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Making It Personal

Race, Ethnicity and Politics

Political Science student Suzy Yi is a stunning example of the success found through integrating personal experiences with educational passions. As the daughter of Korean immigrants, Suzy found her research niche in the influence of race and ethnicity on politics. Her passion has already led to successes in her research and future discoveries just on the horizon.

When most BYU students are studying for finals this weekend, Suzy will be flying to Chicago to present at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference. She will be presenting on a panel with her faculty mentors. After taking American Politics from Dr. Ethan Busby from the Political Science department in Fall 2020, Suzy joined the project she is now presenting about. The project is focused on understanding the responses of local elected officials to emails from constituents of different ethnicities. This required sending out 23,000 emails to local elected officials from accounts with fake names associated with a white female, white male, black male, and black female. The emails asked questions regarding crimes committed by African Americans to create an explicit race question, inner city people for an implicit race question, and women for a gender centered question. With 1300 responses, Suzy and the team saw interesting trends. Black males were less likely to have their emails opened and even when opened, their emails were responded to least frequently. White males had their emails opened the most, while white women were responded to the least when asked about gender.

While the topic appealed to Suzy, the process itself contained some difficult factors. To assist on the project, Suzy learned R -- a programming language for statistical computations. This quickly became her least favorite part of the project, but Suzy claimed that the fascinating results were far worth the struggles of learning R. In December, Suzy presented at a conference of the BYU Political Science department, focusing on the response rates of minority officials to minority constituents. She, surprisingly, found that minority officials were not more or less likely to respond to black constituents. This poster won the Best Race and Ethnicity poster at the conference and now she will present about minority women officials responding to minority women constituents at the Fulton Conference of the Family Home and Social Sciences conference.

Continuing the theme of understanding how race and ethnicity influence the experience of Americans, Suzy focused on her Korean roots in her Great Questions essay. Suzy emphatically proclaimed that Honors 320 was her favorite Honors class because of the creativity and open exploration that it allowed. Her essay, “Kimchi: Soup or Salad?” speaks to immigrants’ ability to reconcile cultural differences between their home countries and their new homes. Suzy’s parents are Korean immigrants and while they were adamant about Suzy being Korean-American, Suzy wanted to be American-Korean, focusing on finding her place in American culture. In Korean school, she struggled to apply herself because of the conflict balancing her two worlds. Then, when she was 16 Suzy watched a dance performance by her Sikh- Indian classmate that highlighted the beauty of Indian culture. After this interaction, Suzy was inspired to work backwards to reconnect with her roots. A mission call to Seoul, Korea helped to fulfill this goal and now Suzy is proud of her Korean fluency and ability to navigate both cultures proudly. Her Great Questions Essay highlights this experience through the lens of ecology with invasive species, laws surrounding naturalized citizens, and the sociology of ethnic communities among immigrant groups.

Suzy’s thesis also follows her passion for race and ethnicity politics and is centered on Asian American voter turnout in 2020. In 2020, there was a 13 percent increase in Asian American voter turnout, the highest increase among all racial groups. Asian Americans were the second highest voter group behind white Americans. Suzy is set on finding out what caused this increase. She is particularly interested in how group identity affects voter turnout. The COVID-19 pandemic increased the number of hate crimes against Asian Americans due to improper blaming and false news. Concentrated hate against a community typically increases group identity. A heightened group identity normally does not affect voter turnout, but Suzy believes there is a tie in this case. It will be an interesting endeavor, especially because Asian Americans are among the most understudied voter group, just barely surpassing Indigenous people. The ANES (American National Election Studies) data had over 8000 responses and only 280 of them were Asian American voters. Both despite and because of this unfortunate trend, Suzy will try to understand and explain this puzzling statistic.

When she is not researching, Suzy enjoys serving her Honors community and participating in a few hobbies. This year, Suzy is on the Honors Student Leadership Council, serving on the Ambassadors committee. She enjoys working with the ambassadors to make a more cohesive Honors community here at BYU. In her free time, Suzy can be found baking, cooking, hiking, playing golf, and getting lost in an intricate puzzle.

By getting into research early and allowing her personal experiences to drive her passions, Suzy is truly making a difference in race and ethnicity politics here at BYU and in the research community. After graduating in April 2023 with a BA in Political Science and a minor in Philosophy, Suzy plans on attending law school to specialize in immigration law, continuing to follow her passion.