Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Students navigate gender bias in the Economics Department

NU+students+said+they+have+encountered+sexism+in+the+economics+department.%0A
Illustration by Nineth Kanieski Koso
NU students said they have encountered sexism in the economics department.

After just one week in an economics course, it’s not uncommon to see many students drop the class. However, for some women in economics, course difficulty isn’t the only barrier they’re facing.

Students majoring in economics must take six core courses, two of which are introductory courses often taken in students’ first year — Econ 201: Introduction to Macroeconomics and Econ 202: Introduction to Microeconomics.

Second-year Ph.D. candidate in economics Nicole Saito worked as a teaching assistant for Econ 202, where she said she observed the familiar dynamics of a male-dominated classroom.

“It’s more natural for people to assume that economists are men just because the nature of what we study has been linked to men’s traditional roles,” Saito said.

Saito said “some of the best students in the class were women” and added that she made sure to reach out to female students in her sections to acknowledge their academic ability.

For her undergraduate degree, Saito majored in economics, history and political science. She said being the only woman in a classroom is not a unique experience due to the origins of economics. 

Saito specializes in economic history, where she said she had seen more women than she anticipated. 

Despite female presence in the industry’s history, Saito said she hasn’t experienced sexism within Northwestern’s graduate program, but most of the biases she’s seen, such as men questioning women in economics’ research harder than they would a man, stem from economics as a field.

“Generally, the fact that this is a problem in the discipline as a whole still makes it difficult for women to see themselves in this profession,” Saito said.

Saito said that, as a TA, she wants women in economics not to be discouraged from pursuing the field as a career or post-graduate degree.

“Don’t be afraid of the unknown, and don’t be afraid of challenging yourself,” Saito said. “I was very afraid of having to take math and do all these things … and I’m so glad that I have this now.”

SESP freshman Gauri Adarsh said the faculty gender ratio of the department was more of a problem than class gender ratios. According to the economics department’s website, of NU’s 54 economics faculty members, just 10 are women.

“I think it’s hard to reach out to professors if they’re not creating that safe space (for women),” Adarsh said. “During office hours, women always don’t want to sound stupid. So you overthink, and you don’t let yourself ask the questions that you actually want to ask.”

As a first-generation college student in the U.S., Adarsh said office hours and one-on-one time with professors can be stressful for someone with no background in economics.

Adarsh added that she wished economics professors would create a more “accepting space” in small group settings.

“I wish I didn’t have to doubt myself so much,” Adarsh said. “I wish I could just ask what I want to ask, say what I want to say and not feel like I’m going to be disrespected 10 times more because I’m a woman.”

Although Adarsh does not have plans to pursue economics as a career, she said she found it difficult to join economics-related clubs, such as business clubs and fraternities on campus. She attributed the difficulty to biases within these clubs that hinder the inclusion of minority women.

“I think there’s this belief that you’re going to fail if you’re not a white man,” Adarsh said. 

In an effort for non-male students to pursue interests in economics, Womxn in Economics — sponsored by the economics department — hosts speaker series, study sessions and club meetings.

Former co-president and Weinberg senior Carolyne Geng said the group aims to foster “peer support” to build more connections amongst women in economics.

“There aren’t enough econ professors who are women, in the sense that the environment as a whole, especially at the undergraduate level, is still pretty dominated by male professors,” Geng said.

After taking multiple economics classes, Geng said the number of women in each class remained consistent, with the exception — Econ 342: Economics of Gender.

“Organizations like WIE as well as all of the women professors who have joined the university in these past two to three years have been super helpful in combating a lot of these issues,” Geng said.

Clarification: This story has been updated to better reflect Adarsh’s status as a first-generation college student. 

Email: [email protected]

X: @taylorhancock23

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