Assistant Professor of Economics Damian Sheehan-Connor, teacher of the nearly-impossible-to-get-into class, “Healthcare Economics,” gave a talk about healthcare in the United States on Monday, Nov. 16. The lecture began with an overview of the healthcare policy, and was followed by an overview of some of the obstacles to reform. Then, the presenters and sponsors moved into a discussion of women in economics, both inside and outside of the University setting.
“I was gratified that so many people showed up; it was certainly more than I had expected,” Sheehan-Conner said. “Some very interesting questions were raised, but I am sure there were many others that there was not time to discuss. Hopefully there will be other opportunities to continue the discussion in the future.”
The professor reviewed two main problems with the current healthcare system. The first involves issues with technical efficiency (providing more healthcare with the same resources), and the second deals with allocative efficiency (changing which individuals receive healthcare resources). These, he said, are two of the biggest problems faced when dealing with the healthcare market today. The majority of the questions that came out of this conversation were ones concerned with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
Sheehan-Conner has offered this course for seven years, and each term the class reaches capacity.
“Healthcare reform has been a hot topic,” Sheehan-Conner wrote in an email to The Argus. “So there seems to be continual interest among the students. To have a class full of students genuinely enthusiastic about the subject is a wonderful thing for a teacher.”
The Female Economists at Wesleyan (FEW) group hosted the discussion. This club intends to create a community for women who are economics majors at the University. Because economics is such a male-dominated field, both at the University and beyond, support for female students can be lacking at times.
“You will sit in an econ class and notice that the back of the class is just guys,” Tiffany Coons ’18 said. “Having a community building group was very helpful. I have always had friends in my classes that have been males, so I do not tend to notice it as much until someone points out, [saying,] ‘Hey, there are only five girls in the class.’ If I had not known anyone in my classes, it would have been very isolating for me.”
The creator and General Coordinator of FEW, Kerry Nix ’16, said that it is even the case that certain professors are not aware of the need to be more inclusive when it comes to accepting women.
“I was one of five women in a 30-person class, and it was uncomfortable for me,” Nix said. “There were times when my professor would say something that I found gendered, but I felt like I could not say anything about it, and I talked to other people and they felt the exact same way.”
Members of FEW are working to create a space for women who feel isolated in their classes. This is especially important for first year students and sophomores who may feel intimidated by the number of men in classes, enough so to choose a different major.
“We have a variety of programs that are running,” Coons said. “We have math workshops and other workshops where people can go get help outside of TA sessions. There are also discussions as well as lunches.”
Nix started this particular group last spring, but there have been other, similar student organizations before it. While the idea has been repeated often, none of the previous groups have lasted more than a few years. Usually they die out after the person who started it graduates.
“The goal of this is for it not to fade,” Nix said. “Another thing is that it is hard to spread words about things because people are starting groups all the time that resemble existing groups. There needs to be more communication.”
The lunches that FEW hosts are intended to not only get more women involved and learning about economics, but also to show how interesting the courses at the University can be.
“One of the things that we found talking to a bunch of people about this stuff is that it is hard to imagine in a few classes what econ is because it’s so pared down to a few models,” Nix said. “But then you see healthcare economics and say, ‘How the hell does this relate?’ No policy is in a vacuum, and healthcare is a huge part of the policy. We want to find topics that are particularly relevant.”
FEW will continue to host talks and discussions in order to make Economics courses more accessible to all students, majors and non-majors alike.
“I think it is great that FEW has initiated campus discussions on the reasons for this difference and possible responses to it,” Sheehan-Connor said.