Ammeline Wang joined GtD in June 2021, and we are delighted to welcome her to our team as research manager. In addition to her work with GtD, Ammeline is completing her PhD in criminology at the University of Manchester.
Ammeline sat down with Alan Mackie to discuss her research background and her work with GtD.
AM: Ammeline, thanks for take to the time to chat. Can you tell us a little about your current PhD thesis?
My thesis focuses on the experience of hate crimes and microaggressions by Southeast Asian international students in UK universities, and their perspectives on these incidents. The thesis aims to (i) inform higher education institutions’ policies for tackling the issue of hate crime and microaggression; and (ii) offer a cultural understanding of the perpetration of, and the victimization arising from, hate crimes and microaggression.
Criminology that is focused on the West may not account for the perspectives, lived experiences, and realities of individuals in other parts of the world, and their experiences of crime cannot always be explained by traditional theories.
My thesis has two bases. Firstly, hate crime literature has traditionally argued that such acts can be motivated by factors connected with an individual’s bias, prejudice, or purely racist attitudes, against the ‘outgroup’ or minority. However, in Asia, particularly the Southeast, hate crimes don’t exist as a legal entity. Minority groups are often persecuted with impunity. Some legislation is even specifically designed to punish individuals who are ‘different’. So, for example, if a Southeast Asian international student in the UK were to refer to another person with a homophobic name, which is considered a hate incident in the UK, can we really say that this was a result of their prejudice or bias? Or is it because they are not aware of the social norms around such behaviors due to cultural differences?
Which brings me to the second basis for my research: As an individual who was born in Indonesia, but spent most of my childhood in Singapore, and almost all of my 20s in the UK, I am painfully aware of the cultural differences between these countries, particularly around social behaviors and the conceptualization of what constitute ‘criminal acts’.
The culture in Southeast Asian countries does not create spaces for minority groups or individuals to speak on inequalities, much less microaggressions. If the Southeast Asian international student is not aware of what constitutes a microaggression, how can they identify them? Or report their experiences to their universities? If they are verbally abused for any aspect of their identity, how can they recognize these behaviors? How do they engage with law enforcements to report their experiences?
AM: That’s very interesting work and a good fit with GtD’s criminal justice work. What attracted you to apply for the research manager post at GtD?
The holistic and tailored approach Get the Data bring to their evaluations: understanding the client’s needs, recognizing the context of those needs, and knowing how to reach the client’s goals. That, and the wealth of expertise of every member of team have been the main factors in my decision to join Get the Data.
GtD feels like a close-knit family to me. It’s a great place for me to grow and learn directly from Jack, you, and other members of the team, rather than in the drip-fed fashion you get at bigger organizations. The work that GtD does is centered on improving how social and criminal justice bodies deliver their services to those who need it the most. That has an impact on the lives of those individuals who live at risk, who are marginalized, or overlooked, by the wider criminal justice system.
AM: As you settle into working at GtD, can you think of some differences between doing your own academic research and working within a research company?
The main difference is the ability to make concrete recommendations, which are realistic and feasible, for our clients at GtD.
There’s an academic saying which goes something like: “put 10 academics in a room to solve a problem and they only come out with more problems”. Often, the recommendations they give, if any, are so far removed from reality that they can’t actually be implemented. The benefit of working in a research company is that we’re not spending months chasing our own tails. We’re making a positive impact for our clients and their services.
Another difference is the way that research findings are understood by policy makers. In academia we’re trained to always present a well-defended argument and to address all the shades of grey in the topic of discussion. Policy makers are interested in facts, numbers, and costs: they don’t make decisions based on how well your recommendations are justified. They want to know how much it costs to implement these changes, and how the target population benefits.
AM: I know you are working for projects in Britain and America. Can you tell us a little about a couple of projects you are working on, one in the UK and the other Stateside?
Right now, one of the projects I’m working on is an evaluation of a youth justice reform program for the UK government. It’s a process and impact evaluation of how youth offending institutions in the UK have implemented some of the institutional changes brought about by the Charlie Taylor report.
I’m working with a team of very experienced qualitative researchers who will be conducting interviews with young people, stakeholders, and staff at the youth offending institutions. I’m also working with Jack and Kasra on the quantitative element of the project. Hopefully, our final findings will help make the youth justice institutions a safer place for young people (and staff), and improve the outcomes of young people within those establishments.
In the USA I’m working with a non-profit organization that provides legal representation for foster children who are involved in the school disciplinary process. They use advocacy and systemic change to improve educational outcomes for children in foster care in Georgia. It’s a project that hits close to home for me and I am excited to get stuck in. I’m looking forward to working with you, Alan, to deliver an evaluation that can potentially change the lives of disadvantaged and marginalized youths!
AM: Thinking a little outside of work, if you were in charge of the criminal justice system for a day, what is the one thing you would change?
De-privatization of prisons. Privatized prisons bewilder me for one simple reason: Why would they work to keep people out of prisons? They need prisoners to keep their business model running. In a very simple way it undoes all the work we are doing in other areas: in trying to reduce reoffending rates, in trying to provide diversionary routes in the criminal justice system, and in providing rehabilitative programs to prevent this revolving door of people going in and out of prison.
Thanks Ammeline. That’s been a great chat and I look forward to meeting in person when I eventually get back to London!