Date of Award

Spring 5-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Forensic Psychology



First Advisor or Mentor

Rebecca Weiss

Second Reader

Veronica Johnson

Third Advisor

Lisa Suzuki


In the United States, reported anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 164% from 2020 to 2021, with New York demonstrating a difference of 223% (Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, 2021). Ample evidence suggested its deleterious emotional impact; COVID-19-associated racial discrimination was found to be significantly associated with increased levels of mental distress, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms (e.g., Hahm et al. 2021). With an aim of addressing the significant dearth of research on Asian Americans’ help-seeking behaviors in response to COVID-19-associated racism and distress, this study employed grounded theory to explore the experiences of 10 self-identified Asian American college students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through open, axial and selective coding, participants’ responses generated an explanatory framework on how discriminatory experiences and political rhetoric exacerbated distress during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to tendency to suppress distress or engage in limited help-seeking behaviors. Participants’ responses to distress were impacted by cultural perceptions of mental illness, general distress and family tension. Psychological measures administered to provide relevant psychosocial context supported the qualitative findings and demonstrated high levels of race-based traumatic stress symptoms in domains of low self-esteem, hypervigilance, intrusion, and physical reactions, with low levels of help-seeking attitudes. Acculturation to one’s culture of origin descriptively indicated lower willingness to seek help and higher stress in response to experiences with racism. Findings contributed to the understanding of race-specific emotional distress and interpersonal responses among Asian American students in reaction to experiences of COVID-19-associated direct and vicarious racial discrimination.


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