanied by motivation and belief in one’s abilities to create
change. Results suggested that Asian American youth experience
changes in social justice action that are motivated by feelings of
responsibility or engagement. Asian American–focused program-
ming may help youth understand that they are not expected to act
alone; rather, they become part of a social network that includes
positive feedback and support from peers and invested adults.
Taking action to resist racism becomes a part of collective con-
nections, social responsibility, and group harmony. Thus, these
results may also expand our understanding of empowerment
through a consideration of how empowerment may be experienced
or enacted in Asian American versus White European American
cultures. Empowerment theory has generally focused on the im-
portance of feeling capable of influencing the social and political
systems in one’s life (Cattaneo & Chapman, 2010), rather than the
idea that one is obligated or should work for social change. Given
that collectivity and deference of the individual to the group are
cultural values shared by many Asian Americans (Markus &
Kitayama, 1991), the feelings of social justice responsibility that
the youth described may also be a reflection of their cultural
values, just as the reluctance to take action and create relational
distance prior to AASW may have reflected cultural norms of
maintaining harmony. These youth not only felt capable of con-
fronting racism and educating others, but they also felt a respon-
sibility to engage in such actions. Similarly, research on a youth
community organizing program serving youth from a range of
minority ethnicities, including African American, West Indian,
African American/European, and Mexican/West Indian, also indi-
cated that programming led them to develop an increased sense of
responsibility for their communities (Schwartz & Suyemoto,
2013). Future research could develop a better understanding of the
relations between social justice responsibility, empowerment, and
racial and ethnic identities, particularly for Asian American youth,
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9
ASIAN AMERICAN YOUTH SOCIAL JUSTICE PROGRAMMING
and other youth from more collectivistic cultures or oppressed
communities.
Although much youth programming tends to overlook Asian
Americans as not in need of services, this study suggests that Asian
American youth who are not necessarily “at risk” in terms of
traditional measures of academic engagement or youth violence
can benefit from programming aimed at developing racial and
ethnic identities and facilitating empowerment. Benefits may ex-
tend to both individuals and communities: Enabling Asian Amer-
ican youth to develop more positive identities that may buffer the
negative effects of racism and discrimination described above, also
develops youth as social change agents to effect change within
their communities. Although this study informs our understanding
of the nature of such changes, future research should explore the
generalizability of similar changes by utilizing quantitative meth-
odology with larger samples and a control group for comparison.
This study also has implications for clinical, educational, and
programming interventions with Asian American youth. Findings
suggest the importance of providers considering the impact of race,
ethnicity, racism, and discrimination for Asian American adoles-
cents, even when youth do not explicitly identify these issues as
relevant. The youth in this study tended to minimize the existence
of racism and discrimination, yet they were clearly experiencing
these stressful interactions. Findings also indicate the necessity of
viewing racial and ethnic identity as separate constructs that may
be developing on independent trajectories. Providers need to be
open to the possibility that an Asian racial identity may not be
salient or meaningful for Asian American clients and that the use
of an identity label may not fully reflect the client’s identity
meaning or affiliations. Finally, findings suggest that group inter-
ventions that emphasize race-related empowerment and collective
social justice development utilizing a SJYD philosophy, may con-
tribute to increasing self and social consciousness and providing a
social network as well as an emphasis on collective action and the
development of self-esteem and self-confidence. These effects
may help youth Asian American youth experiencing racial and
ethnic identity issues, social isolation, and discrimination, issues
that have been identified by previous research as related to mental
health and behavioral risks for Asian American youth (Greene,
Way, & Pahl, 2006; Huynh & Fuligni, 2010; Lorenzo et al., 2000;
Rosenbloom & Way, 2004).
