The Society for the
Study of Social Issues


   Diversity Committee Report
   Fran Chair, Diversity Committee Chair


I am pleased to introduce SPSSI’s Diversity Committee: Fran Cherry, Carleton University (Chair/Council Member, 2010-2013) along with Kendrick Brown (Macalester College), Caroline Bennett-AbuAyyash (University of Western Ontario/2011 Dalmas A. Taylor Memorial Summer Minority Policy Intern), Adam Fingerhut (Loyola Marymount University), and Denise Sekaquaptewa (University of Michigan/Council Member, 2010-2013). The Committee itself is diverse in a variety of ways: two of us are Canadian, one of whom has roots in the Middle East; we are connected to GLBTQ, African-American and Native North American communities, among others, and this will facilitate the conversation about how to extend SPSSI’s outreach more generally.

Part of the conversation about diversity is, to be sure, about attracting new members to the Society. At our last Council meeting, August 2, 2011, there was a consensus that the Diversity Committee should work closely with SPSSI’s Membership Committee (Chair, Stacey Williams) as well as the Internationalization Committee (Chair, Roberto Gonzalez) in a coherent effort to recruit new members from still underrepresented groups. As a result of the previous Diversity Committee’s efforts (Chair, Susan Fiske) and, in conjunction with SPSSI’s Administrative Assistant, Brad Sickels, we have a good overview of our membership, with respect to ethnicity, gender, and world region.  We’ll keep working with this profile and extend it where we see opportunities. The statistical database available to us will be very helpful, particularly for extending our membership in other regions of the world.  For example, we know that roughly 89% or our members are from either the United States and/or Canada. Many of these members have research interests in social issues which are global in scope (immigration, trafficking of girls and women) and the benefit of diversifying our membership internationally brings us into a wider network of social issues oriented scholars outside North America.

An equally important part of the diversity conversation requires reflecting on the way in which marginalization can be systemically built into an organization’s way of doing things and experimenting with new processes that build inclusivity. As an organization, SPSSI has a long history of self-study and reflection and it has not been unusual to amend how we operate.  A few examples: SPSSI’s Grant-in-Aid program was introduced in the 1950s with the specific intent of assisting researchers working on racialized desegregation. In the present, SPSSI allocates funding for minority students to travel to its biennial conference as well as funding to a minority policy internship, named in memory of Dalmas Taylor (SPSSI President, 1996-1997, and first director, in 1974, of the APA Minority Fellowship program).  A few years ago, designated slates were introduced into annual Council elections, whereby representation on Council from diverse career levels, membership region, and ethno-cultural minorities has been facilitated. Undoubtedly, there is more we can examine and improve and suggestions to Council form part of the work of the Diversity Committee. 

In this respect, recent work by the APA will be helpful to us. In 2009, SPSSI took part in a survey of 56 APA Division Presidents that was funded by an APA Interdivisional Grant program. The survey was intended to collect data that would facilitate the implementation of results from the 2005 Task Force on Enhancing Diversity created by former APA President, Ronald Levant. It was undertaken by five APA Divisions (20, 35, 44, 45, and 48) and SPSSI (Division 9) was one of the  respondents. A fuller conversation between Task Force Co-Chairs Yolanda Garcia and Julie Levitt about “Diversity – what is it and what does it mean?” is available at well as a link to the survey. SPSSI’s Diversity Committee will be sifting through the results and (re)examining our own processes in light of the findings. A few strategies for increasing minority representation are quoted from the report, along with percentage of respondents reporting: “bringing minorities into leadership roles (74%), establishing committees made up of minority members and division leadership (37%)”, and “member-initiated changes” influencing “structural change” (55.6%).

In terms of defining diversity, I think it will be very productive for us to think about the intersections and overlaps among identities and the importance of appealing to the multiplicity of identities among current new members. I see this also as a way of building solidarity (or what Cornel West called “principled alliances”) on social issues of common concern. We will be holding the biennial SPSSI conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, in June, 2012 and I will be working on programming with the Diversity Committee to think about intersectionality. My touchstone article by a psychologist on intersectionality is by SPSSI member, Stephanie Shields (Sex Roles, 2008, 59, pp. 301-311/DOI: 10.1007/s11199-008-9501-8). Her lead article in the special issue on intersectionality is situated in the context of feminist theory, however, the range of articles is relevant to other theoretical perspectives as well.

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Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin