November 2017 Spotlight, Jacqueline Nguyen, Ph.D.

This month, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Jacqueline Nguyen ( as our member in spotlight. Dr. Nguyen is an assistant professor in the Learning & Development program in the Department of Educational Psychology. Her scholarly pursuits examine how normative developmental processes across the lifespan are informed by sociocultural contexts. She specifically focuses on ethnic and cultural identity and parent-child relationships, largely in adolescence and early adulthood. The ultimate aim of her work is to expand mainstream narratives in developmental psychology to include the developmental experiences of individuals from immigrant, refugee, and ethnic minority backgrounds.

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1) We asked scholars to describe one of the following: a) what drew you 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 you 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 your area?

Perhaps you’ve heard that saying in psychology, “research is me-search”? I’m admittedly an adherent to that cliché as my adolescence was rife with parent-child conflict as I attempted to engage in mainstream, U.S.-normed activities with peers while my first-generation Vietnamese parents were staunchly resistant. I was thrilled to encounter the language of acculturation and to locate myself in research on struggles through ethnic and cultural identity formation during my undergraduate studies and I pursued those topics in graduate school. Also informing my research was my experience working in the non-profit sector prior to grad school and with organizations advocating for communities of color thereafter. While I received incredible academic training at UW-Madison and from my advisor, Brad Brown, I continue to be inspired by the incredible Asian American women/womyn activists (such as Kabzuag Vaj of Freedom, Inc in Madison and Nancy Nguyen of VietLead in Philadelphia) who push me to understand how individuals who are typically marginalized or overlooked seek agency in defining and redefining who they are and how others see them. As a result, the theme of identity agency and complexity runs throughout my research.

2) A short paragraph describing a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes you 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.

I am very excited about the recent publication on which my wonderful friend and collaborator Gail Ferguson (UIUC) and I share first authorship, “Playing Up and Playing Down Cultural Identity: Introducing Cultural Influence and Cultural Variability” (2017).  In this manuscript we introduce a measure for assessing cultural variability, or the daily changes/adjustments that emerging adults make to one or more aspects of their cultural identity. We hope this measure will be useful for those who wish to examine the dynamic nature of ethnocultural identity and the ways that individuals may act with flexibility and agency to determine how much influence their cultural identity has over their behaviors and social interactions.

My work in this area continues by examining how Southeast Asian youth who identify with dominant white American culture, Asian culture, and hip hop culture may flexibly adjust their identity in different contexts and relationships. Notably, the adolescents and emerging adults whom I’ve interviewed for the study after the U.S. presidential election state that they are more acutely aware of the influence their identities have on their daily behaviors/interactions than ever before—and vary their cultural identity daily over concerns for their physical safety and socioemotional well-being. And at the same time, they are even more committed to proudly displaying and asserting their marginalized cultural identities to resist the negative messages their group may face. I’m excited to see how this work and the important work of others in our field will document the ways changes in the sociopolitical landscape are affecting the course of identity development for ethnic minority adolescents and emerging adults.

3) If you have any thoughts about your experiences with the Asian Caucus, that would be great! These can be just for the Caucus leadership to know, and/or a message to the Caucus community.

We are living through a historical moment in which identity is a particularly meaningful and contested construct. I have hope that we can use our collective identity as Asian Caucus members to highlight issues important to Asian and Asian American youth and families, and to advocate for policies that promote positive outcomes.


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