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New Asian-American Early Educators Project Addresses Experiences of Racial Aggression

May 31, 2022

In order to better understand the degree and nature of anti-Asian racial aggression and trauma experienced by Asian-American early educators during the COVID-19 pandemic, Yale Child Study Center research faculty members Tong Liu and Walter Gilliam are launching the Asian-American Early Educators and Racial Aggression Project.

“With anti-Asian hate widely reported in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic, even those who care for our youngest children are not immune to the impact of racial trauma,” Liu and Gilliam said in an announcement. “Asian-American early educators are three times as likely to be the target of either physical or verbal racialized aggression (23.1% versus 7.7%) and have reported the highest levels of stress throughout the pandemic, relative to other early educators in the U.S.”

Additional goals of the project include lifting the voices of Asian-American early educators and shining a light on their contributions and burdens, as well as developing a pilot support program to mitigate the adverse impact of racial trauma on Asian-American early educators. “Through understanding and supporting the mental health of Asian-American early educators, we hope our research will further the overall diversity, inclusion, and equity efforts within the American early care system,” Liu commented.

The funding announcement for this important project is timely, as May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and as Connecticut celebrates being the first state to pass legislation requiring Asian American and Pacific Islander studies in schools earlier in the month. May 20, 2022 marked the one-year anniversary of the federal COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that focused squarely on anti-Asian hate violence.

The Yale Child Study Center (YCSC) is an internationally recognized center of innovation in child and family mental health, dedicated to promoting healthy development and psychological well-being across the lifespan. The center’s mission is to improve the mental health of children and families, advance understanding of their psychological and developmental needs, and treat and prevent childhood mental illness through the integration of research, clinical practice, and professional training.

The new project will involve a detailed analysis of the YCSC researchers’ ongoing epidemiological surveys of early educators to further explore the health and mental health of Asian-American early educators, in order to address questions regarding how their health and mental health have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic; the relationship between racial aggression they may have experienced and their health and mental health status; and their access to mental health supports in their early childhood programs and whether this access is equitable and associated with a moderation of the adverse impacts of racial aggression on their overall wellbeing.

Liu and Gilliam will also conduct follow-up studies and focus groups on a subsample of approximately 100 Asian-American early educators who have previously participated in their surveys. The objective will be to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of anti-Asian racial aggression and its impact on Asian-American early educators, as well as to generate ideas for more specific research questions. They plan to use the findings from the follow-up work to develop and pilot a new support-group intervention for Asian-American early educators who have experienced anti-Asian racial aggression.

“Our goal is to provide scientific evidence for culturally responsive, effective, and accessible practices to improve the mental, emotional, and social health of Asian-American early educators, as well as to help them thrive in resilience and empowerment in the workplace,” Gilliam stated. The project is supported by a generous grant from the Heising-Simons Foundation.

Submitted by Crista Marchesseault on May 27, 2022