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A new study shows Asian Americans are struggling due to discrimination during the pandemic

A new study shows Asian Americans are struggling due to discrimination during the pandemic


Vaishali Raval

Data collected from Asian Americans about their experiences of discrimination during the pandemic show some troubling effects, according to Miami University’s Vaishali Raval.

Raval and her co-researcher, Virginia Huynh of California State University—Northridge, are awaiting review from the Journal of Asian American Psychology for their study, “The psychological impact of racial discrimination towards Asian Americans amidst Covid-19, the so-called ‘China’ virus.”

Raval, a professor of psychology who examines contributors to mental health among Asians and Asian Americans, shifted her focus to the psychological effects of the pandemic after hearing about hate crimes against Asian Americans.

A year ago, 1,000 hate crimes against Asian Americans were reported in the United States during the first two weeks of March. This surge was attributed to the origin of COVID-19 traced to a province in China.

To take a deeper dive into this issue, Raval received funding from The Foundation for Psychology in Ohio and The Governor Ted and Frances Strickland Psychology Innovation Grant in July 2020. Her study includes survey results of 400 individuals from the Midwest who identified as East Asian and Southeast Asian and were parents of children between the ages of 10-17.  

The initial findings show levels of higher anxiety and depression — more than 80% reported some form of suffering, with 28% experiencing significant moderate to high levels of anxiety.

Another interesting finding, notes Raval, deals with ethnic identity. Having a strong identity typically fosters a high sense of well-being. However, in the context of the pandemic, it is the opposite. Mental health suffers more in Asian Americans who report strong ethnic identity.

Troubling results

Now in the second phase of their study, Raval and Huynh are conducting one-on-one interviews. Raval is stunned by some of what she is hearing. 

“I am enriched by their stories, but also troubled and enraged, all of the above,” said Raval. 

Participants have shared experiences like being approached in the neighborhood grocery store by a person who bowed and mimicked a traditional Chinese greeting and feeling overcome with embarrassment, or being stared at as they go for a walk in the community and wondering whether others are thinking that Asian people are responsible for the pandemic.

These are among many stories describing the details of discriminatory experiences — avoidance, name-calling, stare-downs. The oral reports reveal the personal stories behind the hate crimes, and the survey results bring to light their impact on the Asian American community.

The survey asked parents about the types of conversations they were having about ethnicity with their children in regards to the pandemic. Although some families did discuss the events this summer surrounding the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, they did not discuss as much the hate crimes toward Asians.

Like many other parents, Asian American parents are also struggling with multiple challenges: changes in work situations, virtual learning for their children, concerns regarding health and safety of family members. Amidst these challenges, they may not have the time and energy required to talk about difficult issues. 

The Asian American parents interviewed said that in talking to their children, they now plan to name racism when it happens, and tell their children to speak up for themselves and others. Raval encourages Asian Americans to be more vocal about their experiences of discrimination.

“It’s also important that our larger society becomes allies of the Asian American community and engage in advocacy to reduce hate crimes towards Asian Americans,” she said.