An open letter regarding harassment and discrimination in the economics profession

Last week, Harvard economist Roland Fryer resigned from the executive committee of the American Economic Association (AEA), after a university investigation found he created a hostile and sexualized work environment for the research assistants in his lab.

This is a painful moment for our discipline. Abuses of power, bullying, and harassment damage peoples’ health and happiness, ruin careers, and reduce the quality of scholarship in economics. Moreover, it is well documented that these abuses of power disproportionately harm women, minorities, and queer individuals. These frustrating realities have pushed us to ask how economics can address the power imbalances that drive out talented individuals, prevent the inclusion of underrepresented groups, and collectively damage our discipline.

As current graduate students and research assistants (RAs), we offer a unique and useful perspective on the opportunities our departments and the AEA have to protect us and ensure that our discipline is as diverse and vibrant as possible. Here are our suggestions.

1. Listen to us.

We are the experts on how your colleagues treat their advisees and research assistants. We are usually the first to know, and the first to be harmed, when their behavior steps out of line. And many of us would be willing to tell you about it, if it wouldn’t mean risking a future in the field we love.

Overall, the most important thing department leadership can do is stay informed about the climate as experienced by graduate students and RAs. To do this, departments should create anonymous avenues for us to report incidents that have made us feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. For example, ensure there is someone in the department — a faculty member who is not a Title IX mandatory reporter, if possible — whose door is open to hear complaints. Such a mechanism is critical to catching issues early and addressing the pervasive low-level harassment that drives marginalized students out of the discipline.

Next, pay attention. Who is leaving your program? Who did they work for? If you notice a pattern with a particular faculty member or lab, keep digging. Follow up with alumni once they have established themselves elsewhere to see if there were issues they could not raise while in the department. Bad behavior is too often an open secret among graduate students and junior faculty.

Finally, involve graduate students in your department’s institutions. Incorporate our anonymized feedback in tenure and other promotional reviews, and reward faculty for work they have done to improve department climate. Talk to the former RAs and advisees of potential faculty members before hiring them. Involve us — substantially, not just nominally — in admissions, diversity, and hiring committees.

We shouldn’t have to rely on whisper networks to protect us from abuse and inappropriate behavior. And we don’t have the power to discipline our supervisors, or even our peers. You do. Please, listen to us.

2. Create, communicate, and enforce department-level standards of conduct.

What does your department expect of its members? In many contexts — particularly seminars and advising relationships — university-level codes of conduct simply do not go far enough in answering this question, or in addressing concerns unique to our profession. Moreover, passively adopting the policies of your parent institution does not send the signal that department leadership will monitor or enforce them.

So, departments — in conversation with RAs and graduate students — ought to make their own standards. A good place to start would be the AEA’s new Code of Professional Conduct. Other resources include the American Finance Association’s code of conduct, which explicitly addresses abuses of power and includes an obligation for bystanders to act; the Geological Society of America’s code of conduct, which prioritizes conduct towards students throughout; and the American Statistical Association’s conduct policy, which specifically targets harassment and discrimination.

Once you have standards in place, make sure everyone knows them. Have your department chair email them out with a personal note every year. Hold engaging, meaningful, tailored training sessions. Communicate, repeatedly and enthusiastically, that these are the rules by which everyone — no matter how brilliant or famous — is expected to abide. And demonstrate that those who do not abide by these standards will face specific consequences, up to and including removal from the department.

Gray areas give bad actors room to justify their behavior and obscure victims’ entitlement to a harassment-free workplace. Tailored codes of conduct go a long way towards removing gray areas and making it harder to excuse the sort of behavior that disproportionately harms marginalized economists.

3. Implement a discipline-wide reporting system to document bad behavior.

Finally, the AEA should establish a centralized platform where individuals at all levels of the profession can securely report harassment, coercion, and assault. One such platform, Callisto, allows users to submit timestamped, encrypted reports that can later be used as evidence should the user decide to file an official complaint. Users can also choose to be notified if there are other reports on the same offender. These features empower victims who may be reluctant to come forward if they think their experience was an isolated incident, or happened too long ago for them to be believed today.

