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DILEK CINDOGLU, PhD ’91, is a fun conversationalist, lucid, witty, deeply thoughtful and driven by her Muslim faith that is married to a classically liberal sense of optimism and ambition. In other words, she’s much like her homeland these days: Turkey. Throughout her career, as a scholar at Bilkent University in Ankara, Cindoglu has worked to promote equality for Middle Eastern women in the workplace.
How did UB influence your life and career?
I had a good and realistic idea of what an academic life was all about. I was surrounded by hard-working and talented academics and graduate students. …The professors were demanding and had fair evaluations for us. The library was magnificent. The key motto that I learned in Buffalo was that I can reach my goals if I work hard enough.Dilek Cindoglu
Her bio is remarkable: Fulbright Scholarship to study medicine, dozens of published articles on gender equality, and now a fellowship at Columbia University to focus on a repressive conundrum of Turkish life. Westernized cities, like Ankara and Istanbul, have banned Muslim headscarves in public institutions, such as schools and government offices. And yet the country is 98 percent Muslim. Through her examination of this discriminatory issue she has been a persuasive voice helping to bring reason to the table: Since she began her activism on this issue, Turkey has finally shown signs that it may begin to allow Muslim headwear for women, giving them the chance to find fulfillment in careers outside the home. Cautiously hopeful, Cindoglu says: “We need to realize the headscarf ban is no good for women.”
—David Dorsey with photo by John Emerson
What do you think is different (both better and worse) for students today compared with when you went to UB?
Actually not much. Young people today and of my time are pretty similar. They want to learn, explore and be connected to the world that they live in. Two decades ago, the distances between the places were measured by the hours that take you to get there, now in seconds. As a matter of fact, I don’t think that I would have returned to Turkey if all the communication technology would have been available to be in communication with Turkey. It was around $5 to make a three-minute phone call to Turkey in 1986; now it is virtually free to talk on the phone and chat online.
Favorite UB class or professor?
There were so many, all had their own character and style of teaching and mentoring in sociology. Probably Professor Ben Agger influenced me most both as a mentor and as prolific writer and very impressive lecturer. Needless to mention are Beth Anne Shelton, Michael Farrell, Russell Stone, Barbara Howe, Lionel Lewis … who introduced new dimensions of academic work. They are all very precious to me.
Would you still select the same major if you had to do it all over again?
Of course, I would choose sociology again. I knew since freshman year that I had a quest to understand the complexity of the social life in Turkey and in the world. Sociology was the best tool to reach that goal—still is.
What advice do you have for current UB students? “If I knew then what I know now…”
I should have enjoyed the cities of Buffalo and Toronto more but I couldn’t; I didn’t have money or the time to do so. I would advise the students to explore the colors of Niagara Falls and the downtown art galleries more. If I knew that such a busy life was waiting for me, I might have even lingered in graduate school a bit more.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Proudest moment since graduating?
I can mention a couple of milestones. … One is a recent publication of mine. I published a report on the headscarf and the labor market discrimination in contemporary Turkey in the fall of 2010. This research had very significant press coverage both in Turkey and overseas. Currently, I am extending this research project to the U.S. and looking for funding to conduct comparative research on the headscarved pious Muslim women and labor market discrimination.
How did you do your homework and/or research papers before Google or the Internet?
Funny question, I prepared my work in the old way. I had a yellow Olivetti typewriter, which I carried from Istanbul to Buffalo with me. The Department of Sociology was located in Park Hall, probably the first years of its new residency. In the first months of my graduate study, I was a TA and sharing an office with two other graduate students. When they were not around, I was using my typewriter and the prof in the office next door was stepping in and commenting on my hard work. I didn’t get the clue for some time, then she had to tell me openly that I should get used to using the lab next door to type up my work. Because the walls were too thin she couldn’t stand the noise any more. ... Later she became my mentor.
What do you miss most about your time as a student?
Having free time to read, to reflect, to write and to rewrite. ... As a student, you don’t have to put on make-up and dress accordingly to engage with students and attend meetings and be a part of the power-play of academia; rather you can live in your sweatshirt and pants and camp in the library, or [stay] in your room for days. In real life, though, you are caught up with the classes to teach, papers to grade, meetings to attend and deal with office politics and all of that leaves little energy to reflect and write.
David Dorsey is a Rochester-based freelance writer whose credits include Esquire and Fast Company (Dilek Cindoglu, Dexter Johnson, Atif Zafar); Grace Lazzara is a Buffalo-based writer and public relations strategist (Andra Ackerman, Gwen Howard, Bridget Cullen Mandikos); Mara McGinnis, BA ’97, is executive director of communications at Pratt Institute and a New York City-based freelance writer (Randy Asher, Steve Marchese, Rodney Sharman).