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A Capitol Hill Party Celebrates 100 Years

ASA showcases sociological research, education, and service to society at its 100th anniversary in the U.S. Capital

by Johanna Olexy, Public Information Office, and Lee Herring, Public Affairs Office

“The people in the U.S. Congress need social scientists to provide the kind of information required to inform public policy,” said New York Rep. Sherwood “Sherry” Boehlert, the Republican Chair of the U.S. House Committee on Science, and the first of three Members of Congress to speak at ASA’s October 25 Centennial Congressional Reception & Research Exhibit.

The reception was ASA’s latest celebration focused on its centenary, and the event was designed intentionally to both commemorate the historic milestone of ASA’s 100 years of existence and to showcase sociology relevant to federal policy among a unique national leadership audience in the nation’s capital.

The reception was an overwhelming success, with nearly 200 attendees, including sociologists and students, congressional staffers, congressional committee staffers, federal science agency officials, and policy representatives, hearing speeches by Rep. Boehlert, North Carolina Rep. David Price (D), and Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D) on the utility of social science for policy. Tennessee Rep. Bart Gordon (D) and his staff on the House Committee on Science were very helpful with arranging this event, providing the necessary sponsorship, and ASA publicly acknowledges this support.

Sociologists in the Limelight

ASA’s much-anticipated “birthday party on the Hill” was commemorated with 28 research poster displays by four categories of exhibitors: (1) Seven individual sociologists (highlighting a range of science and education topics including disaster preparedness, K-12 education including science education, homeland security); (2) Nine college and university departments in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area; (3) Representatives from eight federal research agencies; and (4) Four nonprofit social science research organizations. (The federal agency programs represented were the National Center for Education Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute of Justice, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Science Foundation, Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Also represented were the Consortium of Social Science Associations, the National Academies, the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, and the DC Sociological Society.)

In Service to the Government

In addition to celebrating 100 years of sociology, the reception was a reminder to federal policymakers and the congressional audience of sociology’s relevance to Americans’ lives and well-being.

ASA President Cynthia Epstein and Executive Officer Sally Hillsman each spoke briefly about the ASA and the role of sociology in federal and local policy.

“We are a vibrant discipline …dedicated to the advancement of sociology as a scientific discipline and to sociology’s service on behalf of the public good,” said Hillsman. “This is an ambitious mission, but one whose success we think is well demonstrated by even a small selection of sociologists, sociology departments, and federal science programs such as those who have joined us tonight. They illustrate what our discipline can do through timely and high quality social science to serve the public and its policy makers in tackling hard problems.”

In Service to the People

Before introducing Rep. Price, Epstein said, “Never has our discipline been as challenging and engaged as we are now …. Our contributions to knowledge are finding new audiences in government, in the private sector, and among the public through the media and our educational institutions. Sociologists, like other informed Americans and policymakers, aspire to government and policy dialogue that relies on a base of reliable scientifically established evidence. So, our purpose tonight is to celebrate our centennial and to sample some of the notable achievements of sociological research that are policy-relevant. Such research can help government and the public inform their policy debates, and provide information that can help us understand how public policy can be more effectively implemented.”

Adorning the Rayburn House Office Building banquet room were the 11 large, colorful ASA centennial banners depicting ASA’s history in the context of the last 100 years of U.S. history. In addition to the poster displays, attendees enjoyed good food and drink, the speeches by Members of congress, and made new connections with other researchers and made valuable congressional contacts.

Rep. Kennedy, who recently proposed national disaster-preparedness legislation, the Ready, Willing, and Able Act (see page 3 of this issue or the ASA website at
), which was informed by sociological research, remarked, “The American Sociological Association has been successful not only by promoting the vitality, visibility, and diversity of sociology, but also by informing the general public, as well as national and international leaders, about human behavior, social dynamics, and the resilience of humanity.”

“May sociology’s significance for the public and its leaders continue throughout the 21st century and to its second centennial,” concluded Hillsman.