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Sadie Alexander Association aims to increase diversity in the economics department

Founded in the spring of 2021, the association coordinates with the department to provide student input and organize guest lectures on inequality and discrimination.

By Arizbeth Rojas | 35 minutes ago

Source: Courtesy of Mothibi Penn-Kekana ’22

Sadie Alexander Society, named after the first African American to receive a Ph.D. In economics, he is looking to foster more diversity in the economics department at Dartmouth. Since its founding in the spring of 2021, SAA has taken steps to strengthen the teaching assistant system in preparatory courses and bring guest speakers to campus to discuss topics related to inequality and discrimination.

SAA founding member and co-director Mothibi Penn-Kekana ’22 said ideas for creating the association first began in the spring of 2021, when he and members of the department’s diversity committee — which includes economics professors Andrew Levine and Claudia Olivetti, SAA faculty advisors — discussed Totalitarianism and stereotypes about the department.

From these discussions, the SAA was created to encourage students of color to pursue economics and provide “ongoing feedback” to the department about making economics more inclusive, according to Olivetti.

To achieve this goal, the Department of Economics has raised average grades for its economics courses. Last December, 10 years after enforcing the B average, the department voted to raise the average to B plus in an effort to encourage more first-generation and minority students, who may not have a prior economic background and whose family may not have I got the Wall Street Journal or talked about the stock market at the dinner table” for the record, according to Fenn.

The SAA is also calling for the department to increase the number of student teaching assistants in introductory economics classes and to hire students of color when possible, Penn-Kekana said. According to Olivetti, who was herself a first-generation student, working with the SAA made her realize how “important” it was to get TAs in the introductory classes. She added that although a particular economics professor may not be a person of color, having a TA from an underrepresented minority group can create early “role models” for some students.

In addition to promoting the TA program, SAA partners with the Department of Economics in a lecture series called Inequality, Discrimination, and Opportunity. According to Penn-Kekana, each SAA term helps determine the list of potential guest lecturers that the Diversity Committee coordinates to invite. Previous speakers include public policy professor Roker C. Johnson of the University of California at Berkeley and National Economic Association President Nina Banks. Next spring, co-researcher Travon Logan of the college’s National Bureau of Economic Research is scheduled to speak.

The association also invited Byron Boston 81 – CEO of real estate investment firm Dynex – to speak to the club, according to SAA Secretary Jenique Richards ’22. She added that Boston spoke about his experience at Dartmouth and his career as a black man working in the finance industry.

Richards said there are “a lot of things on the to-do list” for SAA, including a course selection meeting for student counseling, a lower- and upper-tier partnership buddy program, and an upcoming career workshop with the Center for Professional Development. To further support prospective economics students, SAA has also sent members to introduce themselves as a resource for all ECON 1 classes.

Crystal Igwe ’24, a prospective economist, said she found the SAA emails helpful because they include links to various opportunities to participate in economics programs. Igwe added that she plans to attend the course selection meeting to find out which classes she should take in the spring.

Despite the initiatives that have been taken, the Department of Economics still has no black faculty, according to Finn. He said recruiting was a challenge due to Dartmouth’s rural location and the professors and their spouses having to make a joint decision to move to Hanover. Rather than appointing a single black faculty member, he added, the department’s goal is to create “as diverse a department as possible.”

“Because of systemic problems, the entire field of economics for 100 years [being largely white]“The number of permanent black economics professors at the top 50 research universities is small,” Levine said. “It is a terrible problem, but it is a fact. This is a symptom of a long-standing problem.”

Since economics studies “the world, money and how it all intertwines” and everyone gets involved, Richards said she believes the subject should be more diverse in its teachers and students. Besides herself, Richards said she knows “only four old blacks and economy firms.”

In economic terms, the demand for various sections of the economy has increased; However, the supply of professors is largely inelastic and limited, according to Fenn. He added that part of the SAA’s mission is to encourage minority students to take economics classes and major in economics, so that “the supply curve can shift outward.”

“We say we need some patience, but we also need some persistence and we need to make some progress,” Levine said.

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