Professional and Biographical Information
Ph.D., Harvard University, 2002
Diploma in Mathematical Statistics, Cambridge University, 1995
B.A., Amherst College, 1994
Jessica Wolpaw Reyes is Professor of Economics at Amherst College. Her research focuses on public health and social impacts of environmental pollution, malpractice and physician behavior, factors influencing judicial decision-making, and other topics in applied microeconomics. Prof. Reyes is particularly interested in areas of health and inequality. She is currently studying the effects of environmental toxicants on social behavior, as well as embarking on new projects in law and economics. Prof. Reyes received her Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, focusing her studies in the areas of labor economics, public finance, and health economics.
Currently, my teaching and research energies are almost entirely focused on antiracist work. I believe it is necessary to engage with our role as economists in maintaining the fiction that American capitalism is a system of meritocracy and freedom, rather than a system of oppression and unfreedom – racial patriarchal capitalism. On the teaching side I have been reexamining and creatively destabilizing the substantive economic content of my classes, as well implementing evidence-based innovations to my pedagogy. I see this as my way to contribute to and foster a rethinking of economics at Amherst.
It is my contention that to responsibly teach economics our understanding should be built not with an artificial claimed “objectivity” but rather with a realistic understanding of the centrality of structural racism, power, and oppression to the functioning of the economy and the methods of our discipline. In her excellent 2019 paper, Brenda Spotton Visano writes that “[economics] is a discipline that has become both an apologist for capitalism and the engine of neoliberalism.” She goes on to argue that
"It may then be most fitting to engage critical pedagogy in economics education for the dual purpose of dislodging an ingrained fatalistic belief in the inevitability of neoclassical economic theorizing and the economic inequality resulting from the neoliberal policies that emanate from it. … [T]he emancipatory possibilities of critical pedagogy supported by a pluralist economics curriculum can equip students with the awareness and intention to mount their counterhegemonic challenge to neoclassical economics. By equipping future economists, business leaders and policy makers with a wider knowledge of how we might otherwise organize material relations, we can challenge most effectively the prevailing neoclassical economics ideology that underpins neoliberalism."
I believe such an endeavor is vital to economics in these times, particularly at a liberal arts college. It is deeply important for all of our students, and especially so for BIPOC students who may find a neoliberal (mainstream) economics ideologically unwelcoming and/or invisibilizing.
To do this I have incorporated antiracist content and pluralist economic content into the economics thesis process and all of my existing courses, and I have developed three new courses: Economics of Race and Gender, AntiRacist AntiEconomics, and Pluralist Economics.