This study’s strengths include qualitative methodology and mul-
tiple approaches to data collection, allowing for inductive analysis
of contextualized effects of empowerment based youth program-
ming on identities and social justice motivation and actions. This
is particularly important in light of the lack of existing research on
empowerment based programming for Asian American youth. The
pre- and post-interview approach enabled the examination of
change over time, and the observations of programming enabled a
rich contextual understanding to ensure that the thematic findings
related to the intervention and reflected youth’s ongoing actions
and emerging understandings. Simultaneously, although findings
from qualitative methodology may be applied to understanding
other samples, such methods seek to describe a phenomenon in
depth rather than specific characteristics of a population and there-
fore do not enable generalization (Creswell, 2012). Methodologi-
cal limitations specific to this study include the self-selected nature
of the youth participants as well as the intensive and comprehen-
sive nature of the programming itself. In particular, participants in
this study were likely more motivated and invested in this kind of
programming given their choice to apply. Most of the youth
actually included were also more highly educated with greater
economic resources than many urban or traditionally “at risk”
youth. Future research could explore how to attract or serve youth
with fewer educational or economic resources and examine
whether similar kinds of programming contribute to similar
changes in identities and social justice understandings and actions;
the limited research with non-Asian American youth of color from
lower income neighborhoods support that social justice program-
ming has positive effects for them as well (e.g., Schwartz &
Suyemoto, 2013). Despite these limitations, this study represents
an important step toward understanding the processes through
which social justice programming can influence identity develop-
ment and empowerment among Asian American youth.
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Received September 16, 2013
Revision received March 18, 2014
Accepted June 11, 2014
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11
ASIAN AMERICAN YOUTH SOCIAL JUSTICE PROGRAMMING
... The exploration and self-reflection of racial/ethnic identity is often the catalyst for sociopolitical engagement for many youth . For instance, social justice-oriented and peer-led programming targeting Asian American youth which offer a safe space and opportunities for skill building and civic practice have been found to contribute to understandings of race and ethnicity, development of youth's own racial and ethnic identities, feelings of empowerment, and increased political engagement and social responsibility (Lin et al., 2018;Suyemoto et al., 2015). Targeted programming has also been found to shape CC development and help contextualize Asian-Black interracial tensions (Quinn & Nguyen, 2017). ...
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... However, we argue that political mobilization related to identity or group-specific issues is not "identity politics" in this meaning: creating this equation is a straw man that, once again, obscures the power basis of race. Organizing based on race can be an effective means to combat oppression and structural inequities, building on unifying pride and fellowship (Suyemoto et al., 2015;Lin, 2020), in order to resist and engage intersectionally within the systems of privilege (Walters, 2018;Crenshaw, 1991). ...
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... For instance, Umaña-Taylor et al. (2018) reported meaningful gains in participant racial identity after engaging high school youth in a self-explorative intervention. Similarly, experiential workshops (Aldana et al., 2012;Suyemoto et al., 2015) and service-learning initiatives (Simons et al., 2011) have also demonstrated success in promoting racial identity and anti-racist attitudes among adolescent participants. Social engagement within diverse contexts might also promote CC by normalizing feelings of discomfort related to racial discourse and by stimulating interpersonal empathy. ...
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School counselors are challenged to cultivate critical consciousness (CC) among youth engaged in anti-racist advocacy (American School Counselor Association. (2016; Ieva et al., 2021; Moss & Singh, 2015; Ratts et al., 2007; Singh et al., 2010). However, review of youth-led anti-racist initiatives reveals a lack of clarity regarding intervention factors that promote consciousness. Recognizing this void, we turn to critical race pedagogy (CRP) as a potential framework for systematizing elements of CC development within advocacy interventions. The current study examines the effects of an anti-racist youth advocacy program grounded in CRP on the development of CC. Results demonstrate significant gains in consciousness among participating adolescents and provide practical insight into the integration of CRP with anti-racist programming. Citation: Burgess, D., Prescod, D. J., Bryan, J., & Chatters, S. (2021). Raising youth critical consciousness: Exploring critical race pedagogy as a framework for anti-racist programming. Journal of School Counseling, 19(34). http:/www.jsc.montana.edu/articles/v19n34.pdf
... For instance, Umaña-Taylor et al. (2018) reported meaningful gains in participant racial identity after engaging high school youth in a self-explorative intervention. Similarly, experiential workshops (Aldana et al., 2012;Suyemoto et al., 2015) and service-learning initiatives (Simons et al., 2011) have also demonstrated success in promoting racial identity and anti-racist attitudes among adolescent participants. Social engagement within diverse contexts might also promote CC by normalizing feelings of discomfort related to racial discourse and by stimulating interpersonal empathy. ...
