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Geography professors explore links between race, ethnicity and place

Geographers Eugene Tettey-Fio and John Frazier don’t have to look far for examples of how race and ethnicity are changing the face of America. And they didn’t struggle to find contributors for their latest book, either. It grew directly out of a successful conference they put together two years ago.

Race, Ethnicity, and Place in a Changing America, published by the University’s own Global Academic Publishing, draws on the Race, Ethnicity and Place Conference held at Howard University. But it’s not merely the proceedings of the convention; the writers recast their papers in language suitable for undergraduates. The timely volume includes essays on topics ranging from health and health care to anti-predatory lending legislation and pieces focusing on places such as Buffalo, the Texas Panhandle and Washington, D.C. The book explores major themes in geography, including how humans interact with their environment and help shape it as well as migrations and how they affect people’s origins and destinations.

Frazier, a professor, and Tettey-Fio, an associate professor, both contributed pieces in addition to editing the book. Department Chair Florence Margai and Assistant Professor Mark Reisinger also wrote for the volume.

Frazier and Tettey-Fio have taught as a team in the past, and their rapport is evident as they discuss race and ethnicity as well as how they’ll use the new book in Geography 103: Multicultural Geographies of the U.S., a course each teaches.

The two rattle off a list of places changed by new communities. Allentown and Pennsylvania Dutch country are increasingly Latino, for instance, while Bosnians are reshaping Utica. Southeast Asians have transformed Flushing.

“Groups want to preserve their ethnicity,” Frazier said. So you’ll see Spanish signs in Allentown and different restaurants and churches than you might have found before. “The landscape informs you of who’s there and how they’re transforming it.” He and Tettey-Fio are not shy about citing these examples in the classroom.

“Students can see that even the towns from which they come have become laboratories for what’s discussed in class,” Tettey-Fio said. “Students can really relate to this material.”

Tettey-Fio and Frazier are interested in how organizations such as refugee resettlement offices and political institutions such as the Federal Housing Authority contribute to the transformation of these places.

“Also, we tell students that this is not something new,” Tettey-Fio said.

The United States has a long history of immigration and of bringing in cheap labor, but Tettey-Fio and Frazier often find that students are surprised by how much that need for cheap labor has influenced policy.

Students are also forced to confront some of their own stereotypes in the course, too, whether about the idea of “model” minorities or about the persistence of the black ghetto.

“You have to talk about race as a social construct in this country,” Frazier said.

Tettey-Fio chimed in with the perfect example. “I didn’t know I was black until I got here,” he said with a laugh. “I used to think I was African, or Ghanaian.”

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