Wendy Laybourn

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 working class 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 identity-making processes. SunAh’s dissertation examined the effects of ideologies about race, family, and national belonging on Korean adoptee’s racial, ethnic, and adoptee identity formation. In focusing on adoptees’ identity formation, she gives particular attention to the effects of proximate social structures, such as online social networking sites (e.g., Facebook) for the creation and enactment of a “Korean Adoptee” identity.

Outside of academia, SunAh is actively involved in the Korean adoptee community, including the newly formed Tennessee Korean Adoptees group and serving on the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network’s Advisory Committee. She enjoys traveling, sampling local restaurants, and making notoriously long To Do lists.



*pronunciation: sahn-aah lay-bȯrn