2021Associate Professor Awarded Grant to Research Civic Engagement Among AAPI Youth - University of Houston
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Associate Professor Awarded Grant to Research Civic Engagement Among AAPI Youth


July 27, 2021

(HOUSTON, TX) - Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Associate Professor Suzanne Pritzker, whose research primarily focuses on civic engagement and policy, has been awarded a grant totaling $276,000 from Houston Endowment.

This grant is being awarded as a collaboration between the GCSW, OCA-Greater Houston, and five other local AAPI-serving community organizations in hopes to better understand civic engagement amongst AAPI youth in Houston.

We spoke with Dr. Pritzker about the importance of including the input of studied populations at every step of the research and dissemination process and the long-term effects of conducting research with an often-overlooked population.


Name: Suzanne Pritzker
Current Position: 
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor

Congratulations on being awarded $276K from the Houston Endowment to conduct research focused on better understanding civic engagement amongst AAPI youth in the Greater Houston area over the next three years. How did the collaboration between OCA-GH come about, and what about this collaboration piqued your interest? 

For several years now, I have been involved in a civic engagement collaborative called Houston in Action. I served on the steering committee and got engaged as they began the planning process for this collaboration. One of the folks I met was Debbie Chen from OCA of Greater Houston. She also serves on the steering committee. We connected more when she found out that I had done another research study for the last several years focusing on civic engagement in four different communities Post- Harvey. One of the major ones was some work I did in partnership with another member of Houston in Action with the organization called Mi Familia Vota that does work specifically around civic engagement with LatinX.  

Debbie approached me about how there was a lack of research around civic development and civic engagement among AAPI Youth. From this void, we began to figure out how to tailor and design this study to the unique needs of the AAPI community in Houston. 

With rising hate crimes against AAPI community members, many have begun to realize the effects of overlooking and misrepresenting the history and contributions of those within the AAPI community. Why do you believe AAPI youth have long been an underrepresented group in civic engagement research? 

To give some transparency, Debbie and I began talking about this study in late 2019, so we did not intend it to be a response to the current climate and spike in hate crimes against AAPI communities. 

A lot of civic engagement research around youth, particularly with teenagers and groups a bit older, has been heavily quantitative. Unfortunately, within large datasets, AAPI groups, while ethnically and culturally diverse in their practices and traditions, and lifestyles, are often othered and lumped together. The result of this lumping together is the missed opportunity to understand what is happening within a diverse population. 

One thing that is different with our study is that we are doing qualitative research. We will be going in, speaking with and hearing youth and their perspective, and having the research, in large part, be co-led by the youth members. They will help guide the analysis, our team will do a lot of that work, but there will be constant checking-in and getting youth feedback throughout the study. A critical part of our research design is to ensure that AAPI youth voices are elevated and heard.

In many ways, AAPI communities are somewhat invisible and silenced in this country, so raising their voices, even in this upcoming research, has naturally become a part of the civic engagement piece of this study. 

AAPI communities experienced a significant increase in population over the last decade and have become one of the fastest-growing minority groups in the U.S. Your research aims to identify and address challenges and barriers AAPI youth experience regarding civic engagement. Why is it important to explore the obstacles AAPI youth face when it comes to civic engagement? 

I believe civic engagement is the ability to speak up, having spaces and structures where people can speak up about their communities, and having real influence in their communities through policy structures and more. These structures and discussions are critical to a healthy democracy and positive well-being. As social workers, our Code of Ethics states that we must encourage meaningful participation. I know of numerous barriers aimed at restricting that participation. Communities of color face limitations in their ability to be heard politically. These communities' requests often fall upon deaf ears when they ask for the ability to guide and respond to their unique needs.

Much attention focuses on adult participation, but we know that youth participation is a more significant predictor of adult behavioral patterns. If youth openly participate in the civic process, this creates the habits of an engaged adult. If we can better understand APPI teenagers and the structures that influence them, we can begin to ask ourselves, how can we better engage them in the political process? I believe this connection is essential to understand.

Civic engagement and public policy are your areas of expertise. By gathering this information and researching the next generation of AAPI youth in the U.S., how do you think this research will benefit those within the AAPI community and beyond? 

To bring it back, when Debbie Chen approached me, the questions she hoped to understand better were, How do organizations that work directly in AAPI communities better support their youth populations? Debbie and I both agreed that there needed to be an incorporation of other AAPI organizations that focus on diverse ethnic groups.  

In the end, we have six different organizations that each work with a distinct Asian ethnic population. They are coming together to be part of this project and hope that this work goes back to them. Essentially, we have built into the project's design that these six organizations will also help disseminate the data back to their communities. 

It might take a long time, but we hope to eventually train community members in advocacy to use the compiled data and voice their concerns at various levels of government. 

Public impact and the inclusion of the studied groups at every level of the research and dissemination process are the most critical pieces of what we aim to achieve. 

How do the goals of this upcoming research project expand the GCSW's mission and vision of social justice?

I think it's about expanding voice and impact. By elevating AAPI youth voices in this study, we hope to better understand their unique communities and societal experiences. Dissemination of the information is also critical because by informing a population, you are effectively empowering them. This empowerment to inform practices and policies within the AAPI community and youth can positively impact generations.