Yije Wang, a doctoral student in the Human Development and Family Services Graduate Program at The University of Texas at Austin, was selected to receive the 2014 Frances Fowler Wallace Memorial for Mental Health Dissertation Award by the Hogg Foundation. The award will go to support research expenses for her dissertation on family and peer influence on the socialization of racial and ethnic minority adolescents.
Frances Fowler Wallace, the award’s namesake, was married to John Forsythe Wallace, who served as a member of the Texas House of Representatives and the State Board of Control. She died July 18, 1972, in Austin at the age of 80. The Wallace Award provides partial support for doctoral students’ dissertation research on “the cause, treatment, cure, and prevention of mental disease, mental illness, and mental disorders,” as directed in her will. The award provides up to $1,500 for research-related expenses.
“One of the Hogg Foundation’s core values is supporting research that broadens our understanding of the psychological challenges faced by diverse populations and promotes interventions that further their well-being,” said Dr. Octavio N. Martinez, Jr., executive director of the Hogg Foundation. “With that in mind, awarding the Wallace Award to Ms. Wang was a straightforward decision.”
We spoke with Yije Wang about her research.
- Tell us about yourself. At what point did you decide to pursue a career in mental health research, and what influenced that decision? I decided to pursue a career in children’s mental health in college. I assisted in a research project on parent-adolescent conflict, interviewing more than 60 adolescents about their perspectives and feelings. Getting to know so many different life stories fascinated me, and I wanted to keep conducting research to better understand adolescents’ psychological well-being.
- Your dissertation is titled, “Family-Peer Incongruence in Cultural Socialization and Adolescent Adjustment.” What questions are you trying to answer with this work? I’m particularly interested in the phenomenon that race/ethnic minority adolescents live at the conjunction of various cultures (e.g., their heritage culture, the mainstream American culture). In this work, I examined how two primary socialization agents, parents and peers, convey a variety of cultural messages (e.g., talking to the child about the importance to know one’s heritage vs. mainstream culture, involving the child in activities specific to one’s heritage vs. mainstream culture). When parents and peers convey incongruent messages (e.g., parents being more oriented towards the heritage culture and peers being more oriented towards the mainstream culture), I wanted to know how adolescents make meanings of the incongruence and how their well-being is affected.
- What led to your taking a professional interest in this particular topic? Racial and ethnic minority youth are often portrait as being “caught between two worlds,” namely their heritage culture and the mainstream American culture. Although it has been theorized as an important predictor for adolescent psychological well-being and there is extensive literature about adolescents’ ability to navigate across cultural contexts, little empirical work has examined the cultural contexts across multiple developmental settings that eventually lead to the cultural challenges that youth are faced with.
- How do you think your research methods and approach will help you to answer the questions that you’re posing? My research collected adolescents’ reports on their parents’ and peers’ practices of socializing adolescents towards their heritage culture or the mainstream culture. I used a statistical technique called latent profiles analysis to explore subpopulations of adolescents experiencing different patterns of family and peer socialization. I also looked at mean differences between family and peer socialization and linked the difference scores to adolescents’ psychological well-being.
- Are there any suggested readings you can recommend for those who might be interested in learning more about this topic? I really liked two qualitative studies on this topic. They provided vivid and rich descriptions of the cultural incongruence racial and ethnic minority adolescents experience and the struggles they undergo as a result. One of them is Desiree Baolian Qin’s article in Journal of Adolescent Research on gender and ethnic identity negotiations of Chinese immigrant adolescents; another is a 1991 study by Patricia Phelan et. al. on how students negotiate family, peer and school cultures that was published in Anthropology & Education Quarterly.
The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health is currently accepting applications for this award; proposals are reviewed on a rolling basis and may be submitted at any time. http://www.hogg.utexas.edu/initiatives/FFW.html