As I sit down to write this column, my news feed is filled with terrible and tragic news.
The American Psychological Association (APA) recently released their annual “Stress in America” report, for which they interviewed Americans about significant sources of stress in their lives. Over the past ten years, work and money have consistently ranked at the top. After the divisive presidential election last year, the APA added a series of new questions to probe how the country is dealing with the current political climate. In a break with past findings, they found that stress about the future of our nation now tops the list of stressors for most people—more so than work and money (see full report here: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2017/state-nation.pdf).
We are also grappling with the continued and pervasive toll of gun violence. Although we are still learning details of the massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, what we do know is that this act of terror mirrors many we have seen in the past. Despite a history of violence towards women, children, and animals, the shooter was able to amass a stockpile of weapons and ammunition. On the heels of the mass murders in Las Vegas and Orlando, many Americans are wondering how are we still unable to stop these acts of violence. Many of us vividly remember the shock and horror we felt at the news of the orchestrated attack at Columbine High School 18 years ago, and yet that mass shooting is no longer one of the top ten deadliest. The top five have all occurred in the last ten years, and three of deadliest occurred in the last 18 months (http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/07/health/deadliest-mass-shootings-columbine-in-modern-us-history-trnd/index.html).
Outside the context of gun violence, violence against women has also been a topic of great concern. Since early October, a series of women have publicly spoken out against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, including SPSSI member Tomi-Ann Roberts (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/10/us/gwyneth-paltrow-angelina-jolie-harvey-weinstein.html). Their accounts of harassment and assault implicate not only the famed producer, but a plethora of additional individuals who either turned a blind eye to the actions of this perpetrator or actively enabled the abuse. In the weeks since, additional Hollywood stars have shared their accounts of harassment and assault. In concert with them, a number of high profile reports of sexual harassment are being filed within academic settings (e.g., http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/09/she-was-a-rising-star-at-a-major-university-then-a-lecherous-professor-made-her-life-hell/, https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/10/31/561146756/3-dartmouth-professors-in-criminal-inquiry-over-sexual-misconduct-allegations) and enablers are also being called out in academia as well (e.g., http://www.chronicle.com/article/AbusersEnablers-in/241648?cid=trend_right_a ).
Yet, in each of these news stories, I see hope for change.
Although “Stress in America” now reports “the future of our nation” as the top stressor, another report by the Higher Education Research Institute finds that American youth are more politically engaged than they have been in decades (https://www.heri.ucla.edu/monographs/TheAmericanFreshman2015.pdf). For example, in the past year, we have witnessed mass protests in support of women’s rights, science, DACA youth, and immigrant rights, while at the same time, protests have been organized against white supremacy, police violence, and other acts of hate. In response to gun violence, progress is also being made. On Election Day 2017, Chris Hurst, who decided to run for office after his late girlfriend was shot on live TV, beat the NRA-backed incumbent Joseph Yost for the Virginia House of Delegates 12th District seat. Running in a deeply conservative part of southwest Virginia, Hurst shows that there can be ways to move forward on gun violence prevention, even in a country where gun rights are so deeply entrenched. In a similar vein, the public response to Harvey Weinstein and other perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault suggests that we may be experiencing a cultural shift in terms of how these violations are perceived, reported on, and punished. Survivors of harassment and assault from “everyday” perpetrators have taken to social media to post their stories, and are tagging them with #MeToo. Their French counterparts are using the tag #BalonceTonPorc (“squeal on your pig”). In other countries, women are using #MeToo to spark conversations and draw attention to a range of related issues, including marital rape.
As SPSSI members, we have always been focused on bringing our scientific knowledge to bear on social issues. Given the entrenched issues we’re fighting, we will need to continue to reach out across psychology and other disciplines, to work in concert with our communities, and to spread our existing scientific knowledge to the public. In fact, inspired by this vision, the 2018 SPSSI conference is focused on “Bridges to Justice: Building Coalitions and Collaborations Within and Beyond Psychology.” We look forward to hearing about your work toward these goals next June in Pittsburgh, and in the meantime, we encourage you to continue to look for answers within our science and to speak out on the issues.