Wendy Marie Laybourn is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Maryland, where she will defend her dissertation by May 2018. Her areas of interest are social psychology, race and ethnicity, and quantitative and qualitative methodology. Wendy’s research centers on social psychological processes of identity development and the structural and cultural forces that shape racial and ethnic identity formation. She investigate the role of proximate social structures, such as family, support groups, and social organizations, in defining and redefining racial identity. Supported by a series of fellowships and grants, Wendy has published eight peer-reviewed articles and has a forthcoming book at Routledge. She has also been recognized by the college and university for her contributions to diversity and inclusion.

In addition to her dissertation research, Wendy, along with a co-author, has a book manuscript (under contract) which examines racial boundary making and racial identity formation among non-Black members of historically Black Greek letter organizations.


Recent Publications

  • “The cost of being ‘real’: black authenticity, colorism, and Billboard Rap Chart rankings.” Ethnic & Racial Studies
  • “‘You’re either one of us or you’re not’: Racial Hierarchy and Non-Black Members of Black Greek-Letter Organizations.” Sociology of Race & Ethnicity  (with Devon R. Goss and Matthew W. Hughey)

Recent Awards

  • The Graduate School All-S.T.A.R Fellowship
  • Dean's Research Initiative Grant
  • Ramon J. Henkel Quantitative Research Fellowship
  • Consortium on Race, Gender, and Ethnicity Dissertation Research Grant


"Beyond Honorary Whiteness: Ideologies of Belonging and Korean Adoptee Identities"

Social psychologists have long debated the effects of structure versus culture for identity formation. In my dissertation research on transnational transracial adoptees, I add to this tradition by examining effects of various structural (e.g., policy, media) and cultural (e.g., symbolic boundaries) sources on Korean adoptees’ identity formation. Research on transnational transracial adoptees primarily focuses on their assimilation into their new country and new family. However, this form of family-making provides an opportunity for understanding the acculturation process among this unique immigrant population.

Using a mixed methods approach, including an online survey (N=107), in-depth interviews (N=37), and ethnographic observation (18 months), I examine how Korean adoptee adults negotiate group meaning and membership boundaries of their racial, ethnic, and adoptee identities. In doing so, I am able to examine the possibilities for and processes of biculturalism among a population of immigrants who typically do not enter into an ethnic community of their heritage culture, who are not socialized into their heritage culture by their (adoptive) parents, and who are often geographically dispersed from one another. In order to do so, I situate their identity development within broader ideologies of race, family, and national belonging, as they are enacted via policy, socialization, and interpersonal relationships.

In situating Korean adoption within its socio-historic context, I argue that Korean adoption was part of a racial project that constructed Asians in America as “model minorities” and “honorary whites.” I demonstrate how this project was enacted on multiple contextual levels  – including special immigration policy for Korean children, media portrayals of Korean adoptees that emphasized their “manageable exoticism” and assimilability, and white adoptive parents’ socialization of their adopted Korean children.

Through my research, I also find that Korean adoptees create a distinct “Korean adoptee” identity that merges their white cultural upbringing, racialization as Asian Americans, and Korean ethnic exploration. Korean adoptees create this bicultural group identity through proximate social structures, such as social networking sites (e.g., Facebook) and in-person Korean adoptee social groups, and in doing so imbue the label “adoptee” with shared, positive meaning. This finding demonstrates how online proximate social structures contribute to bicultural identity formation, providing a space for respondents to perform, transform, and share their identity, and how online participation can translate into offline action, as the “Korean adoptee” identity is often mobilized for adoptee-specific activism.

In sum, Korean adoption demonstrates an under-theorized avenue through which the model minority myth was facilitated, the multiple domains that contributed to its creation, and how honorary whiteness was constructed within transnational transracial adoptive families. Overall, this work demonstrates how racial meanings enacted on macro structural levels are carried out and/or challenged in proximate social structures and interpersonal interactions. This study also demonstrates how online space can act as a catalyst for bicultural identity formation and serve an integral role in the identity process, particularly for groups of people who otherwise would not be able to find one another.

Areas of Interest

  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology of Knowledge
  • Sociology of Culture
  • Qualitative Methodology
  • Quantitative Methodology


  • BA
    Sociology, University of Memphis
Wendy Marie Laybourn
1103A Parren J. Mitchell Art-Sociology Building
Department of Sociology
wendyml [at]