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Odessa Gonzalez Benson

Assistant Professor of Social Work

Giovanna Gonzalez (Odessa Gonzalez) Benson

Dr. Odessa Gonzalez Benson is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and Detroit School of Urban Studies. Her areas of research are refugee resettlement, grassroots organizations, participatory practice, state-civil society relations and critical policy studies, with three broad aspects to her research. First, she contributes to knowledge about grassroots organizations, particularly refugee-run community organizations (RCOs), aiming to inform participatory approaches to social work practice and urban governance. For instance, her studies have examined RCOs' crisis response during the COVID-19 pandemic, participation in urban governance, community health practices and role in resettlement practices. As part of her Just Futures Action Research Lab, she leads her research team in capacity building and technical assistance for RCOs in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Second, in her critical policy studies, she examines various aspects of U.S. refugee policy, including refugee placement strategies, work policies and neoliberal discourse, using varied methodological approaches, from quantitative analyses of federal data to discourse analyses of historical text. Finally, Gonzalez Benson conducts critical theoretical inquiry about forced migration and social work practice with refugees, with work on state violence, active strategies in policy research and migrant ontologies, for example. This research has been published in journals such as Social Services Review, Journal of Urban Affairs, British Journal of Social Work, Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Voluntas, and Cities. She draws upon years of engagement with refugee communities, diverse education and work experiences, and her personal path as a 1.5-generation immigrant to inform and motivate her research. She has a PhD in social welfare from the University of Washington in Seattle, an MSW from Arizona State University, and a BA in communications from the University of the Philippines-Diliman.

Research Interests/Focus

refugee resettlement, refugee/migrant-led organizations, participatory approaches to urban governance and social services with refugees, state-civil society relations, critical policy studies


Year Degree   School
2017 PhD Social Welfare University of Washington
2010 MSW Generalist Arizona State University, Phoenix
2009 AS Mental Health Services Community College of the US Air Force
1999 BA Communication University of the Philippines


Missing Migrants
Just Futures, An action research collective on displacement, migration and urban studies
Year Description
2021 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Faculty Award, U-M School of Social Work, 2020-2021

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