Geography is often understood as merely the study of the planet Earth and its atmosphere, like knowing the names of states and capitals, or learning how to read maps.
But it also includes the activity of its inhabitants – as famously put by geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, “Geography is the study of earth as the home of people.”
“Geography doesn’t just look at earth processes or at humans. It looks at interactions between the two,” Frazier said. “It’s like a pair of glasses we put on; a perspective that helps us see the interconnections among humans, cultures, economies and our environments.”
The path to understanding
Frazier’s first degree was an international studies degree from Arkansas Tech University.
“As an undergraduate, I took some geography classes and became really fascinated by human migration, specifically issues of refugee resettlement and displacement,” Frazier said, which sparked her interest in human geography.
She later obtained her PhD in geography from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in 2019.
“My PhD research was initially focused on Syrian refugees,” Frazier said. “At the time, the Syrian Civil War and refugee movement into Europe was very prominent in the news, so I started out that work with an interest in the resettlement of Syrian refugees.”
As the world changed around her, so did her research focus area.
“When former President Trump was elected, he enacted a refugee resettlement policy that really changed the U.S. program,” she said. “So, I had to shift my project, and that’s led me to where I’m at today.
“What I study now is refugee resettlement in the U.S. and how communities welcome, or don’t welcome, newcomers.”
Migration in our backyards
Frazier’s current research focuses on several destinations in the Midwest and U.S. Heartland.
“Many of these areas are vastly understudied,” Frazier said. “A lot of immigration work looks at big traditional cities such as New York City where they historically get a lot of immigrants, but I believe it is also important we pay academic attention to other areas.”
Frazier has found that the Midwest is changing in more ways than people may realize, and quickly.
“The populations of most cities in the Midwest are growing, yet rural areas in the region are not,” she said. “This change is the result of several factors, including a low birth rate in the U.S., and a high volume of people moving from rural to urban places, or out of the region entirely.
“One of the key exceptions to this trend are the refugees and immigrants who are coming to the Midwest,” Frazier said. “They’re primarily drawn by the affordability and the employment opportunities available, whether that be in agriculture or manufacturing.”
Many immigrants from elsewhere in the country are also making their way to the Midwest, drawn by growing immigrant-origin ethnic communities and family ties, as well as economic opportunities.
Frazier’s research examines the interactions between Americans and newcomers across Midwestern communities.
Supporting a sustainable future
Frazier sees connections between human geography and sustainability, an area she plays a role in at MSU.
“Human geography helps us interpret scientific evidence about the planet’s changing climate and make actionable change to create a better world,” Frazier said. “Sustainability sits right at that intersection – between the physical environment, the humans, the policies, the practices and societies we live in, and how we interact with Earth.”
As the planet changes, Frazier contends that we must reckon with new ways of understanding how we, as humans, work.
“The evidence shows that our planet is warming, and people are the ones making the policies that either combat this progression or make it worse,” she said. “As a human geographer, I’m not personally the researcher who’s doing the climate science, but I’m advancing sustainability through study of the motivations, beliefs and behaviors of people that can help us create a better world, by creating those policies and movements that will help us sustain in the future.”
Frazier is hopeful her field of study will enhance the understandings of humans and society with the future in mind.
“I hope human geography can help us to understand the potential to create a better world,” she said. “And by studying it’s different aspects, we can create progress toward those goals.”
A focus on Frazier
In her first year at MSU, Frazier has taught the undergraduate course World Regional Geography (GRY 100) and will soon expand course offerings that investigate the intersections of sustainability and human geography.
“In this part of the country and especially in Missouri, geography is not taught comprehensively at the K-12 level,” she said. “I love getting to be the one who shows students that geography is so much more than just knowing ‘where things are’.”
Frazier has also contributed to “The Washington Post” with recent pieces, “Geopolitics, not humanitarianism, has long guided U.S. refugee policy” and “Welcome Corps, the newest idea in refugee resettlement, has deep roots.”
“Geography is a very broad subject, especially here at MSU and in the GGP department,” Frazier said. “We have urban planners, people studying river ecosystems and physical geography, and beyond.
“It touches on a lot of areas, but no one else here is studying migration the way I am.”