Dr. SunAh M Laybourn* is an Assistant Professor in the University of Memphis’ Department of Sociology. She is excited to serve as faculty at her undergraduate alma mater, where her sociological imagination was first ignited.
At four months of age, SunAh was adopted by a white military couple and was raised in Memphis, TN. Growing up in a city haunted by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., she was acutely aware of the centrality of race in America. Experiences of racial division, racial inequality, and bridge building have informed her perspective and academic work.
After graduating from the University of Memphis with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, SunAh worked as a case manager for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. Her work with a state agency’s program for children and families significantly shaped her commitment to child welfare. She incorporates insights gained from her employment into her adoption-related research.
Looking for a balance to the emotionally taxing job as a case manager, SunAh began weekend work as a VIP hostess at the hottest hip hop nightclub in the city. Weekend work turned into working full-time in nightlife before returning to academia. While working at the nightclub, SunAh was intrigued by how people used that social space to create and maintain identity. Although her foray into nightlife was intended as an escape from social services, she found similarities between the two. Both revolved around the presentation of self and the negotiation of multiple, and oftentimes, competing identities.
With sociological inquiry reignited, in 2012, SunAh began her graduate studies at the University of Maryland, where her research largely focused on racial boundary-making and identity processes. SunAh’s dissertation examined the effects of ideologies about race, family, and national belonging on Korean adoptees’ individual and collective identity formation. In focusing on adoptees’ identity development, she gives particular attention to the everyday processes of race-making as Korean adoptees navigate their social, cultural, and legal citizenship.
Currently, SunAh is working on a project examining how Asian Americans publicly engage with racialized immigrant narratives in their fights for social justice and how these efforts are taken up by mainstream institutions. In order to do so, she systematically analyzes press coverage of Asian American activism and Asian American influencers’ social media messages around adoptee citizenship rights, Affirmative Action, and Black Lives Matter.
Outside of academia, SunAh is actively involved in the Korean adoptee community, including serving on the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network’s Advisory Committee. She is the host of WYXR 91.7FM’s Let’s Grab Coffee, a weekly radio show featuring experts from across the country, who are investigating our most pressing social issues and common curiosities. In her spare time, SunAh produces the Verbally Effective podcast and is a goal-setting coach, including sharing personal development and planning tips on her I love Mondays! podcast.
*pronunciation: sahn-aah lay-bȯrn