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College of Information and Communications

Research spotlight: Seeking insight into COVID-19-related discrimination

Posted May 28, 2020
By Rebekah Friedman, communications manager, rebekahb@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-576-7270


Since the coronavirus outbreak was first reported in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, discriminatory acts against Asian Americans have increased drastically, with incidents ranging from xenophobic harassment on social media to the March stabbing of an Asian family at a Texas Sam’s Club.

With funding support from the COVID-19 Research Initiative by  the University of South Carolina, assistant professor Jungmi Jun has collected online survey responses from more than 800 Asian American victims and bystanders nationwide. Her research could guide efforts to support victims’ communicative coping and empower Asian American communities to combat COVID-19 discrimination.

“Many Asian Americans feel aggrieved because of social isolation and fear of being the target of racist attacks and hate crimes during COVID-19,” Jun says. “Unfortunately, the situation has not been improved; prominent figures including President Trump continue using stigmatizing terms for the virus, and anti-Asian hate crimes and discriminations prevail as warned by the FBI. Asian Americans’ collective actions to bring their voices to the center of the public discourse are critical, and this research was set to understand when Asian American victims and bystanders engage in activism to combat racism.”

Key Findings

  • One-third of all Asian Americans – nearly 300 or 33 percent of those surveyed – say they have been victims of COVID-19-related discrimination.
  • Of those who reported experiencing discrimination, the data examined which types of racial attacks were experienced most, as well as the how the victims rated the severity of their experiences. More than 70 percent of victims said they were told to “go back to their country.” Nearly half said they experienced a physical attack.
  • Nearly half the respondents agreed with the statement “I feel more anxious than before.” Nearly one-third agreed with the statement “I am worried about being attacked by a racist.” One-fifth said they had improved their home security. Eighteen percent reported experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Implications

Jun says the impact that coronavirus-related discrimination has had on Asian Americans’ mental health is concerning, particularly if future waves of infections fuel more attacks. As a health communication scholar, she aims to test the role of communication, such as assertive/strategic communication in a discriminatory situation, seeking of information and emotional needs, social capital, and engagement in anti-racism activism in mitigating the negative health outcomes of these experiences. She hopes to share the findings and make a meaningful contribution to relevant research and practices.   


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