Research and Biography


Race, ethnicity and culture fundamentally shape the development of minority and immigrant youth, a growing demographic in the US. How these preteens and teens manage family and peer group pressures and wrestle with stereotyping will often determine mental health and academic outcomes, according to research by Yoonsun Choi, Associate Professor at the School of Social Service Administration. Understanding the range of influences affecting youth is crucial, says Choi, to developing the proper social supports and interventions to ensure that they reach their potential.

A central line of Choi's recent research efforts is debunking the "model minority" myth attached especially to Asian Americans. In truth, the behaviors and attitudes of Asian Americans are far more complex - and, in fact, far closer to those of white youths, and in some cases worse. There also are considerable differences among Asian American subgroups. For example, Choi's research of nationally representative high school student data shows that Filipino, "other" Asian (Cambodian, Laotian, Hmong and Pacific Islanders), and Asian youth with multiple Asian ethnicities showed higher rates of both violent and petty crime behavior, substance use and poor school-related behavior than Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese American counterparts. The "model minority" stereotype has been used to justify glossing over serious barriers and adversities that Asian Americans face, and, worryingly, impede the proper policy prescriptions.

Choi's research into behavior among multiracial youths has generated significant media attention. While discrimination often affects all ethnic youth, compared to single race minority youths, multiracial youths have greater difficulty navigating the challenges of race and identity, and face greater sense of alienation and social injustice. They are often questioned about their racial heritage and may feel marginalized at an early age than single-race youth. This can lead, Choi finds, to greater likelihood of problem behaviors ranging from smoking cigarettes to drug and alcohol use and violence. Choi argues that parents and teachers must be far more attentive to risky behavior and prepared to take action with these youths as early as pre-teens.

Working with first and second generation Korean American immigrants in the Chicago area, Choi is now studying the forces of assimilation and acculturation. Immigration is a significant life-altering event and can exert a physical and emotional toll on the family. In her work with both parents and children, Choi finds that youths, in high numbers, describe themselves as Korean and American. Yet, the older generation is far more insular, holding on to distinctly Korean values, resistant to change. Inter-generational tensions are emerging. For example, she finds that Asian parents are seen by their children as placing too much emphasis on education. There are large differences, too, between first and second generation Korean Americans in perceptions of what constitutes parent-child conflict. Choi's recent work with Vietnamese and Cambodian youth and their family confirms that parent-child conflict when perceived as such by youth leads to problem behaviors.

Along with her research of other immigrant groups and multiracial youths, the impact of Choi's work with Korean-Americans is identifying the array of social issues and gaps in the service network that policy makers must address to ensure the well-being of this expanding group of Americans. Choi's research has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. She regularly appears before academic audience and community groups to discuss her work.


Yoonsun Choi is an Associate Professor at the School of Social Service Administration. She also currently serves as the Vice President for the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) and the Program Chair for the SSWR 2012 Annual Conference that is to be held in Washington D.C, January 2012. Her fields of special interest include minority youth development; effects of race, ethnicity, and culture in youth development; children of immigrants; Asian American youth; prevention of youth problem behaviors; and quantitative research methods. Professor Choi teaches courses in research methods and immigrant adolescents for masters' students and statistics for doctoral students.

Professor Choi's research seeks to understand the familial and environmental processes that influence and impact ethnic minority children and their development and serves to inform the development of age- and culturally appropriate preventive interventions. Professor Choi was a recipient of the Research Scientist Development Award from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), with which she has begun a series of interrelated research projects to identify the multiple developmental trajectories of Asian youth and the factors that predominate in the determination of these outcomes. One of her current research projects includes the Korean American Families (KAF) Project. This survey research is particularly interested in racial prejudice and discrimination, ethnic identity, parent-child cultural conflicts, culturally unique family socialization processes, and culture change and formation (acculturation) that may all be unique issues of adolescent behavior for this target group as well as other ethnic and immigrant youth.

Professor Choi received a B.A. in English/Education from Ewha University (Seoul, Korea), an M.S.S.W. from the University of Texas at Austin and a Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the University of Washington-Seattle. She was NIMH pre-doctoral trainee in prevention research at the Social Development Research Group, the University of Washington-Seattle. Her background also includes several years of clinical social work practice experiences in a variety of agencies with diverse populations. She worked with ethnic minority youth with severe emotional and/or behavioral problems and their families, children in foster care, mentally ill immigrant adults, and HIV+ immigrants with limited English proficiency.