Senior Humanities Student Aims to End Economic Inequality

Jasper Summer Research Scholar Kathryn Wojtkiewicz ’14 joins a centuries-long dialog with her sights on the future.

This summer, Kathryn Wojtkiewicz ’14, a senior double-majoring in philosophy and English, set out to put an end to economic disparity and inequality in the U.S. by investigating A Moral Economy: The Effect of Economic Inequality on Individual Autonomy and its Source with Eoin O’Connell, Ph.D., assistant professor of philosophy. She began by questioning financial gain as the sole criteria by which American culture judges a company’s worth.

Wojtkiewicz’s research is built upon one initial posit: “Severe economic inequality restricts the autonomy of those who live at the bottom. If there is a systemic source of such inequality, it should be eliminated in order to increase the population's ability to exercise their independence.”

Her work is a continuation on a previous paper she submitted to the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics essay contest — one she felt was unfinished. The Jasper Summer Scholars program presented itself as the perfect opportunity to craft a polished finished product — a writing sample she could proudly show as a potential doctoral student.

On Joining the Sages

In order to join a centuries-long dialog, she had to brush up on the tomes of the great ethical and economic philosophers of Western thought — from Immanuel Kant and Karl Marx to Robert Nozick and Milton Friedman. The long hours in the O’Malley Library stacks paid off when she went back to writing, as she was able to use these ideas to buttress her argument.

This is Wojtkiewicz’s first attempt at a project of this type, and thanks to her faculty mentor, it’s proven to be a great experience.

“[Dr. O’Connell’s] experience has been of indispensable assistance,” Wojtkiewicz says. “He has been able to provide meaningful support in everything from the actual research, to the organizing and expanding of my ideas, to the minutest details of editing.”

Clarity requires meticulous revision, which often means editing out hundreds or thousands of words, entire paragraphs or sections. Wojtkiewicz cited this process as the most challenging aspect of her project.

In many ways, this project is my version of an internship in academia.

“It can be difficult to see those deleted portions and not think of them as a waste of time,” she says. “But despite these feelings, I know how important it is to forge on. Every little change really is progress, really is another step closer to a polished finished product.”

In the future, Wojtkiewicz is hoping to pursue a doctorate with the goal of becoming a professor of philosophy.

“In many ways, this project is my version of an internship in academia,” Wojtkiewicz says. “If I do become a professor, writing academic papers of this nature will be one of the central aspects of my job.”