On Wednesday, a Wharton professor shared on Twitter an exchange with her undergraduate students that asked what they thought the average American worker makes per year. She revealed that 25 percent of her class thought the figure was more than $100,000, when in actuality, the number is roughly half of that. This assumption is not unusual, as the professor herself noted, since most individuals underestimate the disparity within American incomes.

This exchange got me thinking about the role of business education, and our responsibility as educators to create opportunities for nuanced discussion to shed light on the range of experiences within society. The sharing of honest, personal views is essential to meaningful discourse, and should be an intentional part of the Wharton learning journey.

It’s likely some student responses were representative of what we psychologists call the “anchoring effect” — or, having our personal experiences and backgrounds serve as reference points for how we view the world. And while we cannot change where we come from, we can — and should — work to understand where others are coming from.

At Wharton and Penn, we are proud to ensure that those reference points are informed by a diversity of students. Nearly half of Wharton undergraduates are female, while 20 percent are non-U.S. citizens. In the Wharton undergraduate Class of 2025, over 60 percent self-identify as students of color, while 12 percent are first generation. This distinctive profile creates a rich environment for individuals to learn, while also broadening their exposure to lived experiences different than their own.

I am proud to be part of a community willing to tackle such sensitive but necessary issues. It is my desire and expectation that Wharton commit to creating space for students to wrestle with any number of societal challenges, and that we as faculty support their exploration and personal discovery.


Erika James is Dean, Reliance Professor of Management and Private Enterprise, and Professor of Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. This post was originally published on LinkedIn, where she was named an “influencer” for her insights in the business world. View the original post here. Follow Erika on Twitter