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Pushing diversity in economics forward

Trevon Logan poses with mentees of the AEA Mentoring Program.

Trevon Logan poses with mentees of the AEA Mentoring Program.

BY JOSH FRIESEN

In his new role as director of the American Economic Association (AEA) Mentoring ProgramTrevon Logan isn’t necessarily looking to push the field of economics into more research on diversity and inclusion.

But by opening networking opportunities for underrepresented master’s and PhD economics students and matching them with mentors in the field, at a micro level, diversity and inclusion is exactly what Logan’s role champions.

“It’s much less about pushing the field into particular directions,” said Logan, a professor in the Department of Economics and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “It’s much more about helping individual scholars achieve their potential. … If you do that, then the profession really will be different by definition.”

The AEA Committee on the Status of Minorities in the Economics Profession established the AEA Mentoring Program back in the mid-1990s. In a nutshell, the program pairs minority graduate and doctorate students with established scholars who guide them through the graduate school process and help them transition from coursework to research through the beginning stages of their post-education career.

The Mentoring Program also gives underrepresented students a chance to network and provides funding for students to attend conferences to present their research. It hosts an annual Summer Mentoring Pipeline Conference, a convention for mentees to attend presentations from their peers and learn from economists about professional development and opportunities.

Logan served as the program’s associate director for nearly a year before being appointed director, but his first interaction with the program was almost 20 years ago when he was a graduate economics student at the University of California, Berkeley.

Despite the gains the program has seen since its inception, the economics profession as a whole has remained stagnant in one key area.

“It’s such an honor to be appointed director because I’m a former participant in the program,” Logan said. “But the demographics of the economic profession have simply not changed for the better in the last 20 years.”

Because of the lack of diversity in economics, the field has been slow to broaden the scope of research to include factors such as race and ethnicity, Logan says. He pointed to Janet Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, who said after the Great Recession of 2008 that a blind spot for economists was a lack of diverse perspectives in the field.

Those perspectives have always mattered and are integral to forming a more inclusive and comprehensive economic picture. But especially now — in a time of social upheaval and unrest stemming from racial discrimination and socioeconomic inequality — it’s imperative they’re elevated.

“If you think about the way economists have approached topics such as income inequality and the criminal justice system and other aspects that are now really pressing into race and ethnicity, economists simply have not approached them in as broad a way as other social scientists,” Logan said. “We have a real serious problem of our inability to speak about these issues.”

One concept economists utilize is called the production-possibility frontier, which represents the maximum amount of goods that can be produced determined by variables such as labor, technology and resources.

Racial inequality, however, ultimately stymies a market’s ability to operate on the production-possibility frontier.

“There is labor capacity that you haven’t invested in their human capital,” Logan said. “So they can’t be as productive as they could potentially be. All of these things would happen in any system that has this level of racial exclusion.”

Logan continues to advocate for a more diverse economics field, but those changes begin with initiatives like the AEA Mentoring Program.

“I’m really thinking about the individual level,” he said. “Making sure people have the resources they need so they can advance would be a great thing, and it would be a great way for us to go forward.”

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