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Julianne Malveaux, PhD '80

Applying economics as a tool for change

When Julianne Malveaux arrived to study in MIT’s renowned economics department in the late 1970s, she was in for a surprise. Besides eminent economists such as Robert Solow HM and Phyllis A. Wallace, who pioneered the study of racial and sexual workplace discrimination, she found a critical mass of black graduate students–some 12 or 13 of the 30 PhD students.

Bennett College president Malveaux with the Temptations, the guest entertainers for her inauguration gala.

With roots in the Black Power movement and two economics degrees from Boston College, Malveaux was in the right place to hone what she calls tools of change. “The study of economics is the study of allocation–who gets what, when, and where,” she says. “It seemed like a good way to understand why there are so many disparities in allocation.”

This story is part of the January/February 2010 Issue of the MIT News Magazine
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A commitment to exposing economic disparities in America has guided her life. She has been a frequent television commentator and prolific writer noted for her commentaries on race, culture, gender, and their effects on economic life. Malveaux’s syndicated columns are collected in two anthologies: Sex, Lies, and Stereotypes: Perspectives of a Mad Economist and Wall Street, Main Street, and the Side Street: A Mad Economist Takes a Stroll.

Why is she mad? “Anger is a sign that something is wrong, and something is wrong when the world’s largest economy produces such unequal results,” Malveaux says. “There is so much child poverty, and people are still living in trailers after Hurricane Katrina. If you look at the numbers, you can’t help being angry.”

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Now in her third year as president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC, which was founded in 1873 by emancipated slaves, she is focused on building enrollment and the endowment. Her savvy restructuring of a multimillion-dollar loan has freed money for new projects, allowing Bennett to break ground on three buildings last fall.

Though her primary focus is education, in her writing she continues to address critical concerns such as equal pay for women, health-care reform, and the overarching issue of patriarchy. In her personal time, she enjoys designing her own clothes, collecting African and African-American art, and being with her mother and siblings.

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