Indeed, an AEA committee recommended that the association adopt Callisto or a Callisto-like option back in April. As the committee noted, such a platform would allow us to have a record of incidents at conferences and other professional settings where faculty and students from different schools commingle — where there is currently no clear reporting mechanism or accountability structure.

The usefulness of this platform depends on how willing departments and the AEA are to investigate and sanction reported offenses. The events of this past year demonstrate that, as a discipline, we don’t have a great track record on this front. We can do better, and we must.

We are asking for our departments to be entrepreneurial in solving these problems. We are tired of seeing friends and colleagues who could have been brilliant economists forced out by the terrible climate in our discipline. We are tired of leaders in the field refusing to see problems happening right under their noses. And we are tired of having these problems distract from what we came here to do: meaningful, high-quality economic research.

But we believe that things can change. We cannot do it alone.

Signed:

Ole Agersnap, Princeton University 
Ashish Aggarwal, University of Warwick
Patrick Agte, Princeton University
Fabiola Alba, Brown University
Motaz Al-Chanati, Columbia University
James Allen IV, University of Michigan 
Nicolas Andreoulis, Princeton University
Sophie Liberty Andrews, Stanford University 
Vincent Armentano
Alberto Arredondo, University of Michigan 
Sher Afghan Asad, Iowa State University
Tatyana Avilova, Columbia University
Hayley Abourezk-Pinkstone, University of Michigan
Megan R. Bailey, Harvard Kennedy School
Jes Baker 
Iain Bamford, Columbia University
Sarah Bana, University of California, Santa Barbara 
Stephen Bannister, University of Utah
Kayleigh Barnes, University of California, Berkeley
Lea Bart, University of Michigan 
Anahid Bauer, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
Tom Bearpark, University of Chicago
Scott Behmer, University of Chicago 
José Belmar, Brown University
Humberto Martínez Beltrán, Rutgers University 
Neil Bennett, University of California, Irvine
Ben Berger, Harvard University
Arielle Bernhardt, Harvard University 
Eduardo Campillo Betancourt, Northwestern University
Dweepobotee Brahma, Western Michigan University
Valerie Boctor, University of California, Berkeley
Stephanie Bonds, University of California, Berkeley
Canyon Bosler, University of Michigan 
Gorkem Bostanci, University of Pennsylvania
Jacob Bradt, Harvard University 
Benjamin Brennan, University of Oregon 
Michael Briskin, NBER 
Emilia Brito, Brown University
Thomas Brosy, University of Michigan
Christina Brown, University of California, Berkeley
Nina Buchmann, Stanford University
Tam Bui, Vanderbilt University
Samantha Burn, Harvard University
Anne Burton, Cornell University
Phoebe Cai, Harvard University 
José Bayoán Santiago Calderón, Claremont Graduate University
Avery Calkins, University of Michigan
Siying Cao, University of Chicago
Damien Capelle, Princeton University 
Alvaro Carril, Princeton University
Kody Carmody
Eduardo Cenci, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Bharat Chandar, University of Chicago 
Daniel Chapman, University of Maryland
Saumya Chatrath, Harvard University
Nisha Chikhale, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Neil Christy, University of Michigan
Bryan Chu, University of California, Berkeley
Brandyn F. Churchill, Vanderbilt University
Stephanie Clampitt, University of Delaware 
Elissa Cohen, American University 
Jonathan Cohen, MIT
Kyle Coombs, Columbia University 
Jonah Coste, George Washington University
Rene Crespin, Cornell University 
Edward Davenport, London School of Economics
