Intergenerational team responds to anti-Asian racism with COVID-19 research grant

Author: Ashley Richter


Dr. Fred Chou, Prof Jin Sun Yoon, Macayla Yan, Qwisun Yoon-Potkins, Dr. Catherine Costigan, and Dr. Nancy Clark

With the help of the Faculty of Education COVID-19 Emergency Research Fund, an intergenerational, interdisciplinary team of UVic researchers was able to create a time-sensitive resource that could provide mental health support to Asian youth who needed it as the pandemic continued to cause increased feelings of stress and isolation. 

The year 2020 has acted as a catalyst for a dramatic reevaluation of the way we live and interact with the world. While the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled powerful movements, it has also enflamed old and new racist stigmas towards Asian individuals and communities. While many emergency financial resources have been offered to Canadians throughout the pandemic, there has been less attention given to providing anti-racist support and education in response to pandemic-related discrimination and prejudice.

An intergenerational team of UVic researchers is addressing this issue by crafting a zine dedicated to educating Asian youth (and adults too) about the complexities of systemic oppression in Canada and how they can better understand their own racial identities and not remain complicit in racism and colonialism.

Meet the interdisciplinary team from UVicEd and beyond

UVic Education professor Dr. Fred Chou (Principal Investigator), Professor Jin-Sun Yoon (UVic Child and Youth Care), Dr. Catherine Costigan (UVic Psychology), and Dr. Nancy Clark (UVic Nursing) initially came together at a local network called the Victoria Migrant Mental Health Network (ViMMH). When COVID-19 hit, the group noticed a growing need for support in their communities, and set out to use their own expertise and places of privilege to help.

Chou works as an assistant professor in counselling psychology in the Faculty of Education Department of Educational Psychology and Leadership Studies is and a registered psychologist. Chou has spent his research career studying intergenerational trauma, Chinese Canadian mental health, and youth mental health promotion, so when he saw the increased anti-Asian racism in British Columbia and around the world as a result of COVID-19, it seemed natural for him to intervene. As a second generation Chinese Canadian settler and having grown up dealing with racism, Chou felt that the intersections of his own identity and experiences positioned him well to help address the issue.

“As events associated with COVID-19 unfolded, I learned about personal experiences of anti-Asian racism from friends and peers and wanted to do something that could help,” says Chou. “As public discourse about race and racial injustice became amplified during the pandemic, we wanted to create a resource that could act as both a mental health resource for Asian youth and a tool to encourage anti-racist practice and self-reflection.”   

Yoon, who has been teaching at the Faculty of Education, Division of Continuing Studies, and the School of Child and Youth Care since 1998, came to Canada as a child from South Korea when the immigration policy changed in 1967. Growing up in a very white working class suburb of Vancouver, Yoon was no stranger to racism and exceptionalism. Unfortunately, her experiences with discrimination continue today. After experiencing two hostile assaults during the early stages of the pandemic, Yoon grew increasingly concerned for Asian youth. I knew that if I experienced these kinds of assaults as a person with a Canadian accent and all the other privileges of being a middle-aged professor, young students were likely so much more vulnerable,” she says. 

In order to create a resource for youth, the team knew it would be important to include the voices of a younger generation in the project. Education student Macayla Yan, currently working on her Master’s in Counselling Psychology, and UVic sociology alumna Qwisun Yoon-Potkins were brought on as the zine’s authors because of their shared interest in anti-racist practice and education. “For me, it was crucial this project did not simply take an individual perspective of mental health, so I am grateful they were both supportive of and shared this vision for the zine,” says Yan.

Cultivating Growth and Solidarity: An Anti-racism Zine for Asian Youth (and Adults too!)

Yan and Yoon-Potkins became deeply invested in the development of the project. "To me, this project goes much deeper than inclusion and representation," says Yan. "I view it more as a resource for Asian readers to better understand and humanize ourselves within the interconnected cultural and social systems we are immersed in."

When designing the visuals for the zine, they thoughtfully created work that would best communicate the zine’s message in a fun and engaging way. “We decided to use neutral images (i.e., no people, neutral tones) to ensure that no one would feel excluded from the zine or feel that they were not accurately represented,” says Yoon-Potkins.

Although the zine was designed for Asian youth, the team was passionate about making the resource accessible for anyone. "Not only are many of the concepts, such as intersectionality, relevant to everyone, other information can also help individuals better understand and support people in their lives,” says Yan. “I am hopeful that people take away what they need from the zine, such as compassion, reflection, inspiration, relief, connection, normalization, or validation.”

While this zine encourages Asian youth, adults, and anyone else who reads it to engage in critical anti-racist work on an individual level, the research team believes strongly that we have to actively engage in the work together—across cultural, generational, and educational difference. By creating  interdisciplinary, intergenerational connections, the team has shown that, in this time of isolation, it is only through the strength and solidarity of our communities that we can create change.

"This zine is more of a beginning as there is work to be done and it can't stop here," says Yan. "Together, we can engage in self-growth, self-preservation, community care, anti-racist solidarity, meaningful decolonization, and co-creation of a future where all of life can thrive."

Growth and Solidarity: An Anti-Racism Zine for Asian Youth (and Adults Too!), along with more information about the project, can be found at growthandsolidarity.ca/zine


The zine was created in partnership by the following team:

Authors:

  • Macayla Yan (UVic Master's student in Counselling Psychology)
  • Qwisun Yoon-Potkins (UVic Sociology grad)

UVic Researchers:

  • Dr. Fred Chou (Counselling Psychology)
  • Professor Jin-Sun Yoon (Child and Youth Care)
  • Dr. Catherine Costigan (Psychology)
  • Dr. Nancy Clark (Nursing)