Professors aid Turkish immigrants through grant


By Casey Chafin | The Duquesne Duke

While hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the Middle East into Europe under dangerous conditions, a group of Duquesne professors is working to help a community of Turkish refugee families already living in Pittsburgh.

The instructors are teaming up with the Turkish Cultural Center of Pittsburgh to provide immigrant families with services they would otherwise lack, according to Laura Mahalingappa, the leading professor in the project.

“About 10 years ago, a group of refugees from Russia arrived and they’re ethnically Turkish, although they’ve been living in Russia since World War II,” Mahalingappa said. “And really, they didn’t have a home after the fall of the Soviet Union, so they have been displaced.”

Mahalingappa said the families came to America and were placed by the federal government in “medium-sized” cities, with many coming to Pittsburgh.

“Once they’re placed here though,” she said, “refugee communities don’t get a lot of support necessarily, from government sources or anything. They have initial resettlement programs, but they don’t have backup after that.”

She said Duquesne’s School of Education currently does work with the cultural center, but primarily works with children through tutoring services. This grant will allow Duquesne faculty to work with entire families.

Because this particular group of Turks is Muslim, the Turkish Cultural Center of Pittsburgh has been better able to connect with the refugees than some other nonprofits have, according to Mahalingappa.

“I think they feel comfortable working with other people of the same religious background,” she said, “so I think that’s why the cultural center has done such a good job with this particular refugee community in helping them.”

The two-year grant is worth $10,000 per year and is from the Duquesne Center for Community Engaged Teaching and Research.

Mahalingappa said the professors consulted with leaders from the cultural center to write the framework of the grant. She said the next step is to work directly with the families to work out the details of how the grant will benefit them.

“Families may have different ideas about what they need, so we’re going to talk and work with the families directly and say, ‘What is it you need? This is what we’ve heard, these are some issues we’ve heard of. Are these going on? Or is there something else that you need?’” she said.

For that reason, the research will not follow the traditional research process where information is found and then implemented later, Mahalingappa explained. Instead, she said it will be an ongoing process of attaining knowledge of how to best benefit refugees, and evaluating the professors’ research methods as they go.

“I see that grassroots level organizations like this can do a lot, but often they don’t have the resources or the knowledge to do what they can do the best,” she said. “This grant kind of gave me the resources to be able to help them do things maybe better.”

Mahalingappa said the grant is called a “seed grant,” and will lay the groundwork for future grants to build on so that the research and assistance can continue.