Creating an inclusive environment to teach the economics of race and ethnicity

By Giacomo Piccoli | 31 July 2023

It doesn’t matter what background you have; as an economics instructor, you can teach about the economics of race and ethnicity. Here’s how.

There is a way you can teach the economics of race and ethnicity, even if that’s not your academic background, says Martha Omolo, Lecturer in Economics at the University of Exeter Business School. We spoke with her to learn more about her teaching experience.

“I teach economics to first-year undergraduate students. I use The Economy 1.0 because I’m interested in CORE Econ’s pedagogy. I also follow Valerie Wilson’s work. She is director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy (PREE), a nationally recognized source for expert reports and policy analyses on the economic condition of America’s people of colour.

Since the 2020/2021 academic year I’ve included ‘Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy’ (REE) as one of the topics of my module. This brings together my interests in CORE Econ’s pedagogy and Wilson’s work”.

REE is a student-led formative assignment on how race and ethnicity affect education and the labour market. It comes after studying Units 13-16 in The Economy, so students can apply the model of the macroeconomy explained there to today’s issues of diversity, heterogeneity and challenges of the labour market.

Students are randomly divided into groups. They are given a detailed assignment brief which outlines what they’re supposed to do and gives tips on how to produce a poster. They then have four weeks to submit their work.

“We do not cover this topic at all in the classroom,” highlights Martha, “or give students any asynchronous resources. They enjoy a high degree of freedom in this project, although they are encouraged to use the resources available in the course’s virtual learning environment. Some of them are compulsory to use and examinable, whereas others are recommended, and are outlined in the course’s virtual learning environment. One of the resources is the CORE Insight on Persistent racial inequality in the United States.”

The winning poster is chosen by rounds of nominations from the department’s teaching staff. Martha shared with us the winning posters from the past three academic years.

“Despite the challenges of group work and the fact that the assignment is part of formative rather than summative assessment, the project lets students engage with a topic some educators may be uncomfortable teaching because of many sensitivities. In departments where cohorts are less diverse, it might also be a good way to introduce students to a topic they may not have considered before.”

Enthusiastic feedback from students on the course confirms this: “The REE project created a very inclusive environment. […] As a person of colour, it can be quite isolating to see a total lack of diversity and at times, a lack of acceptance of people who aren’t white. This project feels like a step in the right direction towards fostering inclusivity in the classroom”.

Martha plans on continuing to include the REE project in her course in future years. If you’re interested in introducing a project like REE in your course, Martha can give you some advice. You can email her at [email protected].

  • enCOREage is CORE’s project to attract and empower a more diverse demographic of undergraduate students and instructors to the study of economics
  • Are you teaching a class or running a project like Martha’s? We’d love to hear from you. Please email Giacomo at [email protected].