I grew up in a small town in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, the middle of three girls. It was around the seventh grade that I began to notice how immigrants and refugees were transforming my community. That year, I befriended a young woman from Colombia. My sisters’ closest friends at the time were from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. I thrived on hearing their stories and learning about cultural traditions that were different from my own, but I didn’t understand why people from all over the world were moving there. And I certainly didn’t understand how different their experiences were from mine growing up in what had been a predominately white, southern community. It was only later – when I discovered sociology – that I came to understand the role of the state’s many refugee resettlement agencies, and its labor-intensive agricultural and meat-processing industries, in shaping migration patterns. I also learned that prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination were also likely to be part of the social reality of my foreign-born peers.
Sociology gave me a way of making sense of the patterns I was beginning to notice in the social world. It also taught me to ask better questions –to not settle for “common sense” explanations, to challenge assumptions – my own and those of others, and to probe beneath the surface. The analytic story, sociology taught me, was always richer and more complicated than what we see at first glance.
To date, my research has focused on immigration, the reproduction of inequality, and social change. I primarily use qualitative methods, including ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviewing. My research is informed by the conflict and symbolic interactionist perspectives. In my teaching, I value active and experiential learning and encourage students to not only learn to see the world from a sociological perspective, but participate in it with that same sensibility.