Geography professor presents in Vermont


Jia Feng, geography lecturer at Washburn University, traveled to Middlebury College in Vermont with all expenses paid to present his research over the migrant recycling enclaves in Beijing, China.

The conference was at Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs and took place March 7 – 9. Feng was selected to present his research, along with 14 other lecturers at the 7th Annual International and Interdisciplinary Conference. This particular conference takes place once per year in Middlebury and the topic changes every year. This year the topic was Migration, Displacement and Belonging: Challenging the Paradigms.

Feng’s presentation was over his Ph. D. field work study in Beijing, China, that took him three summers and a separate year to conduct and complete.

Feng’s research studied a group of people that had a monopoly recycling waste in Beijing. The people are so successful at recycling that they have pushed formal business and government recycling out of place so much that the government put policies against them.

“The government doesn’t want them to be there, so they put a lot of discriminatory policies against them. These people no longer want to be see on the street, they don’t want to be seen,” Feng said. “So that’s why they set up these enclaves by themselves to wall themselves in.”

Feng admitted that the process was a lot of work, but he also mentioned that it was also interesting to uncover the lives of these particular people.

Senior Holly Long, a student of Feng’s, was excited to see Washburn’s lecturer go to this conference.

“It’s very exciting for him to attend this conference and to present because you don’t always know how widely known your work is,” Long said. “Professors may be accepted to present after submitting their research, but it isn’t as common to have their expenses paid.”

Feng’s presentation went according to plan, noting that his lecture spiked interest within the students and was an overall success. Only admitting to going a little over his time allotted. Feng also stayed to watch all of the other lecturers presenting at the conference, stating that it was very educational and inspiring.

“There were people from all over the world at this conference, which made it very inspiring. I learned a lot about displacement and belongings in Germany, Spain, Myanmar, Canada, Arkansas and Lebanon. All the cases that were presented shared great similarities,” said Feng.

Overall, Feng’s trip was a success, as he admits to not knowing much about the state of Vermont before his trip. 

”I actually learned a lot about Vermont, which I didn’t expect. Vermont, as a rural community, is most famous for maple syrup and their cheese [mostly dairy farms], and interestingly given the high latitude, Vermont has a lot of solar panels on people’s houses,” said Feng.

Middlebury College changes their conference topics every year so he won’t have the opportunity to lecture in the state of Vermont any time soon, however, he enjoyed the state and experience so much that he hopes to visit again in the summer.