Hundreds of graduate students and research assistants from Yale and other institutions across the country signed “An Open Letter Regarding Harassment and Discrimination in the Economics Profession” that lists suggestions for improving the internal culture of economics departments.
The letter followed the resignation of Harvard economist Roland Fryer from the executive committee of the American Economic Association. Fryer stepped down from the position after an internal Harvard investigation found him guilty of creating a “hostile and sexualized work environment,” according to the letter. The letter, authored by a group of graduate students and research assistants, provided three suggestions for bettering their experiences — “Listen to us,” “Create, communicate, and enforce department-level standards of conduct” and “Implement a discipline-wide reporting system to document bad behavior.”
Although no Yale affiliates publicly signed their names onto the petition, the University’s name appeared in a list at the end of the letter, indicating that there were members of the community who chose to sign anonymously. As of Monday afternoon, the letter had received more than 400 signatures.
“Graduate school is a very stressful part in the lives of anyone,” said Yale assistant professor of economics Jose-Antonio Espin-Sanchez. “It is not just sexual harassment and discrimination, but also depression and other mental illnesses. I think as a profession, we could do more and better to alleviate some of the pressure and create mechanisms for early detection of harassment and mental illnesses.”
University of Michigan doctoral candidate and one of the authors of the letter, Evelyn Smith, said that the letter was “collectively drafted” by a group of graduate students and research assistants after they heard about the accusations against Fryer. In the letter, the authors stated that the “frustrating realities” of their experience as economics graduate students had inspired them to pen the letter. The American Economic Association elected Fryer to its executive committee after allegations against the professor had been made public. On Dec. 18, Fryer resigned from the committee.
Individuals at peer institutions — including Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University — signed the letter publicly. According to Jaya Wen GRD ’19, Yale graduate students and research assistants may have signed anonymously because of social pressure and professional concerns.
“I don’t think professors here would ever take it out on a student for signing something like this, but at the end of the day, a lot of students want to be known first for their professional achievements rather than their activism,” she said.
Wen said that the letter did not entirely reflect her own experience within Yale’s economics department, which she described as “quite positive.” Still, she added that the seminar environment was not always friendly. She also cited that gender ratios were skewed toward men. According to a 2017 report from the Women’s Faculty Forum, the University’s economics department faculty is less than 20 percent female.
Wen said she hopes the letter will provide an opportunity for senior faculty in economics departments across the country “to reflect on the ways that they can improve the culture in their departments.”
Dirk Bergemann, the chair of economics department, told the News that the underrepresentation of women and minorities is an “ongoing concern at many levels” for the department. He said that in recent years, the department has made concerted efforts to hire women faculty at the junior and senior level. He added that American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession is looking into many relevant issues surrounding the topic.
“I think the letter does a good job of raising important issues facing graduate students and research assistants,” said Judy Chevalier ’89, Yale School of Management professor and the committee’s chair. “Obviously, the profession has a long way to go. I think there is an active discussion about how we can do better.”
Yale’s economics department is located at 28 Hillhouse Ave.
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