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Statement of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) on Violence at the U.S. Capitol

A statement by President Keon West, PhD, on behalf of SPSSI

On January 6, 2021—just one mile from the front door of SPSSI’s Central Office—violent insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol as they sought to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power between elected presidents. As of this writing, 400,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, with thousands more dying each day. The burdens of disease and death, and the social and economic ramifications of short-sighted and sometimes callous policy prescriptions, have hit hardest in marginalized communities. It can be difficult to not be demoralized at a time like this.

In his 1956 Kurt Lewin Memorial Award address, former SPSSI President Otto Klineberg urged that “we should do what we can, where we can, and when we can" (Klineberg, 1956). Reflecting on his work with the United Nations in the aftermath of World War II, he spoke to the challenges of using psychological science to help rebuild civic society institutions, and urged SPSSI members to approach their work with “cautious courage”—neither overstating the science nor holding back from needed action (Cherry, Ellingwood, & Castillo, 2011).

With these words in mind, and with the contemporary scholarship of psychologists and allied social scientists in mind, SPSSI joins the American Psychological Association (APA) in condemning the violence that we witnessed at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. APA's statement draws attention to the misinformation and conspiracy theories that were at the root of this tragedy, and emphasizes that "the continued propagation of mistruths fosters tribalism, outrage, and rancor, which prevents us as individuals from seeing our shared humanity and interests."

As we mark the events of the past two weeks, and the pandemic that has wreaked havoc in the United States and around the world over the past year, we want to thank SPSSI members for continuing to do the difficult work that falls at the nexus of scholarship, education, and advocacy. Today, 65 years after Otto Klineberg’s call to engaged scholarship on the challenging social issues of our time, this work is evermore needed.

This statement was issued on Tuesday, January 19, 2021.