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As 2014 draws to a close and I look forward to the start of a new year I find myself thinking about the things that are important to me. I think about meaningful commitments. Within the realm of my professional world, my commitment to the American Sociological Association (ASA) and the discipline of sociology are central to these thoughts. From the time I was a graduate student, and through a long career in the nonprofit and public sectors, my membership in the ASA never lapsed. It has provided important instrumental benefits, but more importantly, it reflected my commitment to my discipline and my ongoing conviction that the now-110 year-old Association has provided important support for the discipline (and myself) that I could not do alone. It was something worth investing in. I would not have devoted the last decade to the ASA if I did not still feel that the ASA of today continues to have a unique and essential role in our discipline and to our society.
In preparing to write this column, I worked with Margaret Weigers Vitullo, ASA Director of Academic and Professional Affairs, to reach out to a cross section of members and asked them to also reflect on why ASA membership was important to them. Their responses are remarkable and heartfelt.
Angelina Grigoryeva, Princeton University, wrote “I think ASA membership provides multiple professional opportunities, especially for young scholars at the beginning of their academic careers. As a graduate student, I find it especially valuable that membership in the ASA and its sections makes it possible to stay up-to-date with the most recent initiatives in the field.” And the great news is that starting in 2015, ASA members have online access to all ASA journals at no additional cost, making it even easier to keep up with the field. Free access to Interfolio’s “Dossier” software is another new member benefit in 2015, helping scholars organize job applications, CVs, letters of recommendation, and promotion materials in one place.
Stephen Sweet, Ithaca College, reiterated the value of ASA membership for young professionals. “When I was a graduate student, I had no idea how important my membership in the ASA would be to my career,” he said. “It has opened so many opportunities to meet and collaborate with so many interesting people. My advice to all my junior colleagues is to make the ASA your professional home, become an active section member, and go to the meetings!” Similarly, Ming-Cheng Lo, University of California-Davis, said “Maintaining my ASA membership is an expression of my professional identity. Beyond the benefits of accessing ASA’s journals, annual meetings, and other forums, being a member reminds me of how my daily practices of teaching and research are, even in a small way, related to our professional mission.”
Some members’ responses focused on the ways their ASA membership reflects their commitment to the discipline in a tumultuous world, as well as their belief that the discipline needs a strong national-level advocate. “Sociology must be active and deliberate in staking its claim of public relevance,” said Amy Best, George Mason University. “Whether submitting an amicus brief reviewing literature on the impact of same-sex parenting on children to the supreme and circuit courts, coordinating a large-scale effort to expand the base of sociology entries in Wikipedia, or providing departments with resources to help launch their undergraduate or graduate students professionally, the ASA has been successful in working to advance the discipline in public, policy, and professional realms.”
Rashawn Ray, University of Maryland, described how vital the sociological perspective is to our current social condition. “In light of the grand jury decision in Ferguson, MO, to not pursue charges against police officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, sociology has a stake in addressing the continuance of racial and social inequality in the twenty-first century with innovative methods and cutting-edge theoretical approaches. ASA gives sociologists the platform and backing to engage the public through new media channels that resonate with individuals across socioeconomic, racial, and generational divides.”
Promoting sociological research into the public realm is a far from simple process. Robert Faris, University of California-Davis, explained, “the ASA media relations team shepherded me through what would have otherwise been a completely bewildering experience dealing with press inquiries. The ASA staff is professional and respected at the highest levels of the media; reporters at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal mentioned how much they trust the ASA staff.” He went on to say, “I think it’s important to support the discipline. Most of us have had to try to explain our field to cynical in-laws and relatives at one time or another and should recognize that sociology needs strong advocacy on the national level as well.”
Other members described the satisfactions of being involved in the work of the Association and new initiatives that are guiding the ASA forward into its second century. Socius, our new open access journal, is one such initiative that arose from member input. Early in 2015 the ASA homepage will be reconfigured to better reflect the work of members and trends in the discipline—another change generated through a member-staffed task force on social media. Thomas Van Valey (emeritus, Western Michigan University) has had a variety of roles in ASA, serving as a member of the Department Resources Group and currently heading a subcommittee of the Committee on Professional Ethics. He reflected, “It is these… kinds of involvement that I have found the most challenging, most rewarding, and which have provided me with many opportunities for growth.”
Chloe Bird, RAND, shares a view I have expressed before in this column, that sociology has an important role to play in both academic and applied settings and that the ASA needs to continue to work to support sociologists in an increasingly wide array of organizations and employment settings. She calls on “folks who are interested in seeing that expand” to “join and be part of the effort.”
As he became more involved in the governance of ASA, “including my time as Section Chair (SREM), ASA Council Member, and now, co-editor of [the new section journal] Sociology of Race and Ethnicity,” David Brunsma, Virginia Tech, has found his motivation for renewing his membership evolving. He explained that at this point in his career, “I renew my ASA membership every year because it is my discipline and because the ASA is the premier academic sociological association. My dues to ASA ensure a presence on Capitol Hill, fighting for the social sciences in general, and sociology in particular, as well as its public relevance in key social issues and social change.”
Brian Powell, Indiana University, has also served in governance roles in the Association, most recently as ASA Vice President. He observed, “Perhaps because it is so difficult to take the role of the other, it is difficult for most of us to recognize the many ways that the ASA serves not just our own needs but the needs of other ASA members. The sheer range of ASA activities—e.g., promoting the discipline to the public; advocating for support from government agencies; facilitating the diversification of the discipline; encouraging and providing training opportunities in both teaching and research; protecting academic freedom—is remarkable.”
As I review member comments, it strikes me once again that renewing membership in the ASA isn’t simply a dues-paying activity. It is a renewal of our commitment to the future of the discipline, especially to the work the Association does to advance that future—by supporting strong professional and scholarly networks, sociology departments, sociologists-to-be, federal science funding, and regulations that advance science, and by doing what we as a discipline can to make the world a better place. I hope, as 2014 draws to a close, you will join your colleagues above and members of the ASA staff in renewing your commitment to ASA. The year 2015 will be an exciting year for the discipline, and a challenging one as the new Congress decides its agenda.
Sally T. Hillsman is the Executive Officer of ASA. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.