Past President Setha Low

AAA President Setha LowSetha Low
AAA President

It has been an honor to serve as president of AAA for the last two years, and I thank you for the opportunity to help the AAA develop into a more publicly engaged organization. I have worked with the Executive Board (EB) to lead the association into the future and have kept our finances, annual meeting, publications and other membership benefits on track, while also promoting greater inclusion, transparency and democracy in our institutional practices. I’d like to especially thank Virginia Dominguez, the EB and AAA staff for their hard work and dedication, which made this all possible.

Perhaps the biggest change to occur during my term has been the restructuring of the Section Assembly (SA) and its participation in AAA governance. The relationship between the SA and Executive Board is vital, and we’ve worked together to give the SA a larger role in the EB. A new seat for the SA convenor was established, and this spring association-wide elections will include candidates running for two EB seats that are specifically slated for SA representatives, just as we have other seats intended to represent different segments of anthropology. Incorporating two SA seats into the EB will serve to strengthen the association by giving members more representation.

The past two years have also been dedicated to rethinking elements of the AAA Code of Ethics. We created a more democratic process for revising the code that includes consultation and collaboration with AAA sections, commissions, committees and members. The first revision stage concluded with a vote and member-wide approval. Though the complete revision is an ongoing process, and members continue to have passionate debates about it, I am confident that there is a fair and equitable process in place for everyone’s voice to be heard.  This debate strengthens the association as we work together to find common ground for undertaking ethically informed anthropological research and practice.

Ensuring a democratic process is important in other aspects of AAA governance as well. For instance, the Committee on the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing (CFPEP) has developed a new consultation process to increase editors’ involvement with changes to AnthroSource, and the Committee on Public, Applied, and Public Interest Anthropology (CoPAPIA) has undertaken a survey of anthropologists with master’s degrees to learn more about their needs and interests.

I have worked to strengthen our organizational inclusiveness and to reach out to as many anthropologists as possible. I am pleased with the creation of and work done by CoPAPIA to give greater attention to the increasing numbers of anthropologists working in a wide range of applied, NGO and governmental contexts. The AAA has also offered free AnthroSource access to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and to Tribal Colleges and Universities, and is working hard to expand access in other innovative ways. 

Inclusiveness also means reaching beyond our national interests and boundaries to an expanded vision of a globally supported, multiply constructed anthropological community, and we have begun this work through the Commission on World Anthropologies (CWA). Increasing our recognition of and participation in the development of world anthropologies as an intellectual force is a personal concern of mine. CWA has made great progress over the last two years in bringing topics such as journal translation and multidirectional knowledge exchange into our conversations and annual meeting activities. Outside the US, I have facilitated our reconnection with the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) and we’ve become active members of the World Council of Anthropological Associations (WCAA).  CWA members and I have participated in panels with our counterparts from around the world to lay the foundation for longer-term involvement. Strengthening these relationships both improves our own members’ access to and understanding of the world scene, and also situates US anthropology as an enthusiastic participant in a globally developing discipline.

In addition to developing new initiatives to promote inclusion, we also monitor ourselves to check how we’re progressing in this regard. Reports and surveys by the Commission on Race and Racism in Anthropology and the Committee on the Status of Women in Anthropology gauge important aspects of inclusiveness within our membership. If you are interested in reading these reports, both are available on the AAA website.

Throughout my tenure I’ve tried to make EB and staff decisions and new initiatives more transparent. I have contributed monthly articles to AN, reporting on international meetings, detailing EB activities, and offering advice on making the most out of the annual meeting (see www.aaanet.org/president). I occasionally sent blast emails to report on major developments and ensured that all committee and commission reports are available on the AAA website. I have also made reports to the membership at our last two annual meetings, subsequently published in AN, where I have continued to be open and comprehensive about our challenges and successes.

As I leave the presidency with a touch of sadness but also a strong sense of accomplishment, I want to welcome Virginia Dominguez, our new president, and Leith Mullings, the president-elect. I can assure you that they are already hard at work, thinking about all that needs to be done in the coming two years.

*This article was published in the December 2009 Anthropology News.

From Setha Low, AAA Past President