April 2016 Spotlight, Jayanthi Mistry, Ph.D.

This month, we are delighted to introduce Jayanthi Mistry, Ph.D. (jmistry@tufts.edu) from the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study & Human Development at Tufts University. Dr. Mistry received her doctorate degree from Purdue University in 1983 and then completed an NIMH Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Utah. Her current research projects include investigations of multiple ethnic identities among ethnic minority, immigrant, and under-represented communities in the United States; an evaluation of a teen parenting program, with a focus on understanding the lived experiences of young immigrant and ethnic minority mothers; and a research and curriculum development project based on home-school collaborations with teachers and parents of dual language learners in Head Start classrooms serving two distinct communities of recent immigrants (from China and Central America).



Personal Spotlight

We asked scholars to describe one of the following: a) what drew them to do work on Asians,Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? b) who was an important mentor to them in this work, or an influential particular study in the field or in a related field? c) any particular advice or tips to someone starting out in the field who is doing work in their area.

It is probably not surprising that my scholarship and personal context have been intertwined throughout my professional trajectory. As a graduate student, I vividly recall feeling that my own developmental contexts and history were not represented in the mainstream knowledge base of human development. This triggered my interest in learning about cultural perspectives on human development and eventually led to an NIMH post-doctoral fellowship with Barbara Rogoff. Since then, the application of socio-cultural perspectives to understanding children’s development has remained at the center of my scholarship. As I became a parent raising two children in the U.S., the contexts and concerns of immigrant families and the lived experience of observing our children navigate their multiple worlds and identities precipitated a more specific interest in the development of ethnic identities among children from culturally diverse backgrounds. During that time my interest in underrepresented ethnic communities was fueled further by opportunities at Tufts to work with colleagues across disciplines to develop curriculum in various interdisciplinary programs such as International Relations, Cultural Studies, and Asian American Studies. These were transformative experiences because my scholarship was enriched by engaging in cross-disciplinary dialogue and I learned much about the history and circumstances of Asian American families in the U.S.

Research Spotlight

We also asked scholars to describe a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes them excited about it.  Feel free to describe its importance from any one or more of these lenses: a) research contribution; b) our knowledge about Asian or Asian American populations; c) our knowledge about other understudied populations; d) practice or policy relevance.

At this point in my career I find myself most involved in interweaving my theoretical and empirical scholarship. Here I mention two recent publications that best represent my theoretical contributions to the field. The first publication is a chapter (Mistry & Dutta, 2015) in the seventh edition of the Handbook of Child Psychology, in which my colleague and I document the emerging convergence of cultural and developmental science perspectives as both emphasize the mutually constitutive nature of individual development and culture. The second publication is specifically focused on Asian American children and youth and is part of a cohesive set of papers prepared by the Steering Committee of the Asian Caucus (in press). In the paper I led, we present a conceptual framework that highlights the interrelated nature of developmental contexts, developmental domains, and culturally-situated interpretive processes. A main contribution of the framework is the conceptualization of culture as the integration of context and individual development. This conceptualization of culture includes both the broadly generalizable ideologies and practices shared by groups, as well as, the meaning-making processes through which individuals interpret their environmental contexts as they act in, with and upon their environmental contexts in the developmental process.

The theoretical perspectives presented in the two papers are interwoven in my research projects. For example, the conceptual framework for the study of Asian American guides ongoing analyses of data on multi-ethnic and Asian American youth navigating their multiple contexts and identities. The conceptualization of culture as meaning making frames guides ongoing analyses of young ethnic minority mothers as they navigate their transitions to early parenthood.

Experiences with Asian Caucus

I have been involved in the Asian Caucus since its inception, first as an interested observer and member, and more recently as an active participant in the preparation of a Special Section on Asian American children and youth to be published in Child Development (in press). Over the past three years, a small group of Asian Caucus members (Vivian Tseng, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Rashmita Mistry, Lisa Kiang, Yijie Wang) spearheaded the preparation of a set of papers that present historical, conceptual, and methodological frameworks for empirical research on children and youth from Asian American backgrounds. We hope the special section will promote an inclusive, expanded, and integrative perspective on development that can account for the diversity of developmental processes among Asian American ethnic groups in the US. The most rewarding aspect of this experience with the Asian Caucus has been the sustained dialogue and discussion through which we bridged and synthesized our varying theoretical perspectives.

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