Report from the SPSSI Central Office
Looking Back and Looking Forward
By Jutta Tobias, SPSSI James Marshall Public Policy Fellow
Hello! It is my privilege to serve as the SPSSI James Marshall Public Policy Fellow at the APA Government Relations Office, and at SPSSI’s headquarters in Washington, DC. I am glad to introduce myself to you, and to inform you of my activities in this position to date. This is an extremely exciting opportunity for me at this time of transition in the U.S., where we find ourselves with a new Congress, a new President, and new opportunities for legislative advocacy.
My Background and Prior Research
Before starting my assignment as SPSSI Scholar in September 2008, I attended Washington State University where I completed my Ph.D. in social psychology in August 2008. Prior to starting my postgraduate work in the U.S., I had worked as an international business consultant for about eight years, based out of London. My dissertation is based on a field study on intergroup work contact and reconciliation between Hutu and Tutsi farmers in Rwanda, funded through a research fellowship from George Mason University. The opportunity to serve as SPSSI Fellow, however, was not the first occasion that brought me to Washington, DC. I was fortunate to work with APA Government Relations Office staff members from September 2007 to May 2008 as a graduate student intern, and hence already knew many of APA’s staff in Government Relations when I joined the team again this past fall in my new role as SPSSI Fellow.
My Public Policy Advocacy Activities at APA
At APA, where I work three days per week, I have spent my first quarter as SPSSI Fellow transitioning into my new role there. In this capacity, I have engaged in a variety of advocacy activities, including:
Hate Crimes Legislation • As part of APA’s ongoing effort in support of enhanced hate crimes legislation, I drafted a factsheet on The Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act of 2007 (H.R. 2216). Hate crimes are violent acts that are rooted at least partially in negative bias towards members of particular groups, e.g. due to their race or religion. Although there is currently comparatively little statistical information in the public domain on hate crimes against the homeless, persons who are homeless may be an additional group at risk of being targets of hate crimes, according to emerging evidence. The Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act of 2007 would require the Department of Justice to collect statistical evidence on hate crimes against the homeless, and in this way amend the Hate Crime Statistics Act. The transition to the 111th Congress marks an opportunity for further legislative advocacy efforts by supporting the re-introduction of this bill.
Legislation Pertaining to Immigration • Another public policy advocacy activity I engaged in at APA was to draft a factsheet on the Secure and Safe Detention and Asylum Act (S. 3114). Since 2005, several congressionally mandated initiatives sought to study, and subsequently improve, the due process protections for asylum seekers and detained immigrants, with little success, which lead to the drafting of the Secure and Safe Detention and Asylum Act. This legislative bill would provide safeguards against faulty asylum procedures, as well as ameliorate the detention conditions for asylum seekers and immigrants, including expanded access to physical and mental health care.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns • As 2008 drew to a close, I was assigned to handle the Government Relations portfolio pertaining to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender concerns at APA. In this role, I have been engaged in planning out congressional activities and collaborations with interested coalitions in Washington, DC, and beyond, for the upcoming Congress. As part of this effort, I attended the annual conference on LGBT Health issues in Washington DC in November, 2008, organized by the National Coalition for LGBT Health, which provided fertile groundwork for my current efforts on drafting science based briefing sheets to support legislative initiatives in the 111th Congress to eliminate health disparities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.
My Public Policy Activities at SPSSI
For two days each week, I work at SPSSI, and have enjoyed collaborating with SPSSI’s newly recruited Policy Coordinator Chris Woodside to further expand SPSSI’s public policy initiatives under the guidance of SPSSI’s Executive Director, Susan Dudley. As part of this effort, I have created informational materials on SPSSI’s public policy activities, and have engaged in several activities designed to elicit further SPSSI members’ involvement in public policy advocacy, such as several calls for experts on research on the social cost of the current economic recession, on education equity, and on energy and conservation. Thank you to all SPSSI members who have come forward in response to these requests, and it is our hope that we can continue to press forward with congressional activities in this domain in the upcoming Congress. In addition, I also worked on the SPSSI membership survey, conducted between June 2006 and January 2007, re-formatted these data where necessary, and made the survey available to interested SPSSI members. It will be my pleasure to continue collaborating with interested parties at SPSSI who would like to use these data in furthering our understanding of SPSSI’s membership.
Professional Development Activities
My professional development activities have revolved around publishing and presenting my dissertation data, and I have received an invitation to present a paper on entrepreneurship in post-conflict Rwanda at the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNUWIDER) in Northern Ireland in March. In addition, I have recently been appointed as an adjunct faculty member at Washington State University (WSU)’s International Business school. My first assignment in this capacity was to facilitate a risk- and change-management workshop for a group of government employees in Ethiopia in February, as part of a capacity building initiative funded by the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). I look forward to continuing to work with you in the upcoming months. I would be delighted to discuss my activities with you further, and can be contacted at SPSSI at (202) 675-6956 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and at APA at (202) 336-5668 or email@example.com.
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