Statement on Racism & Discrimination

August 2020

We have witnessed with horror and sadness the murders of too many Black Americans, including Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, Terence Crutcher, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Freddie Gray, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Bettie Jones, Trayvon Martin, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Dominique White, and many others. In Arizona these murders extend to Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), and include Antonio Arce, Michelle Cusseaux, Jacob Harris, Loreal Tsingine, and, in Tucson, include Damien Alvarado and Carlos Ingram Lopez. We strongly share in the national outrage over police brutality and the killings of these and other Americans who are targeted because of the color of their skin. 

These killings are just the most recent and graphic illustration of the tragic consequences of racism and discrimination. That racism dates to the genocide of the Indigenous population of the Americas after their first contact with Europeans, continues through the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Africans brought here as slaves, and exists today through institutionalized inequalities and other forms of injustice. As a society, we have not treated minority lives, particularly Black lives, with the dignity that they deserve. We stand with the thousands of protesters who have made this point clear in the past weeks. During this time, we have been listening, reading, and reflecting on these events, both personally and professionally. 

Most academic institutions in the United States have discriminated against Black Americans and other minorities at various times in their history. The agricultural and applied economics profession, and the economics profession more broadly, have had their own problems with discrimination. Today, Black Americans continue to be underrepresented in our profession. The American Economic Association (AEA) climate survey documents the extent of racism and discrimination that minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQ community suffer. In the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) the Committee on the Opportunities and Status of Blacks in Agricultural Economics (COSBAE) and the Committee on Women in Agricultural Economics (CWAE) have documented similar instances of racism and discrimination. Both AEA and AAEA have instituted professional codes of conduct. We as a department reaffirm and recommit to our community principles: 

  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion must exist across all the dimensions of our discipline. 
  • Systemic change begins with everyone feeling safe, actively heard, and respected. 
  • Hatred, discrimination, and injustice have no place within our department, our college, our university, or in our communities. 

Discrimination hurts the individuals who are being discriminated against. It also hurts the agricultural and applied economics profession: it is important to have economists with a diversity of experiences. Science is stronger when it can grow from a diverse set of experiences and perspectives. To overcome barriers, previously excluded people can and must be invited to speak for themselves. To be truly inclusive, we must move beyond steps taken in the past to improve the culture and climate of our profession and escalate our efforts to create a different future for underrepresented minorities, women, LGBTQ people, and others historically marginalized in our profession and in society. 

One way that discrimination and lack of diversity manifest themselves is by narrowing our priors on the potential for discrimination and on issues of race and identity. Too often, economic models have understated the role and impact of discrimination through choices of research topics and modeling assumptions that reflect a limited view of how society functions. In agricultural and applied economics, a field of study that remains primarily male and white, this presents many of us with the challenge of incorporating the experience and perspectives of underrepresented minorities or marginalized individuals. Both implicit bias and a lack of identity and lived experience have profound consequences. 

As agricultural and applied economists at a Land Grant and Hispanic Serving Institution, located on the ancestral homelands of indigenous people, we have a seat at the table in policy discussions that directly impact both our local and global community. That seat comes with great responsibility to productively inform the policy debate on issues of race and discrimination. Our profession’s problems with racism and discrimination have limited our ability to critique and analyze policy. But racism and discrimination are more than policy concerns. They are critically important moral concerns that our research can and should address as a central part of our mission. 

Now is the time not only for reflection but for action. The AAEA and AEA have been developing new initiatives to improve the climate in the profession. We, as a department, must do our part to overcome these limitations. We have begun a conversation about how to do so. To start with, we are putting forward four actions that we will take to address these issues. 

  1. We are working on improving the representation of minorities and other underrepresented groups among AREC students. This will include increased recruitment and outreach efforts to under-represented minority groups. It will also include increased mentorship and support efforts to ensure that students from under-represented minority groups succeed and graduate. 
  2. We are creating a travel scholarship to send one undergraduate student per year to a national conference that encourages students from underrepresented groups to pursue economics, e.g. The Sadie Collective Conference in Washington, D.C., named after Dr. Sadie Tanner Alexander, the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in Economics, in 1921. 
  3. We are forming a reading group to study issues of racial discrimination, including readings from other social science fields. We will soon be emailing faculty and students to set up an organizational meeting. We encourage all faculty and students, both undergraduate and graduate, who are interested to participate in this important activity. 
  4. Finally, we are working to gain funding to help us pursue these goals. An important part of the process is communicating with the funders about why these goals are important. 

We view these suggestions as the beginning of a discussion that, we hope, will include everyone in the AREC community. We ask that you join us in this discussion.