The New School for Social Research Launches Sadie Alexander Fellowship for Graduate Students in Economics
Leaders in the field of economics, like U.S. Treasury secretary Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell, and former Fed chair Ben Bernanke, have long pointed out the lack of racial, gender, and socioeconomic diversity in this academic discipline. Considering that economists influence policy in areas ranging from employment and inflation to access to education and healthcare, this lack of diversity can disproportionately affect not only the U.S. population but also what economists study, how they study it, and the policies they recommend.
To address this issue, The New School for Social Research (NSSR) launched the Sadie Alexander Fellowship in Fall 2022, which will provide full funding to graduate students in the Economics department, with a preference for students who are from socioeconomically disadvantaged groups or have faced challenging educational and cultural circumstances. The fellowship is named for Sadie T.M. Alexander, a trailblazing civil rights activist of the early and mid-20th century and the first Black person in the U.S. to earn a doctorate in economics.
“Alexander’s work and activism are emblematic of the ambitions of the faculty and students in our Economics program,” said Will Milberg, NSSR dean and professor of economics. “They seek to provide a critical understanding of economic life, with careful attention to economic injustice and racial and gender inequality. I am so excited that the Sadie Alexander Fellowship will help us better support our students as they prepare to take on the challenges of racial inequality and social justice that are so pressing today.” The fellowship officially launched in October with a talk by Nina Banks about Alexander and her studies of fascism and race, which was attended by members of the Alexander family.
The inaugural fellow, Lark Lo, MS Economics student, took a non-traditional path to the field of economics. Although she has earned a Master of Public Administration and worked as a writer, she started off her career as a kindergarten teacher. “I was one of the first autism specialists in Los Angeles County back when people were really beginning to understand neurodiversity. One of the people I admire is Anne Sullivan [a teacher best known for her work with Helen Keller], and I wanted to support people who saw the world a little differently,” says Lo. “I was teaching in a wealthy neighborhood and getting great results with the students. So I decided I wanted to take my skills and go to a place where people really need people like me. I went to a more economically oppressed community, and I saw very quickly that all the things I thought I was doing weren’t actually me. It’s a lot easier to support and help people when they have lots of resources and their basic needs are being met.” Seeing the vast difference between people with money and people without helped her realize that it’s the system that’s broken.
She later started publishing a newspaper covering economic issues, the environment, and land policy. “I want to change how the world is, and I realized the way to do this is through economics. It’s interesting to see who people will listen to and who they do not listen to.”
Lo applied to study in NSSR’s Economics department, hoping to make an impact by putting into practice knowledge gained in the field, especially in combination with her writing skills. Her research looks into the connections between urban policy, economic development, urbanism, land policy, and racism. “I am here to unsheathe the relationship between the destructive weapon of racism and how it harms people, creatures, and the environment through a heterodox economics lens. The whole idea that you can own people and the idea that you can own land and nature are on the same wavelength. It may seem like a far jump to make, but it’s really not. Looking at the United States, the same people that had the idea that they could own people believed that they could own land and nature. They had this idea that people who own land are the real people. Even white people who didn’t own land weren’t seen as actual people.”
“I greatly admire The New School’s progressive history, rooted in justice. Hannah Arendt taught here. James Baldwin studied here. Darrick Hamilton, Anwar Shaikh, Teresa Ghilarducci, and so many others who currently teach here,” says Lo. “I’m at The New School to change the world. I want to help people to see themselves, their communities, and the universe a little bit differently.”