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College of Social Work

Collaborating on Immigration Issues Through COMPASS

Nov. 26, 2019
Chris Woodley •

Several colleges and universities, such as Arizona State, Boston College and the University of Houston have established immigration centers. These research centers often examine immigration trends and bring awareness to one of the nation’s most pressing issues. Now, the College of Social Work will become the first school in the Southeast to be home to an immigration center.

The Center on Migration, Policy, Services and Society (COMPASS) has been established through the work of Associate Professor Ben Roth and Assistant Professors Breanne Grace and John Doering-White. The idea for the center came out of several joint immigration research projects Roth and Grace have worked on since they both started at the College of Social Work in 2013. One of those research endeavors was the Immigration Access Project, a statewide canvassing of social service providers that work with immigrants.

“Coming out of the Immigrant Access Project, we were even more aware of the needs for a larger and more developed set of services for immigrants across the state, especially around legal service providers,” Roth says. “We were alarmed by how these gaps likely resulted in families in need who were left without support or help.”

According to Roth, COMPASS is grounded in both their research work and some of the real world applied concerns, such as meaning and implications of service gaps for immigrants and families. The center is based on some of Roth and Grace’s initial research when they engaged with community-based providers across the state. As their work has continued, they have developed more collaborative ties with individuals across the university and around the country. While the collaboration has created a better understanding of the needs for a structured entity that can bring people together and more effectively develop new ideas to long-standing problems, the center is also based on a more conceptual level related to scholarship.

“Our desire is to have an intellectual home for people who think about migration in different ways from different disciplines,” Roth says. “They can come together, share ideas and sharpen each other’s thinking in how their ideas might effectively mobilize different research projects.”

Doering-White joined the faculty earlier this year after earning his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. His interest in immigration began as an undergrad at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana when he volunteered with a small community organization that provided language interpretation and tutoring. He later completed a two-year AmeriCorps vista position in rural Illinois to work on immigration issues. Doering-White also served as co-producer and advisor for the immigration documentary, Border South, which premiered this past summer.  

“We want the center to bring people together and facilitate collaboration in different senses,” Doering-White says. “The idea is to foster spaces to link research teaching and practice around immigration in a way the College of Social Work is well-situated to provide.”

The center will also have an impact on students, especially those who decide to enroll in an immigration course.

“Both Breanne and I teach classes in immigrants and refugees, and John teaches international social work. These courses are informed in part by the work we are doing together with the center,” Roth says. “The center will inform the way we teach students in the classroom and how we structure extra-curricular activities which similarly impacts their learning.”  

The center’s first event will be presenting at the College of Social Work’s 50th Anniversary Colloquium on December 5 at 3 p.m. in the Hamilton College lobby. The title of the presentation is, “The Violence of Uncertainty: A Framework for Understanding the Impact of Immigration Enforcement.” The talk will focus on the impact of enforcement policies on immigrant communities across the country and how Roth, Grace and Doering-White’s research points to the idea of the violence of uncertainty. RSVP for the colloquium at

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