UMBC leads research team to study COVID-19-related discrimination against Chinese Americans

Published: Mar 6, 2020

an image of a grey fuzzy small globe like object with red fluffy objects sticking out.
Image by Alachua County, used under Public Domain Mark 1.0. (Image by Alachua County, used under Public Domain Mark 1.0.)

As the COVID-19 outbreak originating in China has spread to populations across all continents except Antarctica, racism and discrimination against Chinese-American people have also increased. A team of researchers from UMBC and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) just received a Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant from the National Science Foundation to examine this intensified discrimination. They are also researching Chinese-American families’ coping strategies.

This research is led by PI Charissa Cheah, professor of psychology at UMBC. Her co-investigators are Shimei Pan, assistant professor of information systems at UMBC, and Cixin Wang, assistant professor of school psychology at UMD. Their study, “RAPID: Influences of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak on Racial Discrimination, Identity Development and Socialization,” is the one of first NSF research awards granted to examine the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Charissa Cheah.

Cheah, Pan, and Wang will collect data on public opinion, the social climate, and the experiences of Chinese-American families. They seek to capture the current moment and make it possible for future researchers to study this phenomenon in the longer term.

“The negative impact of infectious diseases on psychological health is understudied but highly significant, especially for minority groups linked to the disease through social group categorization,” says Cheah. She explains, “The results from this study will significantly contribute to our understanding of risk and resilience processes among parents and children under conditions of an acute but prolonged health and social threat.”

Understanding the impact 

As social scientists, Cheah and Wang will conduct focus groups and surveys to understand how various forms of racial discrimination connected to the COVID-19 outbreak are impacting families, particularly the identity development and adjustment of Chinese-American children. After the initial research phase, they will complete follow-up research six to nine months later to learn how parents have helped socialize their children and offered coping strategies around issues of race, identity, and psychosocial adjustment, in response to discrimination.

Pan, a computer scientist, will lead the analysis of outbreak-related Twitter posts to understand how public opinion, including anxiety and discriminatory attitudes, change as the outbreak intensifies or slows. Pan will apply large-scale social media analytics to study Twitter data from late 2019 onward, to ensure she captures posts from the moment the COVID-19 outbreak began.

Shimei Pan

The research is significant to Pan on a personal level, as a Chinese American and a parent. “I am aware of the related events and sentiments expressed in the news. As a parent to a Chinese American teenage son, I wonder how this experience will influence his identity formation now and as an adult,” she shares.

This project will also provide graduate and undergraduate students with an opportunity to conduct culturally-sensitive research with racial and ethnic minority families using multi-method and interdisciplinary approaches. 

Cixin Wang. Photo courtesy of UMD.

“As a researcher focusing on bullying and mental health, I have seen and heard about discrimination towards Chinese-American and other Asian-American students, and increased anxiety related to COVID-19,” says Wang. “We aim to study the unfolding outbreak and related discrimination against Chinese Americans and other Asian populations to identify specific ways to promote resilience and support children and families during this challenging time.”

Cheah values the opportunity to do research that will immediately impact an urgent real-world issue, and also have a lasting impact on communities. She notes, “Knowledge from this RAPID grant will help educators, health care providers, and policymakers to proactively  support targeted marginalized groups and the larger public during future emergency events.”

Banner image: The coronavirus. Image by Alachua County, used under Public Domain Mark 1.0.

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