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Keon West




A Time for Celebration

Keon West, SPSSI President,
Associate Professor, Goldsmiths; University of London

The end of 2020 gave many a sense of great relief. It was one of the most challenging years that we had faced. Insecurity at work, difficulties at home, distrust of the authorities, concerns about deadly police brutality, and a pandemic that has killed almost 2 million people to date. These were no small concerns, and many were glad to leave the year behind.  

However, despite the enthusiasm for 2021, a new realization has crept in. The difficulties of 2020 were not the result of fate or magic, but merely of the systems we have built, or failed to build. This includes tangible things – public healthcare and fair taxation, accountability for police officers and politicians – but also systems that are less tangible but equally important, such as systems of power, privilege, and prejudice. These systems, good and bad, affect us all.  

The disappointing news is that many things will stay the same in 2021. In the first few days of January, Kenosha County announced that none of the officers who shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake (or were involved in the shooting) would be charged with a crime. The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise. Many places are returning to lockdowns. Many children (including mine) can no longer attend schools, and many families are once again struggling to make things work.  

However, the uplifting news is that some things have changed. For the first time the US will have a woman, and a woman of color (Kamala Harris), as vice-president. New Mexico is the first state to elect all women of color to Congress. Delaware has elected the nation’s first transgender woman as state senator. Two men have tied as the first openly gay Black men to be elected to Congress, and the list goes on. Whatever our political leanings, we can all be proud of such signs of progress.  

And, like the difficulties we have faced, the successes of 2021 are and will be the result of the systems we have built, nurtured, and supported. This is as true for SPSSI as for any other group. For that reason, I am deeply grateful for the wealth of support, talent, and insight that has poured out from you. SPSSI staff, council members, and the membership at large: so many of you have offered your time, your experience, and your resources in ways that go above and beyond, especially in such trying and unstable times. You have enabled us to not only adapt to our crises, but to seize the opportunities to build new and better systems. I cannot fully express my gratitude to those who have already stepped forward. And, to those of you unsure about stepping up yourself, please don’t hesitate. We’d love to hear from you.  

Let 2021 be a year of celebration. Not because of the end of 2020. Not merely (though, somewhat) because it is SPSSI’s 85th birthday. But because of the work that we have already done and the work we continue to do. This year’s conference will focus on “Changing the System”, a timely opportunity to celebrate our 85-year history, and to consider how our research, teaching, and impact can reshape and reimagine the systems that have brought us here. I look forward to seeing you.