President’s Column

Paolisso.jpgMay 2021
Michael Paolisso

I am truly excited to begin my two-year term as president. During this past year, I served as the president-elect and chair of the SfAA Meeting Working Group. This experience provided me with invaluable insights on SfAA’s institutional strengths and challenges, the many voluntary contributions of our members and the evolving needs of our membership. I cannot adequately thank President Sherri Briller, the SfAA Board of Directors and staff, and the many members who generously shared their time and expertise in helping me prepare for this important position. 

My excitement is not unbridled. I and other SfAA colleagues recognize there are significant organizational challenges ahead. Membership in professional organizations has recently shown signs of decline, due largely to a mixture of Covid impacts and institutional and personal financial insecurities. Journal subscription fees are trending downward, as the very nature of how we communicate our research and practice are reframed by expanding, online digital platforms. How we meet to share ideas, network and socialize has been transformed during the pandemic, as we shifted to online webinars and meetings. Most importantly, increasing diversity of ideas, values, practices and needs of existing and future members requires greater inclusivity and collaborative governance. How we all rise to meet these challenges will define SfAA’s future.  

I have great hope for that future. The foundation of that hope is the exceptional commitment of our members. This commitment goes beyond paying membership dues, submitting manuscripts to our publications and attending annual meetings. This commitment arises because our members, young and old, think of the SfAA as their “professional home.”  Time and again over the past year, members have told me we are a collegial and supportive organization, that our annual meeting consists not only of interesting and useful sessions but also that participants are friendly and supportive. It is a place where young students and professionals can meet and talk with experienced members, and vice versa. Our history and culture include a deep willingness of our members to help the SfAA with their time and financial contributions.  

An excellent example of this support and commitment is our recently completed 2021 annual meeting. Uncertainties arising from the Covid pandemic and hosting our first online annual meeting created a need for additional design, implementation and resources for technology and programming. SfAA members came forward to help meet these challenges. Past-President Susan Andreatta led a group of SfAA fellows in a campaign to provide additional funds for online technology and programming. SfAA formed the Meeting Working Group, the majority of whom were member volunteers, to develop policies and practices for hosting an online annual meeting. Before and during the meeting, these members, along with SfAA staff, provided technical support and assistance to attendees, particularly with questions related to using the meeting’s online conferencing software. Program Chair Mark Edberg, and his program committee, volunteered countless hours to solicit and organize the intellectual content of the meeting. Their efforts were supported by our topical interest groups (TIGs) who worked with Mark and SfAA staff to schedule sessions. New to the 2021 annual meeting was the use of moderators for live-streamed sessions and meet-ups. TIGs and co-sponsoring organizations helped recruit more than 70 volunteer moderators, who provided technical assistance and increased online safety throughout the meeting. The end result of all this effort was an intellectually stimulating and diverse annual meeting that included around 1,250 participants from 33 countries and 49 states, 200 pre-recorded and live-stream sessions, 37 posters, and well-attended award ceremonies and lectures. Feedback from participants has been very positive and includes suggestions for improvements. The great success of this meeting was only possible because of the contributions, assistance and commitment of SfAA members.  

SfAA’s greatest resource is the expertise, experience and commitment of its members. My responsibility as president is to harness and focus that expertise and experience in ways that improve our society’s support of its members’ practice and research. To help me accomplish this, I have identified four priority areas for my term as president. 

Racial and Social Justice:  Advancing racial and social justice is one of the defining moral and social priorities of our time. SfAA has a professional and moral obligation to engage in work that is impactful, to us as an organization and in support of our members.  Black lives do matter; we cannot tolerate violence against Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Indigenous peoples; racism is systemic and structural. We began our last annual meeting with an organizational statement against anti-Asian violence and racism. President Sherri Briller led this important effort, and I thank her very much for this start. However, all who were involved in preparing this statement are painfully aware it is, at best, only a beginning. We will do more—we must do more. I have reached out to various SfAA committees, TIGs, individual members, and board members to listen, learn and share ideas. I could not be more pleased with the range and depth of ideas, experience and willingness to help. To help organize these ideas and experience into actionable steps, I am forming a SfAA task force on race and justice. ​​​​​​​

Diversity and Inclusion: SfAA needs to reflect the diversity of our global society. As we look at ourselves, we need to see an image that mirrors the world and the work of many of our members, current and future. We need to be a community rich in differences along racial, ethnic, age, gender, work, education, practice, lived-experience and geographical lines, among others. Goals and efforts to include and not exclude need to drive our work to build a community of applied scholars and practitioners. Our committees and leadership must become more diverse and inclusive. Our future and the impacts of our collective work depends on it. ​​​​​​​

21st Century Vision and MissionThe high-quality and impactful work of our members was on display at our 2021 annual meeting. It is exciting to imagine how the SfAA can better support that research and practice, and how we can better communicate the accomplishments and potential of applied anthropology and the social sciences. We are moving forward through the use of digital communication to bring us together online. We are expanding our global engagement through SfAA Global. Addressing the cultural, social, economic, political and environmental challenges of the 21stcentury will require the very best we as a professional society can offer. ​​​​​​​

Financial Sustainability

The Executive and Finance Committees, the Board of Directors and the SfAA staff are all committed to ensuring the immediate and long-term financial health of the SfAA. Professional associations throughout the country are adapting to internal and external social and economic changes. Fortunately, we have strong financial bones, thanks in large part to the work Jennifer Wies, our outgoing Treasurer, and our Executive Director, Neil Hann. I know we will be innovative and adaptive as we work to ensure our financial health and our ability to provide the services our members value and need. 

I invite you to work with me on these priorities. I welcome and need your expertise, critiques and continued commitment to the SfAA. I am excited and have great hopes for what we can accomplish. Thank you for this opportunity to serve the Society for Applied Anthropology.

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