Matthew Davis, University of Oxford 
Scott Delhommer, University of Texas at Austin 
Kevin DeLuca, Harvard Kennedy School
Christa Deneault
Jon Denton-Schneider, University of Michigan 
Joshua Deutschmann, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Sharada Dharmasankar, University of Wisconsin, Madison 
Vittoria Dicandia, Boston University 
Greg Dobbels, Princeton University 
Patrick Doelp, Temple University 
Jacob Dorn, Princeton University
Alex Doser, Northwestern University 
Ugo Dubois, Université Paris Dauphine / ENSAE
Karl Dunkle Werner, University of California, Berkeley
Maya Durvasula, MIT 
Holt Dwyer, University of California, San Diego
Holly Dykstra, Harvard Kennedy School 
Danny Edgel 
Leonardo Elias, MIT Sloan
Antonio Escobar, University of Southern California
Andres Espitia, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
Ethan Feilich, University of California, Davis
George Fenton, University of Michigan
Joel Ferguson, University of California, Berkeley
Adriano Fernandes, Harvard University 
Alessandro Ferrari, European University Institute
Yevgeniy Feyman, Boston University School of Public Health 
Dalila Figueiredo, European University Institute
James Fogel, University of Michigan 
Zach Fone, University of New Hampshire 
Kelsey Fortune, University of California, Davis
Lukas Freund, University of Cambridge 
Evan Friedman, Columbia University 
Anaïs Galdin, Princeton University
Michael Galperin, University of Chicago
Kenna Garrison, University of Michigan
Nick Gebbia, University of California, Berkeley
Surabhi Ghai 
Moumita Ghorai, Western Michigan University
Nicko Gladstone 
Keanan Gleason, Texas A&M University
Ezra Goldstein, Florida State University
Radhika Goyal, University of California, San Diego
Andrew Granato
Grant Graziani, University of California, Berkeley
Simon Greenhill, University of Chicago 
Jared T. Grogan
Max Gross, University of Michigan
Matthew Gross, University of Michigan
Rishab Guha, Harvard University
Louise Guillouet, Columbia University
Samuel Gyetvay, University of British Columbia
Sam Wallach Hanson 
Jonathon Hazell, MIT
Caitlin Hegarty, University of Michigan 
Anton Heil, University of California, Berkeley
Thomas Helgerman, University of Michigan 
Maria Hernandez de Benito, Georgetown University
Juan Herreno, Columbia University
Brian Higgins, Stanford University 
Helen Ho, Harvard Kennedy School
Kathryn Holston, Harvard University
Eric Hsu, University of California, Berkeley 
Sam Hughes, University of Pennsylvania, Wharton 
Federico Huneeus, Princeton University
Maximilian Huppertz, University of Michigan
Timothy Hyde, Carnegie Mellon University
Molly Ingram, Cornell University 
Vinayak Iyer, Columbia University
Joshua Jacobs, Duke University 
Urvashi Jain, University of Southern California 
Rachel Jarrold-Grapes, Syracuse University
Dahyeon Jeong, University of California, Santa Cruz
Michelle Jiang, Columbia University
Martha Johnson, Cornell University 
Alex Johann, Michigan State University 
Felipe Jordán, Harvard University
Leticia Juarez, University of Michigan 
Mohit Karnani, MIT
Stephanie Karol, University of Michigan
Aaron Kaye, University of Michigan
Stephanie Kestelman, Princeton University 
Madhulika Khanna, Georgetown University
Paymon Khorrami, University of Chicago
Kristy Kim, University of Chicago, Booth School of Business
Oliver Kim, University of California, Berkeley
Mathew Knudson, Vanderbilt University 
Benjamin Krause, University of California Berkeley
Jake Krimmel, University of Pennsylvania, Wharton 
Niklas Kroner, University of Texas at Austin
Theodor Kulczycki, University of Michigan 
Lorenzo Lagos, Columbia University 
Parijat Lal, Columbia University
Kevin Lai
Megan Lang, University of California, Berkeley 
Deryl Larsen 
Quan Le, Princeton University
