Professor Mark VanLandingham has been selected as a visiting scholar for the New York City-based Russell Sage Foundation, a prestigious center devoted exclusively to research in the social sciences.
VanLandingham, the Thomas C. Keller Professor, will spend the year at the foundation writing a book based on his extensive research into the resiliency of the local Vietnamese community after Hurricane Katrina.
“The book will summarize about a decade of research results that focus on the immigration experience of Vietnamese Americans in New Orleans, especially with regard to health,” VanLandingham says. “A feature that I’ve been particularly interested in is how community-level attributes facilitate post-disaster recovery.”
VanLandingham had been leading a research project contrasting two communities – Vietnamese immigrants and those who stayed in the homeland – in 2005. His team had just finished collecting data in New Orleans weeks before the storm hit.
“All of a sudden we have this pre-Katrina, pre-disaster cohort with a lot of very appropriate measures in regard to depression and mental health before they were exposed to the disaster,” he says. “It’s very, very unusual to have that in disaster research.”
Since the storm, he and several Tulane-based faculty and graduate students have tracked the same cohort to see how certain types of individuals have recovered compared to others. They are especially interested in how the Vietnamese have fared compared to other groups in the city. “And the answer has been unequivocally – very well,” he says.
The book will explore how Vietnamese immigrants have been very adept at incorporating features of American society that are conducive for success while also retaining cultural values from their more traditional society that seem to be protective when faced with a catastrophe like Katrina, he says.
“One of the things I’m really excited about in this project is that in public health we often focus on the things that go wrong,” VanLandingham says. “It is really uplifting to have an opportunity to focus on a group that’s done extremely well and try to figure out what went right.”