This past weekend, the Diversity Initiative for Tenure in Economics (DITE) Annual Meeting made its return to Washington D.C., which also hosted the DITE conference in 2021. The program, which provides mentorship and workshops to aid the transition from junior faculty status to associate professor for economists from underrepresented groups (most notably, Black, Latinx, and Native American economists), welcomed its 13th cohort of scholars to the nation’s capital for a two-day discussion of their recent research.
In his initial address, William A. Darity Jr., director for both the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity and the DITE program, emphasized the communal and supportive nature of DITE to handle the tricky and unique problems that can arise in academia.
The program originated in 2008 in response to a striking lack of diversity in the field. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found in 2015 that only 6 percent of full-time faculty are Black and 5 percent are Latino. However, these numbers are even lower in economics; a 2006 study found that there were just thirteen Black economists teaching at the nation’s twenty-five highest-ranked universities.
The audience, a combination of current DITE fellows, mentors, and alumni, was a testament to the program’s reach and the growth of its networks. Darity also took the time to highlight two pre-DITE scholars, the Cook Center’s postdoctoral associate Omer Ali and doctoral candidate Lauren Russell, who have new placements to celebrate: Ali will be joining the University of Pittsburgh in the fall of 2023 as an assistant professor of economics, and Russell will be joining the Federal Reserve this summer.
The bulk of the two days consisted of presentations of ongoing research from DITE scholars. Russell kicked off the series with her presentation “The New Jim Crow,” a nod to Michelle Alexander’s seminal work, with Russell exploring the relationship between mass incarceration, the labor/economic penalties of having a criminal record, and its connection to trends on black-white inequality.
Then, three DITE fellows shared their in-progress research. Roberto Gonzalez, assistant professor of economics at Georgia Tech, presented on the relationship between cellphone access (and cellphone signals) and political violence in Afghanistan; Emmanuel Yimfor, assistant professor of finance at Ross School of Business at University of Michigan, discussed connections between minority ownership of capital and funding of minority-led groups and businesses; and Chantal Smith, assistant professor of economics at Washington and Lee University, shared data on how economics departments at HBCUs have fared.
Smith’s research, in particular, related to the ongoing structural problems that DITE works to counteract. “We’re still underrepresented at every degree level,” said Smith, talking about how some of her peers in school considered the idea of a black economist as “a unicorn.” For her, having role models and mentors were key. “It never occurred to me that I couldn’t,” she said of becoming an economist, “because I saw people who looked like me who were doing it.”
Following an afternoon discussion of tips and strategies for submitting to academic journals—led by Melissa Schettini Kearney, Neil Moskowitz Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland—paper discussions continued through the next morning.
Andrés Hincapié, assistant professor of economics at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, shared data on how varying maternity leave policies affected intergenerational mobility; Nathaniel Burke, assistant professor of economics at West Virginia University, took a behavioral economics approach to understanding biases in polling.
Sergio Barrera, assistant professor of economics at Virginia Tech, investigated the connection between one’s early expectations and environment and their later life outcomes; Jermaine Toney, assistant professor of economics at Rutgers University, discussed the intersection of race, mental health, and wealth positions.
Stephen Lefebvre, assistant professor of economics at Bucknell University, highlighted a topic reflective of the uphill battle that these scholars face. His presentation, “Doing Latinx Studies as an Economist: Methodology and Disciplinary Borders,” was directly motivated by a response from a reviewer that asked, cluelessly, “What is Latinx studies?” As Lefebvre explained, the blind spots in the economics arena that exist because of its homogeneity can create a cycle in which boundary-pushing research is deterred—and the homogeneity becomes calcified.
It is this homogeneity in economics that DITE is counteracting, and with every year and cohort, progress is made. But it is clear from the seismic racial disparities—both within the economics field and without—that so much work remains.
For more words and photos from all the action these two days, please check out the Cook Center’s website and follow us on social media.