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Human Trafficking Expert Promoted to SUNY’s Highest Academic Rank

Human Trafficking Expert Promoted to SUNY’s Highest Academic Rank


Tiantian Zheng, a professor in SUNY Cortland’s Sociology and Anthropology Department and a globally respected expert on human trafficking and sex issues in modern China, was elevated to the rank of Distinguished Faculty on Friday, March 29 by the SUNY Board of Trustees.  

Zheng was one of only 18 professors in the 64-campus SUNY system awarded the 2019 distinguished title, conferred upon individuals who have achieved national or international prominence within their chosen field and serve as role models for students and faculty.

“As witnessed by their massive accomplishments and ground-breaking research in their academic areas, each individual is passionate about their field of expertise, and shares that energy with their students,” said SUNY Board Chair H. Carl McCall. “We are pleased to congratulate this most recent class of distinguished faculty.”

The promotion makes Zheng the ninth SUNY Cortland academic to achieve the distinguished rank.

“Tiantian is a highly talented, highly respected academic whose astonishing record of research and publications would enable her to go to any higher education institution in America,” said Erik J. Bitterbaum, president of SUNY Cortland. “We are grateful and honored to include her as a member of the SUNY Cortland community.”

Zheng is a global authority on ethnographic field anthropology in post-socialist China, examining the hidden social impacts of China’s capitalist reforms. For the past 15 years, she has extensively investigated the social and political aspects of human trafficking, sexual identities, domestic violence, sex work, the transmission of HIV/AIDS and STDs, and the intersection of these dynamics with poverty and marginality in post-socialist China.

She has authored or co-authored nine academic books, 26 peer-reviewed book chapters, and 25 peer-reviewed journal publications. She has testified before Congress and the United Nations on human trafficking, and has been a featured guest speaker on NPR, BBC, and NBC. Zheng has delivered more than 90 papers at both national and international conferences. Her two ground-breaking, seminal books, Red Lights: The Lives of Sex Workers in Postsocialist China, and Tongzhi Living: Men Attracted to Men in Postsocialist China, have been widely acclaimed for their meticulous fieldwork. Two of her ethnographies won the national awards, and one was awarded the Outstanding Academic Title by Choice magazine in 2016, selected for its excellence in scholarship and the significance of its contribution to the field.  

According to her citation from SUNY, Zheng has contributed significantly to her field by promoting a deeper understanding of the inextricable connections between socio-economic and political conditions in China and other post-socialist countries.

“The SUNY faculty being honored today with the distinguished ranking are leaders in innovation, research, environmental and cultural studies, and serve as a strong and constant reminder of the quality higher education students receive at our campuses,” said SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson. “On behalf of all our faculty, staff and students, I congratulate these individuals on this honorable distinction.”