January 2022 Spotlight, Chang Su-Russell, Ph.D

This month, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Chang Su-Russell (csuruss@ilstu.edu) as our member in the spotlight. Dr. Su-Russell is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Illinois State University. She completed her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Science at the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2018, and her M.A. in Human Development and Family Science at Michigan State University in 2011. Her research interests are in understanding family and socialization influences on children in challenging social contexts.

Can you write a couple sentences on some aspect of your career development: feel free to pick one or any other related question among these: 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? 

a) My research focuses on the socialization of young children in challenging social contexts, and addresses two research lines: (1) whether and how parents of young children in the U.S. discuss difficult social issues (e.g., race and racism, death and dying) with their children; (2) family level factors that link to sibling relationships and younger sibling’s social competences in the post-one-child-policy era in mainland China.

  • For the first line of research, I have been inspired and encouraged by the families and children I worked with in the Child Development Lab during my Ph.D. training at the University of Missouri-Columbia and more recently in response to increased anti-Asian discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to my research efforts, I have also been very actively involved in leadership at the department level, in my local community, and through other national scholarly organizations (the National Council on Family Relations) to address anti-Asian racism issues during the pandemic.
  • For the second line of research, I have been guided by Ecological Systems Theory and Family Systems Theory to investigate how macro-level changes might link to family-level decision-making and how family level factors link to sibling dynamics and developmental skills in urban China where the Only-Child policy officially ended in 2015. The Two-Child policy (2016-2021) and Three-Child policy (2021-present) were enacted to address the low childbirth rate, large gender gap, and the predicted shortages of labor force. Social skills have not typically been as highly emphasized as compared to academic competences, and yet harmonious family relationship are considered an important backbone for Chinese families. The increasing phenomena of newly added sibling relationships thus provide a unique context to investigate family factors, (re-)emergent sibling relationships, and children’s social competences.

b) I was born and raised in northeast China (in the Liaoning province). When I was completing my undergraduate training in Beijing, I got a chance to do some volunteer teaching in a remote village in Qinghai province for a summer, where I was inspired by the students and their families during my teaching and home visits. My observations of the influence of parents’ characteristics and the family environment on children’s relationship with their parents and academic performance encouraged me to pursue human development and family science in the U.S. for graduate training. I obtained my master’s degree from Michigan State University and my Ph.D. from the University of Missouri -Columbia. My academic advisors and professors at both institutions and my current position including but not limited to Drs. Holly Brophy-Herb, Claire Vallotton, Desiree Qin, Jean Ispa, Gustavo Carlo, Duane Rudy, and Ani Yazedjian have provided phenomenal mentorship and support in my academic journey.

c) I credit my professional growth to my mentors, colleagues, family and friends. It surely takes a village to be grounded in academia, especially when conducting research on controversial topics like discussing racism with young children in the U.S. and investigating fertility policies in urban China. A major piece of advice I would give to undergraduate students, graduate students, and my other junior colleagues in this field, is that seeking and accepting mentorship has been invaluable, and greatly benefited me in the last 10 years of my academic life here in the U.S. It also took a lot of thinking, decision-making, confidence and time to say yes to various tasks, paid or unpaid, for research, practice-based, or teaching opportunities. At the beginning of the tenure process, it also doesn’t hurt to actively invest in collaborations and seek out internal or external grant applications and funding.

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. 

Recently, I have two peer-reviewed articles accepted for publications on how parents discussed or anticipated discussing death and dying with their young children (ages 3-6). My colleagues and I found (Gregory et al., in press) that parents aimed for a balance between socializing their children with a basic understanding of death concepts and showing empathy to others, and protecting their children’s innocence given their children’s young age and the emotional load of this topic. Parents’ death literacy, religious and cultural beliefs, and parents’ awareness of child developmental levels all contribute to whether and how parents attempted to maintain or navigate this “balance”.  Additionally, family communication styles linked to how and whether parents would discuss death (Su-Russell et al., in press), via the belief of death is in the distance, the use of religious language, and the use of connecting to deceased family members.

At the recent National Council on Family Relations conference, I presented research conducted in 2019 on how parents discussed race and racism with their young children based on a qualitative interview study with 24 parents, which invited further interest and collaborations among a few scholars across the nation in the near future. Currently, my colleagues, including a doctoral student, and I are working on the second wave of the interview data collected via Zoom in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing in 2020. We aimed to complete coding and compare two waves of interview data for submitting conference proposals and generating a manuscript.

In addition to the presentations and publications to further my first line of research, I have also collected a series of data on urban Chinese parents’ childbearing decision-making on having their first child and, later, a second child, as well as on family level factors, sibling relationships, and child social skills. Currently, two manuscripts are at the status of revise and resubmit, with one focused on qualitatively exploring decision-making factors for the firstborn versus the secondborn using a grounded theory approach, and the other examining a path model to evaluate how family factors were associated with older sibling’s behaviors towards their young siblings, and in turn to secondborn’s social skills. 

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. 

I have always appreciated the leadership and the community organized by the Asian Caucus. I admire the efforts and actions that the Asian Caucus has taken to address anti-Asian racism during the pandemic.

Any upcoming talks or presentations we should know about?

I am hoping to submit proposals on our longitudinal investigation of parents actual and anticipated discussions of race and racism with young children to conferences that take place in 2022.

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