The Society for the
Study of Social Issues



  A Year in the Life of Past-President
  By Maureen O’Connor, SPSSI Past-President

I am writing this column on August 31, the last official day of this incredible year as SPSSI President. I cannot help but reflect on the whirlwind year that it was. I am grateful to SPSSI Central Office staff who provide day-to-day support to SPSSI and especially to those of us in governance throughout the year, to this year’s hard-working and highly-effective Executive Committee (Allen Omoto, our incoming President, Margaret Kovera, our outgoing Secretary/Treasurer, James Jackson, our Past-President, and Kim Case, our SPSSI Council rep), and to all of the SPSSI members who serve on committees and do the core work of this organization.

This year, we held two highly successful conferences—our Biennial Stand-alone conference in Charlotte, NC in June (with thanks to our co-chairs, Demis Glasford and David Livert), and our Division 9/SPSSI programming at the APA Conference in Orlando (with gratitude to Justin Hackett and Sean Massey, Co-Chairs). My own experience, which was reflected in many comments I received about these conferences, is that the intense focus on social justice and policy came at a much needed time for many of us who have faced challenging budgetary situations, challenges to academic freedom and faculty governance, challenges to the very idea of institutions of higher learning as EDUCATIONAL as opposed to business operations, and who found in the Occupy Movement renewed energy for renewing the fight for fairness and justice! While it is difficult to select a few moments to highlight, several do stand out for me in terms of the goals I had set for my presidential year.

First, at the Charlotte conference, we were able to bring new energy into SPSSI in three areas—Education, the Environment, and Ethics/Equity. These three E-streams were designed to expand SPSSI’s focus as we head into the last quarter of our first century. This programming brought many panelists and attendees who had not previously attended a SPSSI conference, and who brought interdisciplinary perspectives to these important topics. At the Early Career Scholars pre-conference workshop, the focus on the Environment brought a number of young scholars who had not previously found a professional home for their focused attention on the psychology of the environment AND social justice. At least one of them has become a SPSSI believer and attended all of our APA programming as well! Kudos to Janet Swim and Susan Clayton for bringing exciting speakers and ideas to SPSSI, and we hope it is the first of many collaborations between Divisions 9 and 34! Michelle Fine and Valerie Futch, working with Geoff Maruyama put together a breath-taking series of panels addressing education—looking to our rich past but mostly toward a future in which social justice scholars must bring our tools to bear on the accountability (or, as I called it in my presidential address, “Ability to Count”) culture in which many of us are trying to survive. An action agenda grew out of this work, and I will work as Past-President to move these issues onto SPSSI’s upcoming agenda. And, to address Equity concerns, Yolanda Niemann brought an important initiative to SPSSI—the beginning of a process to reconsider the relationship between our increasingly multi-cultural society and the APA Ethics Code. APA Ethics Officer, Steve Behnke, Chair of the APA Ethics Committee, Linda Forrest, and Liang Tien, representing the Asian American Psychological Association held a roundtable during which they solicited input from the audience about areas in which the current ethical principles and overall ethics approach is inconsistent with cultural practices and experiences.

A second highlight for me was the emphasis that the conference placed on teaching and mentoring. With many thanks to Kim Case, a re-imagined Teaching and Mentoring Committee is now operating within SPSSI governance. On that Committee’s recommendation, SPSSI Council passed a revision to our teaching and mentoring awards such that SPSSI now confers two major awards per year—one for overall excellence in teaching/mentoring, and one for a focused activity or class that targets social justice issues (click here for award recipients). To highlight these new awards, Kim and the Committee put together a number of panels at the conference, but it was especially exciting to attend the panel of ALL recent SPSSI teaching/mentoring award winners talking about what they do in their classrooms (click here for a description of one award recipient's efforts in the classroom).

A third area that was in clear focus at both conferences, but which also was present in SPSSI activities throughout the year was the attention to POLICY! With great leadership from Alex Ingrams, SPSSI’s Policy Coordinator, and our Policy Committee, both conferences featured multiple events—from hands-on workshop-type training, such as the truly amazing talk by Chris Mooney at APA on science communication, to press briefings, to simply making sure the policy implications of our speakers’ work were highlighted, it was a banner year for policy activity at SPSSI.

A fourth area of substantial growth and activity this year was the work of Roberto González, David Livert, and our Internationalization Committee to engage with international scholars. These efforts were on impressive display in Charlotte particularly. As just one example, witnessing the documentary, “One Fine Day,” and the subsequent conversation with Buddhist Monk Kovida, who was featured in the film, was seeing justice in action on vivid display! With eight countries now represented on our internationalization committee, an active UN Committee (which, I am proud to say, I will be serving on as SPSSI Council liaison next year), and an incoming Marshall Scholar with interests in international concerns, I am confident that SPSSI will continue to build its outreach to like-minded scholars and policymakers around the world.

Finally, I want to wish our new President, Allen Omoto, a highly productive and successful year. Allen is a tireless SPSSI advocate, an incredibly effective governance leader and coalition-builder, a strategic thinker, hard worker, and simply one of the truly wonderful human beings I know—SPSSI is in excellent hands. I look forward to serving as Past-President to help Allen, SPSSI Council, and our members in whatever way is needed to keep our social justice momentum going! Thank you all for a wonderful year.

—Maureen O’Connor

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