Human Rights and Social Justice Committee at the SfAA Meetings in Denver

By Carla Pezzia
[carla.pezzia@gmail.com]
HRSJ Committee Chair
University of Texas-San Antonio

Carla Pezzia

Carla Pezzia

The Human Rights and Social Justice Committee met on Thursday, March 21, from 2:00-3:50. We started our meeting with a roundtable discussion on Emerging Human Rights and Social Justice Issues of the Day, facilitated by Christine Ho. The focus of this discussion was violence, particularly the recent increase in gun violence and drone attacks. In previous years, emerging topics for roundtable discussions included the Arab Spring and Occupy movements. We expect to organize a similar discussion for the meetings in Albuquerque based on any HRSJ issues that arise over the next year.

While in discussion with Board representative Tom Leatherman, we talked about organizing a focus group for self-employed and non-academic SfAA members. Based on the membership survey conducted last year, approximately 10% of respondents identified as working for a non-profit or as self-employed. Our goal with the focus group is to better understand the needs of this portion of the SfAA membership. Please let a Committee member know if you are interested in helping organize or participating in the focus group.

Membership Survey Roundtable

Committee members Mark Schuller, Christine Ho, and Carla Pezzia, as well as Board representative Tom Leatherman participated in a separate roundtable to discuss the results of the SfAA membership survey. We had the opportunity to speak with a few SfAA members and encourage others who were not able to attend the roundtable to contact us with any ideas or suggestions for the Committee. We discussed future training workshop topics (see below). Someone proposed a luncheon to create a space for junior and senior activist anthropologists to meet in a less formal setting. The luncheon would provide an opportunity to discuss various topics relevant to professional development and advocacy work, such as how to manage multiple identities.

The issue of a searchable database was raised during our general meeting as well as the survey roundtable. We were informed that the SfAA online community provides member searching capabilities. Carla Pezzia met with the Website/IT Committee to review the search functions of the online community. While the online community does provide a straightforward mechanism to search the SfAA membership, only 28% of membership survey respondents stated that they knew about the community prior to the survey. As such, there needs to be an increase in usage for this to be an effective instrument for identifying the specialties of the membership. The Committee continues to believe that a searchable database is critical for the SfAA to contact experienced members to address emerging issues in a timely manner, particularly as they might relate to HRSJ situations. A public database would also allow for outside entities to contact SfAA members with the relevant areas of expertise. Someone raised the concern of SfAA members who work with populations and on topics that might put them at risk for retaliation if this information was made public. We contend that the publishing of personal information in such a database would be on a voluntary basis. While some people may understandably not want their information made publicly available, many others welcome an opportunity to be able to further promote and “advertise” their skills and experience.

Sessions at the Annual Meeting 

In addition, members participated in and organized a variety of paper panels and roundtable discussions. Below is a partial list of some of the topics covered:

FRIDAY 12:00-1:20 – Water Work: Improving Access to Clean Water and Adequate Sanitation, Timor-Leste and Kenya

SATURDAY 12:00-1:20 – Roundtable on Disaster Studies

SATURDAY 12:00-1:20 – Recovering the Commons: A Conversation Linking Economic and Ecological Activism

SATURDAY 3:30-5:20 – Socially Responsible Meetings for Professional Associations: New Opportunities on Shifting Terrains

This last roundtable focused on the continuing discussion for establishing a hotel policy for the SfAA (see Betsy Taylor’s previous newsletter pieces “Background on the Baltimore Hotel/Labor Issue” and “Best Practices in Ethical Planning of Professional Meetings” for more information). An important point discussed at the meeting was that hotel management responds to collective action, and we as a professional association concerned with human rights and social justice should use our collective power to promote change. The goal is to establish a thorough protocol to review meeting locations that takes into account local HRSJ issues as well as other important decision-making factors for the membership (e.g., cost of meeting). Committee members Betsy Taylor, Mark Schuller, and Carole Nagengast will continue to work with the SfAA Board to ensure that a “human rights and social justice audit” be conducted for future meeting sites.

Training Workshops

We decided to postpone our annual training workshop (two of our organizers were in the final throes of dissertation writing). A workshop on how new media technologies can be better integrated is planned for the meetings in Albuquerque. Our goal is to have a training workshop every meeting to further expand on our “activist toolkit.” There was a suggestion to repeat the 2010 workshop on working with the media, possibly for 2015. The particular focus for the workshop would be on honing our press release writing skills. Please contact me if you have other ideas for future workshops.

Final Thoughts

A topic that was raised throughout the meeting referred to the need for new and younger representation in leadership roles of the SfAA. We encourage new and student members to participate in business meetings, committees, and other proceedings to increase membership representation and actively participate in the future of the Society. The HRSJ Committee promotes a democratic environment and welcomes any members who are interested in advocacy work to join our listserv (hrsjanthro@googlegroups.com). As mentioned above, we are open to suggestions for the Committee in general, workshops, meeting sessions, etc. We continue to accept ideas for Issue Briefings. To read previous briefings, you can visit the Committee’s page at: https://www.sfaa.net/committees/humanrights/humanrights.html.

We would like to thank Chair Mark Schuller and Student representative Jason Simms for their years of service to the Committee. They are stepping down as official members, but we look forward to their continued involvement with the Committee. We would also like to welcome Christine Ho and Kristina Peterson as official members to the Committee. Thanks also go to Tom Leatherman for his support as our liaison to the Board, and we welcome our new liaison, Maryann McCabe.

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