UMass Boston Scholar Earns Fulbright to Study Ethnic and Race Relations in Sweden

Colleen Locke | Fri May 10, 2019

Karen Suyemoto Has a Joint Appointment in Clinical Psychology and Asian American Studies

As Sweden becomes more ethnically and racially diverse, UMass Boston professor Karen Suyemoto wonders how Swedes may engage in or resist the processes of minority disenfranchisement that have shaped the United States. Next spring Suyemoto will be sharing her scholarly expertise in racialization, ethnic relations, immigration, and race relations as a Fulbright scholar at the Malmö Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity, and Welfare (MIM) at Malmö University in Sweden.

“I’m interested in understanding, exploring, and experiencing how education and research are being used to address issues of race, ethnicity, and social power—privilege and distances between people,” Suyemoto said. “For me, it’s been interesting to think about the ways in which a historically racially homogeneous society is encountering and enacting racialization and seeing it unfold in that context, whereas in the United States it’s been entrenched since the first white person stepped foot on the land. … What are some of the things that can contribute to it unfolding one way or another?”

For six months, Suyemoto will be doing a mix of teaching and research at MIM, working both with graduate students studying ethnicity, race, and migration, and Sayaka Osanami Törngren, a researcher at the institute specializing in race, racialization, and color blindness in Sweden.

“Sweden has historically been a homogeneous society, racially, and with the influx of refugees, that has changed in recent years. Malmö is majority-minority right now. Along with that, there have been a rise in tensions that I think are discussed more as ethnic tensions, although from a U.S. view, there is a racial component,” Suyemoto said.

She then told a story to illustrate her point.

“Maybe 15 years ago, I was walking through the train station in Stockholm and a Swedish fellow I was visiting at the time made a comment about a street musician. He said something like, ‘Oh, he’s not Swedish,’ and I said, ‘Well, how do you know?’ And he said, ‘Oh, they don’t look Swedish.’ As a race scholar, I thought, ‘Hmm. That’s really interesting.’

“I think the issue of ‘Are you Swedish?’ is particularly salient,” Suyemoto said. “If you’re Swedish born and a person of color, then do you see yourself as different and do people treat you different? I think we in the U.S., we confound race and ethnicity/immigration in a different kind of way than Sweden does, and differently for some groups and not for other groups.”

Suyemoto holds a joint appointment at UMass Boston in psychology and Asian American studies. She is also faculty for the Transnational, Cultural, and Community Studies master’s program.

“My department and my programs have been really supportive. The way that I have been able to develop my scholarly academic trajectory in terms of bringing together psychology and critical race studies is, I think, unusual, and has been a major part of being here at UMass Boston,” Suyemoto said. “I have been essentially gifted with knowledge and support that enables me to bring together a lot of different perspectives to ask questions and explore issues that are less narrow.”

In September 2020, Suyemoto will mark her 20th year of teaching at UMass Boston. Later this month, she will receive the Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Teaching during the undergraduate commencement ceremony.

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