Who are you?
Where are you from?
Where are you really from?
These are the kind of questions that concern Analia Albuja, assistant professor in the departments of psychology and applied psychology — but she doesn’t want to ask them, she wants to know how they make you feel, and why anyone asks them to begin with.
When someone is asked a potentially hostile question — like “Where are you really from?” — how does your response reflect your attitudes toward your own identity?
“I’m really interested in the identities that don’t neatly fit into one tidy box like society often likes us to,” says Albuja, whose interests span intersectional identities. “Most of my work has looked at race and culture, but we’re now looking more at gender and sexual orientation as well.”
Albuja directs the Belonging and Social Identities Lab (BASIL), which primarily conducts surveys and correlational studies, investigating how those with multiracial identities — or other identities beyond neat categorization — interact with the world.
For her work studying belonging and social identity, Albuja was among a recent cohort of eight scientists and researchers to receive the SAGE Emerging Scholars Award, presented by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP).
The SAGE Award recognizes “outstanding achievements by early-career Ph.D. scholars in social and personality psychology, including contributions to teaching, research or service to the field,” SPSP states on its website.
“A correlational study,” Albuja says of her lab’s work, “might be asking about how often people have experiences of being questioned about their identity, for example, and correlating that with well-being.”
Albuja and her team can measure participants’ stress responses in situations like this one, both through self-reporting and through a more objective saliva stress test.
“We’re looking now at how people respond” to being interrogated about their identity, Albuja continues. “We just ran a study recently looking at people’s reassertion. We asked them, ‘When people ask you about your background, or tell you that you’re not really part of the group, how often do you respond by verbally correcting them, or verbally reasserting your identity?’”
In addition to verbal reassertion, BASIL investigates the other behaviors that subjects use to assert their identities, like clothing, food choices and cultural events.
“We’re trying to understand, first, what predicts whether people do reassert,” Albuja says, and “perhaps helping them to regulate that stress response.”
“There are a lot of cues that people use to determine the intent that they think somebody has,” Albuja explains. “Whether [the question asker is] trying to exclude them or just get to know them.”
Albuja appreciates the fact that she’s not alone in receiving the SAGE Emerging Scholar Award. “It’s exciting, because I’m friends with many of the people on the list,” she says.
“It’s cool to have your cohort of people that are in grad school at the same time, and now we’re all getting jobs and getting this recognition.”
The prize is only available to scholars who received their Ph.D. less than three years prior to the date of the award.
“Zero-to-three years post-Ph.D. is a transitional period,” Albuja says. “You’re doing a postdoc, you’re going on the job market. There’s a lot of uncertainty. And now, actually starting my lab, it’s so fun and so exciting and so cool. I’m excited every day about it.”
“At this point it just feels like a vote of confidence from people in my field,” she continues. “That feels really validating and really energizing.”