Tuesday August 22, 2017

Linda Majka Award Winners

University of Dayton senior sociology majors Emily McAleese and BreAnn Porter-Hill spent their summer researching challenges faced by immigrants and refugees in the Dayton area as the first two recipients of the University’s Linda C. Majka Research Award.

The award was established by sociology professor Theo Majka in memory of his late wife, Linda, a fellow sociology professor who died in 2014 at age 67. The award supports undergraduate or graduate students engaged in human rights research, preferably within the local community.

McAleese is from Lynbrook, New York; Porter-Hill is from Dayton. Each received $500 to support their summer research projects, which both involve collecting data about issues immigrants and refugees experience in becoming integrated into the Dayton community.

They received the awards because their research goals embodied Linda Majka’s commitment to realizing and responding to the basic human needs of people living and working in the Dayton community, said Natalie Hudson, associate professor of political science and director of the human rights studies program, who served on the award selection committee.

“Linda believed human rights must start at home with the most vulnerable populations among us, and her work reflected a very practical and applied approach to social science — advocacy-based research that focused on justice,” Hudson said. “And this is what these two undergraduates have set out to do.”

McAleese and Porter-Hill were two of Theo Majka’s five research assistants this summer. He contributed the principal funds to establish the ongoing research scholarship, but did not have a role in selecting the recipients.

This summer’s research project follows on a 2009-10 study coordinated by Theo and Linda Majka that looked at issues faced by immigrants and refugees in Dayton. The couple was involved in the creation of the Welcome Dayton — Immigrant Friendly City initiative that seeks to make the city of Dayton an attractive and accepting place for immigrants. They also organized three community conferences on immigration, held on the University campus.

The current research focuses on immigrants and refugees who have been in the U.S. at least five years to see if they are still facing challenges to integration. It also looks at the impacts of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. In addition, it looks at the subjects’ interpersonal relationships outside their own cultural groups, to see how they are being accepted by the Dayton community.

McAleese interviewed Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley workers to get their perspectives on how local refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo experience discrimination in the Dayton area. She said the project allows her to work on a large-scale research project in an area that she feels passionate about.

“My biggest goal is to work with marginalized people, because I think they need a voice and I want to help provide that voice for people,” McAleese said. “This research study is helping me achieve that goal and hopefully in the future I will be able to relate this to the work I do.”

Porter-Hill met with a Dayton immigration attorney, a Dayton Public Schools representative and social services agency workers. She asked them to rate local immigrants’ access to education, fair housing and health care. This fall, she will intern at Catholic Social Services of Miami Valley’s refugee resettlement program.

“After graduation, I want to go into a field where I am helping a marginalized community, and with this research and scholarship I have been able to get some real-world, hands-on experience working with social services organizations,” Porter-Hill said.

This fall, Theo Majka and his research assistants will present their findings at the biennial conference, The Social Practice of Human Rights: Charting the Frontiers of Research and Advocacy, Nov. 8-10 on the University campus. The students also will present their research in spring 2018 at the University’s Bro. Joseph W. Stander Symposium, an annual showcase of graduate and undergraduate research.

Linda and Theo Majka joined the University faculty in 1981, both having previously taught at Portland State University in Oregon. In her more than 30 years at the University of Dayton, Linda wrote three books and more than 20 scholarly contributions on human rights, economic policies, farm labor movements and immigration.

Linda and Theo wrote the 1982 book Farm Workers, Agribusiness and the State and numerous articles. She also helped edit Children’s Human Rights: Progress and Challenges for Children Worldwide with Mark Ensalaco, associate professor of political science and director of human rights research.

Linda taught Sociology of Human Rights, a required course for the University’s human rights studies program, from its inception in 1998 until her retirement in December 2012 because of illness. Theo said the course reinvigorated her as an educator.

“It gave her a second wind as far as teaching goes,” Theo said. “It was an area that she could really develop and explore. As a teaching area, it was new to her, so it was very intellectually stimulating. She had some great students over the years, so she especially enjoyed teaching that course.”

The Majkas met during their sophomore year at the College of William and Mary, and were married 44 years before her death. Theo said the scholarship is a fitting way to honor her memory on an ongoing basis.

“It does my heart a lot of good, because I do miss her terribly,” he said.

To donate to the Linda Majka Research Award fund, please call the University advancement division at 937-229-3217 or use the online donation form and specify the Linda C. Majka Award for Research on Human Rights.

The University of Dayton is a pioneer in human rights education. It started the country's first undergraduate human rights program in 1998 and offered one of the nation's first bachelor's degrees in human rights studies in 2008.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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