President’s Column

Paolisso.jpgOctober 2021
Michael Paolisso

Serving as your president is exciting and challenging work. I am now seven months into the job and still on the steep part of the learning curve. I am constantly learning more about the opportunities and challenges we face as a professional organization, all of which has been amplified by the multiple impacts and consequences of the Covid 19 pandemic. My previous experience in SfAA leadership positions has helped me navigate and negotiate my way forward in these challenging times, but I am most grateful and appreciative of all the support and guidance provided me by SfAA colleagues, particularly board members and office staff. 

While I still consider myself early in my ethnographic learning of how to be a productive president, one important lesson I have already learned is that we need to better communicate with members the year-round work by volunteers and staff that sustains and grows the SfAA. SfAA colleagues have told me that many members see the SfAA as closely synonymous with our annual meetings. Research completed by our strategic planning committee confirms this perspective: when members think of the SfAA, they associate it with the important work of organizing the annual meeting. Members of course know about our journals and newsletter, access information from our website, follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and read emails from our office. Still, I feel we in leadership need to better communicate the internal work of SfAA governance, administration and planning, all activities that depend on member participation and expertise. I am not alone in thinking that greater participation by a diverse membership is key to our growth, sustainability and impact as a professional organization. As a first and small step forward in communicating some of the volunteer and staff work that has happened over the last few months, here are brief descriptions of a few exciting and important SfAA developments.

One of my commitments when I became president was to increase SfAA’s work on racial and social justice. Thanks in large part to the efforts of Sunil Khanna, who is also the SfAA Treasurer, we have formed the SfAA Racial Justice Task Force. The following 10 SfAA members are volunteering their time and expertise to serve on the task force:  Eric Bailey,Spirit Brooks, Sherri Briller, Melinda González, Noémie Gonzalez, Heather Reisinger, Sunil Khanna (chair), Amy Paul-Ward, Joyce Rivera-Gonzalez and Risako Sakai. The task force will collect baseline information on the ethnic and racial diversity of the SfAA, identify strategies to make the SfAA proactive in the area of racial justice and supportive of the racial justice work of our members, and develop training and onboarding practices that incorporate racial justice. To further refine its scope of work, the task force will be holding several online town hall meetings in the coming months. The task force will also communicate via social media regarding its work and seek member input. I invite all SfAA members to assist the task force to identify critical next steps to advance the SfAA’s racial justice work.  

Under the leadership of Chad Morris, the SfAA Publications Committee has taken on the ambitious task of critically reviewing the focus, forms and impacts of our publications (Human Organizations, Practicing Anthropology and SfAA News). The world of publishing has changed dramatically over the past years as the number of journals, publishers and outlets have expanded dramatically, and accessing information has diversified into different approaches to open access and corporate publishing. Metrics for measuring impacts are increasing, and the relevance of different types of publications for academic and practitioner work and career advancement is changing. The SfAA Publication Committee has developed a year-long workplan to help us understand how and where SfAA publications fit within this changing publication landscape, and how our publications can be improved to better convey the importance and impacts of the applied social sciences. This visioning has begun and I thank the following members of the publications committee:  Melissa Cope, Quinn Houlihan, Lisa Jane Hardy, David Himmelgreen, Sarah Lyon, Lenore Manderson, Chad Morris (chair), Jeanne Simonelli, and Orit Tamir. The publication committee is also working with an advisory group of 15 SfAA members, each with experience in editing and publishing. The publication committee will be hosting a series of online town hall meetings to elicit broader member input. 

SfAA Pro is a new initiative to promote student professional development. SfAA colleagues Sherri Briller, Christina Wasson and Keri Brondo are drawing upon their experience in applied anthropology departments and knowledge of the SfAA to create a structured student internship program that promotes “learning by doing.” The SfAA Pro internship program will enable students to apply knowledge and skills, gain additional experience and build professional networks for career development. This new pilot opportunity will connect students to the SfAA and help them transition to their next career phase. SfAA Pro Interns will work on SfAA projects and initiatives, bringing valuable perspectives and skills to help ensure our relevance to future members. The SfAA Pro team, working with the initiative’s first intern, Quinn Houlihan, are organizing a session to explain and promote SfAA Pro at our upcoming annual meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, March 22-26, 2022.  

The SfAA Racial Justice Task Force, Publications Committee and SfAA Pro are just three examples of the volunteer contributions by members that form part of the work occurring throughout the year at the SfAA. Additional descriptions of the work of all the SfAA Committees and Topical Interest Groups could be written. My heartfelt thanks to all SfAA members who volunteer their time and expertise. I know from talking with many of you that this service comes with costs, given your existing family and work commitments. Still, SfAA members generously offer up their precious time and valuable skills to support our organization. We should share and build on this collective, year-around work. It is who we are and it should shape who the SfAA will become. It is one of our most valuable resources.  

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