Max (Chang) Lee, University of California, Santa Barbara
Samuel Leone, University of California, Berkeley
Joffré Leroux, Michigan State University 
Remy Levin, University of California, San Diego
Zachary Levinson, University of Michigan 
Junhao Liu, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Samuel Lite, Harvard University
Janet Lu, Columbia University
Nadia Lucas, University of Chicago
Eva Lyubich, University of California, Berkeley 
Helene Maghin, Sciences Po
Meera Mahadevan, University of Michigan
Parag Mahajan
Isabela Manelici, University of California, Berkeley
Elena Marchetti-Bowick, Princeton University
Erin Markiewitz, University of Michigan 
Diana Martínez Heredia, University of California, San Diego
Rui Mascarenhas, Columbia University 
Joshua Mask, University of Illinois at Chicago
Nathan Mather, University of Michigan
Tamar Matiashvili, NBER
Maurício Matsumoto, Princeton University
Andrea Mattia, University of Chicago 
Tyler Maxey, Princeton University
Jennifer Mayo, University of Michigan 
Matt Mazewski, Columbia University
Kayleigh McCrary, Vanderbilt University
Peter McCrory, University of California, Berkeley 
Cici McNamara, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Mike Mei, University of Michigan
Jorgen Michael Harris, Cornell University 
Roxana Mihet, New York University
Bernardo Modenesi, University of Michigan
Dylan Moore, University of Michigan
Kyle K. Moore, The New School for Social Research
Melissa K. Moore, University of Virginia 
Flavien Moreau, University of California, Los Angeles
Mauro Moretto, Carnegie Mellon University 
William Morrison, University of California, Berkeley
Roberto Mosquera-Moyano, Texas A&M University
Preston Mui, University of California, Berkeley
Philip Mulder, University of Pennsylvania, Wharton 
Juan Sebastián Muñoz, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Kate Musen, Harvard University 
Asutosh Nanda, Columbia University
Michael Navarrete, University of Maryland
Srajal Nayak, University of Michigan
Owen Nie, University of Michigan
Anders Nielsen, Princeton University 
Max Norton, University of British Columbia
Isaac Norwich 
Sergio Ocampo, University of Minnesota
Sean O’Connor, University of Oklahoma
Suanna Oh, Columbia University
Giulia Olivero, Cornell University
Jane Olmstead-Rumsey, Northwestern University
John S. Olson, University of Michigan
Hanna Onyshchenko, University of Michigan
Paul R. Organ, University of Michigan 
Abigail Ostriker, MIT
Cristóbal Otero, University of California, Berkeley
Stephanie Owen, University of Michigan 
Lucy Page, MIT
Elizabeth Pancotti
Makenzie Peake
Victoria Perez-Zetune, University of Maryland
Agathe Pernoud, Stanford University 
Lorenzo Pessina, Columbia University
Lia Petrose, MIT
Grace Phillips, Cornell University
Kalie Pierce, Princeton University
Beatriz Pousada, Stanford University 
Georgia Poyatzis, American University
Jason Premo, Northwestern University 
Anjali Priya, University of Texas at Austin
Kovid Puria, University of Washington 
Esteban J. Quiñones, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Tyler Radler, University of Michigan 
Charlie Rafkin, MIT
Shwetha Raghuraman, University of Michigan
Tereza Ranošová, University of Michigan
Nikhil Rao, University of Michigan
Nishaad Rao, University of Michigan 
Pooya Rashidi Ravari, University of British Columbia
Katherine Richard, University of Michigan 
Jordan Richmond, Princeton University
Michael Ricks, University of Michigan
Andrés Felipe Rodríguez, Stanford University 
Julio Rodriguez, Columbia University
Rony Rodríguez-Ramírez, KDI School of Public Policy and Management
Marco Rojas, University of Michigan 
Francisco Roldán, New York University
Carlos Rondón-Moreno,University of Notre Dame
Brock Rowberry, University of Michigan 
Timothy Rooney, Florida State University