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School counselors are challenged to cultivate critical consciousness (CC) among youth engaged in anti-racist advocacy (American School Counselor Association. (2016; Ieva et al., 2021; Moss & Singh, 2015; Ratts et al., 2007; Singh et al., 2010). However, review of youth-led anti-racist initiatives reveals a lack of clarity regarding intervention factors that promote consciousness. Recognizing this void, we turn to critical race pedagogy (CRP) as a potential framework for systematizing elements of CC development within advocacy interventions. The current study examines the effects of an anti-racist youth advocacy program grounded in CRP on the development of CC. Results demonstrate significant gains in consciousness among participating adolescents and provide practical insight into the integration of CRP with anti-racist programming.
... Awareness and Relational Resistance focuses upon actions that promote personal and interpersonal awareness and validation about racism and resistance, actions that foster collective orientation and motivation for resistance actions. The inclusion of this factor expands understandings of resistance beyond confronting perpetrators of oppression (whether people or systems) to include collective connections and motivations reflected in relational emphases within the social justice activism literature (e.g., Burton, 2013;Polletta & Jasper, 2001;Suyemoto et al. 2015) and findings from the coping with racism literature that emphasize social support (e.g., Brown et al., 2011;Sanchez et al., 2018;Whitbeck et al., 2002). This factor included items related to educating others, suggesting that education may be This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. ...
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... High levels of support for Intersectional Values in the context of high levels of Black Liberation might be akin to involvement in Antiracist activity and agreement with the Intersectionality perspective that systems of inequality intersect among White college students. Yet, high levels of support for Intersectional Values in the context of low levels of Black Liberation might suggest agreement with an egalitarian perspective, or the idea that all people are equal (Suyemoto, Day, & Schwartz, 2015). Specifically, White individuals maintaining an egalitarian perspective may be akin to racial ignorance. ...
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... Indeed, research shows that greater experiences of racial/ethnic discrimination were associated with greater own-group advocacy (i.e., immigrant rights and racial equality) through critical awareness of systemic inequality, and in turn, through ingroup collective identity, among Asian Americans (Tran & Curtin, 2017). Accordant with this, increased critical awareness was associated with greater advocacy engagement and a positive racial/ethnic identity among Asian American youth (Suyemoto et al., 2015). ...
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... As hypothesized in relation to divergent validity, REAR and REAR subscales were not associated with humor as coping, with the exception of the Leadership subscale (see Table 3). within the social justice activism literature (e.g., Burton, 2013;Poletta & Jasper, 2001;Suyemoto, Day, & Schwartz, 2015) and findings from the coping with racism literature that emphasize social support (e.g., Brown, Phillips, Abdullah, Vinson, & Robertson, 2011;Sanchez et al., 2018;Whitbeck et al., 2002). This factor included items related to educating others, suggesting that education may be experienced as a means to build connections to resist racism, in contrast to confrontation. ...
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This study aimed to develop and validate the Resistance and Empowerment Against Racism (REAR) scale. Method: Fifty items developed through processes adapted from Consensual Qualitative Research were administered to a sample of 723 women and 230 men of color (Asian Americans, Black Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans). We employed exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses using stratified subsamples; examined construct validity of the final REAR scale and subscales; and evaluated 2-week test-retest reliability with a subsample. Results: Analyses supported a four-factor model, including Awareness and Relational Resistance; Participation in Resistance Activities and Organizations; Interpersonal Confrontation; and Leadership for Resistance. The REAR demonstrated good test-retest and internal reliability and construct validity. Conclusions: Use of the REAR may enable researchers and clinicians to examine how people of color proactively respond to racism through empowered action to challenge racism, and how these responses may moderate the negative effects of racism on psychological well-being. REAR Scale available at klsuyemoto.net (Scholarship/Projects)
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J. E. Helms's (1990) racial identity psychodiagnostic model was used to examine the contribution of racial identity schemas and reflected appraisals to the development of healthy racial adjustment of Asian American university students (N = 188). Racial adjustment was operationally defined as collective self-esteem and awareness of anti-Asian racism. Multiple regression analyses suggested that racial identity schemas and reflected appraisals were significantly predictive of Asian Americans' racial adjustment. Implications for counseling and future research are discussed.
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