Theresa Henry: Economics Graduate Student and Professor

 

What is your name, occupation, and how long have you been at UW?

My name is Theresa Henry, my occupation is to be determined...something in the economics field. Probably something not academia though. And, I’ve been here three and a half years.

What are your preferred gender pronouns?

She/her.

Why did you decide to pursue education?

I love economics but I know I did not want to become a consultant. And in order to do research you have to have a PhD. The market turned out to where it is more valuable to go get a PhD or stay in school instead of going out and getting a job. Also it is hard to find a job.

Most people want to be aware and sensitive to cultural norms, so would you say African American or Black is the correct way to describe those of African descent?

Black is definitely a new way. In terms of African American I never seen that before I moved here [from Georgia]. It seems like students who are first generation and whose parents weren’t American slaves don’t necessarily identify as that. So I am more sensitive of that. Ask in a subtle way, do they feel like telling you what they identify as? Or, just ask them in a way that would make them feel comfortable telling you.

Do you experience microaggressions from professors or students because of your identity?

From professors? I feel like I don’t know what the microaggression is for...in the sense that most of my professors are international. They look down on American students because the American system is not as rigorous. So I do not know if it’s because I am American, African American, or because I am a woman. I think sometimes I just don’t know. But it happens more often than I would like. I think it's because of the lack of patience from our professors. In terms of students? It happens a lot too. I do not know if it is because of my age because I am not that much older than my students. Or it could be because I am African American. Comparing evaluations across...so most of my colleagues are male...my evaluations are way way lower than theirs. Through the evaluations you [students] have been microaggressive or you have been passively aggressive. Let yourself be open to learning whatever I am trying to teach you and trust that I know it, because I do know it. Sometimes it’s hard for me to explain some of the questions they ask only because they are trying to test my knowledge and the only way I could respond is in an advanced way, where this is just an intro course. And so I have to find a way where… I hate to use the phrase “dumb it down” but essentially dumb down is how I know to answer it, because you’re asking an advanced question in an intro course.

Can you describe one instance? What would you like others to learn from it?

Most of the time just questioning something technical that I am doing. Sometimes it’s something as basic as okay I made this assumption on my model, and I told you my assumption and your criticism is outside of the scope in the sense that you’re assuming something else, and you are trying to invalidate what I am doing based off of your assumptions, and I am telling you the assumption, but you are still arguing with me about something else. It is like if you think my assumptions are wrong then that is a point of argument, but if you are arguing about what I have derived from my assumption and you are questioning them then you cannot do that. I feel like I get a lot more push back then some people because they know I was not one of the star students going through the course work. And I can only...this is not subjective...I can only assume that you are only doing this to test me.

Do you think your gender plays a role in how you are treated on campus or in the classroom—positively or negatively?

Yes out of our classes of the eighteen or nineteen, there are only three women and so we stick together, and we have to. Or, we try to include ourselves in some of these guy circles. Actually there are no black people except for me and it is a six-year program. I feel like reaching out, especially to the Asian students, they have a great support system emotionally, or mentally, as well as academically but they do not let anybody into that circle. I do not know what it is.

In what ways does the UW lack diversity or community for Black students?

It’s hard to say sometimes because I know for Economics is definitely underrepresented but, I do not know what it is like in other parts of campus. I had some expectations but I did not expect like… So I am the only African American and there is one other African student in my department...and is it that UW is not identifying these students to come here or is it that they are not pursuing these studies and that is why it is even more underrepresented. Maybe what UW can do, even though you cannot bring them to the grad program, is to identify the undergrad students who are studying Economics and sort of show them grad school as an option to pursue. Maybe they don’t want to go to grad school, and that is fine—it isn’t for everybody—but at least sort of create that pipeline and give them that mentorship resources and say you too can go to grad school in Economics and be successful.

What changes would you like to see in this regard?

I just learned about the Instructional Center! What I do not like about the Economics department is that they don’t...it is a lot of math...and that discourages a lot of students but they don’t make it...they sort of don’t give you the hope like okay this is a lot of math but if you just keep going and taking these math courses and become comfortable with it, you will be fine. They are really dismissive. Maybe a mentorship program for underrepresented students?

Do you think having more diversity in the classroom is important? Why or why not?

I do! I think UW does lack in diversity for underrepresented students, but with the international aspect of diversity they do an okay job with that… and I am noticing that because you are trained to think a certain way but with my students I am challenged with that a lot of the time. Because they come from a different country where these things are not common sense for them or it is not the norm, even for certain questions they are like, what are these certain concepts? Or why is this good? Because this doesn’t exist because it is not familiar to me from my country. But I think in bringing those perspectives, it does make the class more engaging and makes it more interesting and creates more discussion. I teach the market economy but there is also this central government communist economy that we do not teach at all. I feel like it would be good to be exposed to that even if we do as Americans don’t operate in that sort of system. And I did not notice that until I had Russian students and I was teaching them, “this” is the right way to think, our market system...like we are more efficient because we do it this way and not the way that you guys are used to.

What are your thoughts on this year’s presidential election?

Most of my thoughts are...I get irritated when people tell me, “Oh you are an economist, so you must like what Trump is doing.” And I am like yeah maybe these objective type things are more efficient but does that mean you should not care about the people? Does it mean you should say these outrageous things you say that are very offensive? No. But at the same time I am also kind of concerned about some of the protest, in the sense that people are saying he is not their president. I do not want him to be president and I did not vote for him, but I think some of that fuel creates violence. Protesting? Ok is fine. But I guess he was fairly elected, so he is going to be the president so just don’t create violence spread off of his outrageous comments. I almost do not want to ask people how they voted because I will feel a certain way about it. One reason I went into Econ was because knowing what is textbook efficient...at least I know how to make these equitable policies off of the most efficient allocations... so that it won’t create such insufficiencies.

If you have the chance to give advice to a young Black child, what would you tell them?

Don’t feel that you are alone. Sometimes it can be lonely especially in these large public universities where we are underrepresented it might be harder, but seek those friends or those where you can seek for mental support, emotional support, but at the same time academically, you are going after something similar so you have to lean into each other.