Nick Rowe, Michigan State University
Estefano Rubio, University of Chicago
Melanie Rucinski, Harvard Kennedy School 
Hannah Ruebeck, MIT
Leila Safavi, University of California, Berkeley 
Joe Saia, Columbia University
Cesia M. Sanchez, University of California, Berkeley 
Deniz Sanin, Georgetown University 
Zachary Sauers, University of California, Los Angeles, Anderson School of Management 
Susannah Scanlan, Columbia University
Stephanie Schauder, Cornell University 
Lauren Schechter, University of Colorado, Boulder
Rachel Schuh, Stanford University
Dana Scott, Princeton University 
Noor Sethi, University of California, Berkeley 
Damini Sharma, University of Chicago, Harris School of Public Policy
Colin Sharpe, Vanderbilt University
Hannah Shell 
Maggie Shi, Columbia University
Jed Silver, University of California, Berkeley 
Alvaro Silva Uribe, University of Maryland
Olivier Simard-Casanova, University of Strasbourg 
Kaitlyn Sims, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Niharika Singh, Harvard University
Emma Smith, Harvard University
Evelyn Smith, University of Michigan
Fernanda Sobrino, Princeton University 
Payal Soneja, EPIC, University of Chicago
John Soriano, University of Maryland 
Jeanne Sorin, Sciences Po
Andrew Spewak 
John Spray, University of Cambridge
Sukanya Sravasti, University of Michigan
Anna Stansbury, Harvard University 
Katherine Stapleton, University of Oxford
Sam Stern, University of Michigan 
Sebastian Strauss, The Brookings Institution
Avner Strulov-Shlain, University of California, Berkeley
Daniel Stuart, Harvard University
Yixin Sun, University of Chicago 
Vaishnavi Surendra, University of California, Berkeley
Shreya Tandon 
Matthew Tauzer, University of California, Berkeley
Chelsea Temple, Texas A&M University
Dario Tortarolo, University of California, Berkeley
James Traina, University of Chicago 
Fanta Traore, Sadie Tanner Collective
Anna Tranfaglia, Temple University 
Egon Tripodi, European University Institute
Carolyn Tsao, Princeton University 
Juan Pablo Uribe, Brown University
Silvia Vannutelli, Boston University
Michael Varley, University of Chicago 
Shoshana Vasserman, Harvard University
Mitchell Vaughn, Columbia University
Joanna Venator, University of Wisconsin, Madison 
Esteban Verdugo, University of Michigan
Damian Vergara, University of California, Berkeley
Felipe Vial, University of California, Berkeley 
Jesus Villero, Georgia State University
Teresita Cruz Vital, Harvard University
Iris Vrioni, University of Michigan
Lucy Xiaolu Wang, Cornell University 
Jeremy Ward, Columbia University
Pablo Warnes, Columbia University
David Wasser, Cornell University
Jacob Weber, University of California, Berkeley
Jesse Wedewer 
Scott Weiner, Columbia University
Meredith Welch, Cornell University
Alicia Weng, MIT 
Derek Wenning, Princeton University
Amy Wickett, Harvard University
Helen Willis, University of California, Berkeley 
Abigail Wozniak, University of Notre Dame
Anirudh Yadav, University of Michigan
Elaine Yao 
Michael Yost, Florida State University
Roman David Zarate, University of California, Berkeley
Kai Zen, University of California, Berkeley 
Henry Zhao, Princeton University

In addition, 78 individuals from the following institutions chose to sign anonymously:

Brown University
Columbia University
Cornell University
Duke University
Florida State University
Harvard University
IE Business School
MIT
NBER
Princeton University
Stanford University
Texas A&M University
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of Chicago
University of Michigan 
University of Mississippi
University of Pennsylvania
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Vanderbilt University
Yale University

If you would like to add your name to the list of signatures, please contact DiversityInEcon@gmail.com