News Release 

Researchers to study COVID-19-related discrimination against Chinese Americans

Their RAPID grant is one of the first NSF awards addressing the outbreak

University of Maryland Baltimore County

As the COVID-19 outbreak originating in China has spread to populations across all continents except Antarctica, racism and discrimination against Chinese-American people has also increased. Researchers from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) just received a Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant from the National Science Foundation to examine intensified discrimination that Chinese-American families are facing in the United States with the current COVID-19 outbreak.

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

Cheah, Pan, and Wang will study various forms of racial and ethnic discrimination experienced by Chinese-American individuals, families, and communities, and the impacts of that discrimination. The researchers are focusing on collecting data on public opinion, the social climate, and the experiences of families. They seek to capture the current moment and make it possible for future researchers to study this phenomenon in the longer term.

As social scientists, Cheah and Wang will conduct focus groups and surveys to understand how the 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 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 analyze Twitter data from late 2019 onward, to ensure she captures posts from the moment the COVID-19 outbreak began.

"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."

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.

"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. The results can also help us be better prepared for future epidemics like this."

"This work will address an urgent real-world issue with immediate impact," Cheah says. "Knowledge from this RAPID grant can help educators, health care providers, and policymakers to proactively provide services and implement policies that educate and promote well-being in targeted marginalized groups and the larger public during future similar events."

"This research is personally meaningful to me, as a Chinese American. 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," Pan shares. "The work that we are doing through this RAPID grant will have a lasting impact that can help in future public health emergencies."

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