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Keon West


SPSSI: Looking to the future

Keon West, Associate Professor of Social Psychology, Goldsmiths; University of London

It is with a mixture of sadness and some relief that I lay down the responsibility of the SPSSI presidency. SPSSI is an organisation that I truly love, indeed more so after the work of the last year. It was indeed a pleasure to be, even briefly, the head of such an important group, and I am all too aware of the opportunities, connections, and privileges associated with such a position. Nonetheless, the impressive weight of the responsibility never left my mind. At 85 years old, SPSSI is older than most of us will ever be (the average life expectancy in the US is 78.54 years). And, worth a few million dollars, SPSSI is richer than most of us will ever hope to be (the average individual wealth in the US is $505,421). These considerations put hard, practical meanings to the concept of “commitment to a cause bigger than myself”. I do look forward to the return of more individuality, the freedom to openly support political candidates (go Biden-Harris!), and the ability to occasionally be mistaken, or slightly uncouth, or to just read the room wrong without having it (necessarily) reflect poorly on a group of over three thousand psychologists.

I can also afford to be light-hearted because I know that SPSSI is in such excellent hands. The SPSSI council remains without a doubt the hardest-working, most insightful, most committed group of volunteers that I have ever met. The SPSSI staff remain brilliant, adaptable, inventive and dedicated. Our new president Professor Linda Silka, is someone whose scholarship, leadership, and values I profoundly admire. Our Executive Director, the endlessly capable Anila Balkissoon, continues to be an anchor and a guide for the organisation, reminding us of the goals we set for ourselves. And though we all lament the departure of the excellent Professor Richard Wiener – the definitive SPSSI Secretary / Treasurer, we can also bask in the confidence inspired by our new Secretary / Treasurer the amazing Professor Alaina Brenick, who exceeded all expectations as our 2021 conference co-chair.

When I first decided to run for president, I was in a room in a Hotel in Albuquerque. I had no idea that I would never set foot in the United States of America for the entire duration of my presidency, that a trans-Atlantic political movement would emerge with the goal of denying or downplaying contemporary prejudice, that Critical Race Theory would become the new bogey-man upon which many would heap their strawman arguments, or that a disease I had never heard of would become the health focus of the entire world. So many of my plans for this presidency were dashed before I even started. That we had any successes at all is a testament to the strength, flexibility and commitment of SPSSI’s staff, council, volunteers, and wider membership.

And we did indeed have successes. In a pandemic-ravaged world where many organisations (including us) were forced to shrink themselves, SPSSI continued to be relevant on the national and international stage, to expand our online presence, to fund and support important social-science research, to comment on political movements and international incidents, and even to host the largest (at least by attendee count) conference in our history.

For the first time in a year, I am free to consider the future of SPSSI without being fettered by the ultimate responsibility of actually making all my aspirations come to pass. With that in mind, there are a number of things that I hope for the organisation. May we continue to grow, and may we use that power to be a force for good in the United States and around the world. May we continue to be an organisation where so-called “minorities” are well represented in the highest echelons of power, and where early career researchers continue to find their home, and their strongest sense of belonging. May we never forget the roles we have played (however small) in events as monumental as Brown vs. the Board of Education or the eventual collapse of South-African Apartheid. And in the face of new challenges may we continue to make our predecessors proud.

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