LectureHop: Adolescent Immigrants in the US

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Photo via Barnard

In the battle between brains and brawn, Bwog’s been choosing brains a lot lately (mostly because we’re too lazy to hit the gym). But really, many important lectures have been taking place recently, and we’ve been doing our best to keep you in the know. On Wednesday, many gathered in Sulzberger Parlor to hear NYU professor of applied psychology Carola Suárez-Orozco lecture on “Adolescent Immigrants in the U.S.” Bwog’s Ricky Raudales reports.

For an issue as politically exhaustible as immigration reform, Wednesday evening in Sulzberger Parlor began with refreshingly little fanfare. Just in case the title of the presentation was not a giveaway, Suárez-Orozco made sure to introduce herself as a woman well-versed in science, namely in the field of applied psychology. The backdrop for her talk was an impressive longitudinal study directed by the Suárez-Orozco and her husband Marcelo, who followed adolescent immigrant students in the greater Boston and San Francisco areas over a five-year span.

Suárez-Orozco led off the evening by emphasizing the dearth of immigration research devoted to adolescents. By her accounts, the percentage of America’s immigrant youth has exploded from just around 6 percent in 1971 to 40 percent in 2011. Yet research on this demographic has only recently begun. Factor in the slew of psychological issues—including a phenomenon that she calls “transplant shock,” undocumented status and familiar separation—and anyone can see why immigration has proved such a treacherous and uneasy landscape to maneuver.

The actual findings of the study were best summarized in one memorable graph that compiled five years and five hundred students worth of data. From a scientific standpoint, the degree of complexity was enough to marvel at in and of itself. A mixed methods experimental framework provided sheer statistical prowess, which shone through in many of the highly correlated results. For instance, there were astonishingly stereotypical groupings of high and low achievers for which academic performance could be predicted. The takeaway was that key factors such as an informal support network and turning in homework (take heed, Columbians) helped even the most traumatized immigrant children attain success. While at times heavy with statistical figures, the lecture portion was kept pleasantly brisk by Suárez-Orozco, who also provided emotional case study anecdotes where appropriate.

Nearly the entire second hour was spent catering to the show of hands remaining after the presentation. The tensest moment of the evening occurred when someone asked about the disproportionate academic success of Chinese immigrants compared to Latino immigrants—the elephant in the room question. Initially hesitant and even visibly irritated, Suárez-Orozco proceeded to explain the problem of simplifying and extrapolating the intellectual component often attributed to Chinese culture. Taking a page from her arsenal of PowerPoint slides, she revealed that these intercultural differences were less about intellect and more about indirect factors such as disciplinary institutions and public perspective. Eventually questions reached a lull and the audience streamed out of their chairs, though certainly not without personalized new insight into immigration policy woes.

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1 Comment

  1. too soon  

    i kind of disagree with portions of this review. i was there as well (i was the one who asked about the comparative success rates of different ethnicities), and felt that she reiterated the same point several times (like when someone asked a question for which she didn't have the answer, she spent five full minutes saying that she didn't research that particular question and thus didn't know). also, while a very comprehensive study in terms of variables, i feel she should've nixed one of the ethnicities in order to have a control... none of this says very much about how immigrants are performing if you don't compare their results to those of a native-born citizen. it was definitely an enjoyable evening, with lots of interesting information to boot, i was just not as impressed as i thought i'd be.

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