Discrimination During COVID-19 Exacerbates Academic Disconnect of Asian Students

Zhifei Zeng ’23

Figure 1: Increasing Asian discrimination during the pandemic may lead to mental health problems and academic disengagement for Asian students.

Since January 2020, the world has been suffering from a pandemic brought about by COVID-19. In addition to the direct health threat posed by the virus, a survey showed that the rate of racist and xenophobic attacks against Asians increased all over the globe, especially in the United States. In fact, the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center has reported 3,800 hate crimes against Asian Americans between March 2020 and March 2021, with nearly half (47%) of them affecting young people ages 18-35. Dr. Bonita London, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, conducted a study to assess the relationship between the level of discrimination experienced by Asian undergraduates and both depression and academic engagement in those students, relative to White students.

Dr. London surveyed a group of 1,261 White and Asian undergraduate and graduate students with a mean age of 22.4 years, most of whom identified as female. These participants were asked to rate the frequency of their anxiety and depression symptoms in the past two weeks. In addition, students selected their level of agreement on academic engagement questions, like “I hope I meet my academic goals for this semester,” on a scale from 1 to 6. Then, participants were asked to recall experiences with discrimination in the past month and record the frequency to which they experienced verbal harassment, avoidance, and refusal of service. Results showed that Asian participants reported higher levels of discriminatory experiences as compared to White participants. Furthermore, these experiences were significantly associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety and correspondingly lower levels of academic engagement. Such findings suggest that experiencing heightened stigma and discriminatory behaviors during the pandemic may exacerbate psychological distress and academic disengagement among Asian students.

This study is crucial in confirming that the increasing levels of discrimination experienced by young Asian adults negatively impacts their mental health and academic experience. To increase awareness of this important issue, future research should focus on the potential impact on physical health or interpersonal relationships. More directly, administrators on college campus administrators should acknowledge the increase in hate crimes during the pandemic and develop corresponding interventions to support the psychosocial well-being of affected students.

Works Cited: 

[1] E. M. Inman, et al., Discrimination and psychosocial engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stigma and Health 6, 380-383(2021). http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/sah0000349

[2] Image retrieved from: https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/51057213561_64bd6b3499_b.jpg


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