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Academic marginalization? The journalistic response to social work research on Native Hawaiian youths.

Mokuau, Garlock-Tuiali'i, and Lee (2008) recently conducted a review of studies that focused on Native Hawaiians and/or other Pacific Islanders (NHOPIs) and found a total of 32 articles in 23 social work journals published from 1995 to 2004 on these populations (reflecting 0.64 percent of all reviewed articles). Of these articles, only 15 focused on NHOPIs exclusively, with nine focusing on Native Hawaiians. The purpose of this article is to elucidate these findings by examining and analyzing the journalistic response to studies from a research project focused on Native Hawaiian youths. This project was funded by a five-year federal grant (K01 DA019884) and focused on the environmental and cultural context of drug use for Native Hawaiian youths. To date, the study has yielded two data sets (one qualitative and one quantitative) and seven different manuscripts. To supplement the findings of Mokuau et al., this article examines the comments from external reviewers on manuscripts from the project that were rejected for publication.

Comments from 13 reviewers or editors from six different journals were included in this analysis. Social work (n = 2), psychology (n = 2), and interdisciplinary (n = 2) journals reviewed and rejected manuscripts from this project over a two-year period (2007 to 2009). Because all of the journals used a blind review process, demographic information on the external reviewers was not available. However, seven of the editors from the journals were male, and one was female. An analysis of the narrative critiques was made, establishing common themes evolving from the reviews.

The most common critique (from five journals and seven reviewers or editors) focused on the "sample" or the "population." For example, one editor from a psychology journal rejected a qualitative manuscript on the basis of the "non representativeness of the sample. "A reviewer from an interdisciplinary journal similarly indicated that another qualitative manuscript "was quite limited in its applicability." These studies were based on focus group data from 47 sixth- through eight-grade Native Hawaiian youths in five middle or intermediate schools from two Hawaiian Islands. Manuscripts focused on survey data (N = 249) from the project have also met with a similar response. The editor from a top-tier social work journal indicated that the reviewed manuscript was both "well written and interesting ... but the focus was too narrow for [the journal]." As part of the justification for rejecting a related manuscript, another editor from a top-tier interdisciplinary journal stated that the sample size was "too small."

In some cases, reviewers demanded that the manuscripts justify the relevance of the population. Immediately after a section in a qualitative manuscript on drug and health disparities of Native Hawaiian youths, which was intended to demonstrate the need for drug use research with the population, one reviewer from an interdisciplinary journal asked, "Why Hawaiian youth?" The reviewer further stated that "the author(s) should make a stronger case for why the emphasis [is] on this particular youth group/culture." In the review of another qualitative manuscript, a reviewer from a social work journal insisted that the drug resistance behaviors of Native Hawaiian youths be compared with those of white youths to establish their cultural relevance (even though data on white youths were not collected for this phase of the study).

One approach to address these types of reviews might be to contextualize the population of Native Hawaiians within the broader categories of Asian Pacific Islanders and/or indigenous populations, thus increasing the generalizability of the research. However, this approach reflects an oversimplification of the specific issues of different Asian, Pacific Islander, and indigenous groups and is one of the research practices that Mokuau et al. (2008) critique in their article. Mokuau et al. stated that "aggregated information provides [social workers] with misleading information that might lead to inaccurate assessments of problems" (p. 119). This is particularly true in the instance of substance use and Native Hawaiian youths. Wong, Klingle, and Price (2004) found considerable variation in substance use rates across subgroups of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, with Native Hawaiian youths reporting some of the highest use rates. Beyond being inaccurate, aggregating information across various Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native youth populations is also antithetical to the principles of indigenous scholarship described in the literature (Matsuoka, 2007; Tuhiwai Smith, 2004). In any case, it is debatable whether contextualizing Hawaiian issues within broader ethnic categories would have much impact on publication success, as the reviews from several national and international journals suggest that the lack of research specific to Native Hawaiians may be the result of a perceived lack of importance of Hawaiian health disparities by many of these journals. This is in stark contrast to priorities at the federal level, which have focused on issues of health disparities, including those of Native Hawaiian and other indigenous groups, as a part of funds recently released through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-5) (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2009).

Another approach to address these types of reviews would be to submit work on NHOPIs to "ethnicity-based" journals. This was recommended by one reviewer from an interdisciplinary journal that rejected a qualitative manuscript from the project. Many ethnicity-based journals contain rigorous research and are fine outlets with high impact ratings. Several manuscripts from this project have been published in these venues (Okamoto, Helm, Giroux, Edwards, & Kulis, in press; Okamoto, Helm, Po'a-Kekuawela, Chin, & Nebre, 2009; Po'a-Kekuawela, Okamoto, Nebre, Helm, & Chin, 2009). In some ways, however, these outlets are "preaching to the choir," in that their readership is already familiar with the importance of the issues related to ethnicity and race. By relegating studies on ethnic groups exclusively to ethnic journals, is social work research participating in a form of academic marginalization? It is ironic that studies of certain minority ethnic groups would be relegated to the academic margins, as this mirrors the social realities of many of these groups on a day-to-day basis.What is equally ironic is that this practice would occur in the field of social work. One can argue that research will affect social work policies and practices for specific ethnic groups only if it reaches the most influential audiences. The chances of research on specific ethnic groups reaching the most influential audiences will increase only if these studies are published in broader outlets.

In conclusion, the experiences of publishing social work research focused on Native Hawaiian youths as part of a federally funded project suggest reasons behind the lack of studies on NHOPIs described by Mokuau et al. (2008). Despite priorities at the federal level, Hawaiian health and health disparities does not appear to be a topic of importance for many peer-reviewed journals. Until this changes, research on Native Hawaiians will either be unpublished or be relegated to the academic "margins."

Original manuscript received April 14, 2009

Accepted May 13, 2009


Matsuoka, J. K. (2007). How changes in the Pacific/ Asian region are shaping social work education and practice in Hawai'i [Guest Editorial]. Social Work, 52, 197-199.

Mokuau, N., Garlock-Tuiali'i, J., & Lee, R (2008). Has social work met its commitment to Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders? A review of the periodical literature. Social Work, 53, 115-121.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2009). American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). Retrieved April 5, 2009, from http://www.

Okamoto, S. K., Helm, S., Giroux, D., Edwards, C., & Kulis, S. (in press).The development and initial validation of the Hawaiian Youth Drug Offers Survey (HYDOS). Ethnicity & Health.

Okamoto, S. K., Helm, S., Po'a-Kekuawela, K., Chin, C.I.H., & Nebre, L. H. (2009).Community risk and resiliency factors related to drug use of rural Native Hawaiian youth: An exploratory study. Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, 8(2), 163-177.

Po'a-Kekuawela, K., Okamoto, S. K., Nebre, L. H., Helm, S., & Chin, C. I. H. (2009).'A'ole drugs! Cultural practices and drug resistance of rural Hawaiian youth. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 18, 242-258.

Tuhiwai Smith, L. (2004). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. New York: Zed Books.

Wong, M. M., Klingle, R. S., & Price, R. K. (2004). Alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use among Asian American and Pacific Islander adolescents in California and Hawaii. Addictive Behaviors, 29, 127-141.

Scott K. Okamoto, Phi}, is associate professor, School of Social Work, Hawai'i Pacific University, 1188 Fort Street Mall, Suite 434B, Honolulu, HI 96813; e-mail:
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Title Annotation:POINTS & VIEWPOINTS
Author:Okamoto, Scott K.
Publication:Social Work
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1U9HI
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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