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Research Spotlight

AMENA-Psy Research Spotlight:
Investigating Discrimination and Distress with Dr. Ikizler
by Minnah Farook

Lately, I’ve been struck by the increasing racialization of Muslim Americans in the U.S. There has been a recent increase in discrimination and hate crimes against Muslims. In many cases, non-Muslim individuals are attacked because they are perceived to be Muslim. Given that Muslims and Arabs are often conflated when discussed in the media, I was interested in empirical research that examines the experiences of MENA individuals in the current sociopolitical climate and risk and protective factors for MENA individuals.

I was excited to come upon a 2018 article by Ikizler and Szymanski entitled “Discrimination, religious and cultural factors, and Middle Eastern/Arab Americans’ psychological distress” and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. They investigated whether religiosity moderated the relationship between religious affiliation and ethnic discrimination. They also examined the moderating role of religiosity, ethnic identity, and family connectedness in the relationship between ethnic discrimination and psychological distress. Their study included survey results from 122 Middle Eastern/Arab Americans adults. The researchers found that Muslim participants reported greater levels of ethnic discrimination compared to non-Muslim Middle Eastern/Arab Americans, which was consistent with previous research. Muslims who reported high or average levels of religiosity reported higher levels of ethnic discrimination than Muslims with lower level of religiosity. In fact, at low levels of religiosity, there was no relationship between identifying as Muslim and vulnerability to discrimination. Thus, based on these findings, Muslims are not necessarily more susceptible to ethnic discrimination than their non-Muslim counterparts (although this trend is true among those who are moderately to highly religious).

The study also found a relationship between ethnic discrimination and psychological distress. Those participants who reported higher levels of ethnic discrimination also reported greater psychological distress. Their results suggested that religiosity could serve as a protective factor for those who reported lower levels of ethnic discrimination, but it was a risk factor for people who reported higher levels of ethnic discrimination. Finally, it’s also important to highlight that high levels of family connectedness (but not average or low levels) appears to be a protective factor against psychological distress in the face of ethnic discrimination.

I had a chance to speak with Dr. Ikizler to find out more:

MF: Thanks for speaking with the AMENA-Psy Research Spotlight! Could you tell us more about your personal and professional inspirations for this research? AI: What drew me to the field of psychology to begin with was a personal interest in better understanding individual and interpersonal psychological processes, especially with regard to sociocultural dynamics. Like many MENA Americans of my generation growing up in the United States, the xenophobic aftermath of September 11, 2001 was a pivotal moment in shaping my own identity and understanding of myself as part of a marginalized group. I became increasingly interested in the ways in which oppression contributes to identity development and other aspects of mental health. As I continued my education and training in psychology and later counseling psychology more specifically, I repeatedly felt frustrated at the lack of attention to my own population in the research literature. This oversight seemed particularly striking in light of progressively more marginalization of MENA populations in the US, despite research attention to other minority identities. So basically, my inspiration comes from noticing a gap that needs to be filled.

MF: What challenges did you encounter with recruitment and using online surveys, and do you have recommendations for other researchers trying to recruit AMENA participants?

AI: I am glad you're asking this question because I have found that recruitment has been one of the biggest challenges I face in conducting the research I am most passionate about. I received feedback from some prospective participants (even folks who knew me personally!) that they felt uncomfortable responding to personal questions online, for fear of being targeted by government agencies. It is such a shame that this fear exists, but it seems completely warranted. Therefore, I think it will be critical for AMENA researchers such as myself to continue to seek out more creative ways of reaching our populations of interest. Specifically, utilizing more paper-and-pencil questionnaires, interviews, and building up community connections seem like some possibly methods moving forward.

For more information, please read the original article:
Ikizler, A. S., & Szymanski, D. M. (2018). Discrimination, religious and cultural factors, and Middle Eastern/Arab Americans’ psychological distress. Journal of Clinical Psychology, doi:10.1002/jclp.22584

You can follow Dr. Ikizler and Minnah Farook on Twitter: @AyseIkizler @minnahwfarook