The release of the Hoffman Report sparked great concern, confusion, regret, and anger among the members and leaders of Division 51 (Society of the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity). Like our colleagues in other Divisions, many of us read this report with dismay over how inaction, power, and manipulation led to the APA’s role in the torture of detainees. Before releasing this official statement, we have taken time to learn more from the leadership of the American Psychological Association (APA), other Divisions, and from conversations with our own members at the annual Convention of the APA. At the Convention, the Division’s leadership devoted time at our Division town hall and our open Executive meeting to process our understanding and reactions to the findings of the Hoffman Report. The current statement aims to be inclusive, transparent, and forward-thinking and to reflect the strongly-held sentiments that our members shared with us over the past few weeks. This statement was authored and reviewed by a select committee of Division leaders, ranging from student to past-president; it was also circulated among all our members who provided additional feedback. The final statement was approved by our Executive Committee and Members-at-Large.
The Hoffman Report alleges that the APA colluded with the U.S. government to create loose ethical guidelines that would not constrain the Pentagon in post-9/11 interrogation methods that are cruel, inhumane, and degrading. In discussing this report our members expressed concern with the processes that led to this collusion and the inability of APA leaders to recognize and address conflicts of interest. But members expressed even stronger feelings about the treatment of the true victims of this process of collusion: the detainees who were subjected to torture. As a Division committed to the welfare of all people and the reduction of violence, we were as troubled by the processes that shaped policy as we were by APA’s implicit involvement in practices that led to people who, without due process, were profiled based on race, ethnicity, gender, and religious affiliation, detained and subjected to practices that cause physical and psychological harm.
Our members discussed how abuses of power and unexamined privilege contributed to a climate in which decisions were made by individuals within APA’s central office and elected leadership. We also examined the structural level processes (interpersonal and cultural level dynamics) within APA that all contributed to a climate in which decisions were made by APA’s leadership to circumvent codified procedures, and in which individuals and groups with dissenting views were marginalized and rendered problematic.
The Hoffman Report also forced our Division’s leadership to engage in the difficult process of self-examination. Our members continue to confront and have challenging dialogue regarding the role of Dr. Ronald Levant, a founding member, past-President, and current Council Representative of the Division, who as President of APA in 2005, was named in the Hoffman Report. Some of our members struggle with the past role of Dr. Levant in the Hoffman Report and his subsequent responses. Other members expressed regret over our own individual and Division-level lack of involvement and support in the calls to address problematic practices in APA governance.
We know that APA and its Divisions must be better stewards of the public trust moving forward. This work will be challenging. Although APA must engage in change to practices and policies, we believe that the culture within APA and perhaps within each Division, including our own, must be examined. In calling for better governance policy and practices within APA, we also recognize that as a Division we also must do the same to build trust within our own membership to encourage discourse.
Although painful, the process of dialogue shed light not only on perceptions of APA but on our Division’s practices. We recognize the need for our own Division to more actively promote civility and reflective practice, develop processes that are more transparent, include multiple voices, and to engage in steps to regain trust that has been lost among the public at large and within racial and ethnic minority communities. As a Division, we will strive to:
Be inclusive by openly inviting and supporting discussion of dissenting views during executive meetings, business meetings, retreats, and conversations on electronic platforms (i.e., listserv, social media);
Actively encourage feedback on our processes and decisions through greater transparency and member-involvement;
Engage Early Career Professionals and students from diverse backgrounds through more active dialogue, mentoring, and participation in Division governance, task forces, and Special Interest Groups, so that their voices are heard and not silenced;
Critically examine our leadership’s understanding and expression of privilege, particularly as it relates to different dimensions of diversity (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender variance);
Nurture leaders who engage in inclusive, ethical, and reflective practices;
Attend to power differentials when soliciting feedback from students and Early Career Professionals on Division business;
Support Dr. Ronald Levant’s (current Council Representative of our Division) efforts of self-reflection while also providing critical feedback of his leadership style and role as he works to regain trust with members of the Division, including his dialogue with students and Early Career Professionals; and
Continue to support our member’s challenges to existing practices that privilege the voices and experiences of some groups over those of others.
Division 51 is encouraged by the recent policy-level changes at the American Psychological Association. The affirmation of human rights as a core value and the vote to end participation of psychologists in torture are critical to reform and reconciliation. We also support the Association’s call for a change in climate. In addition, we call on the APA to:
Revisit the issue of representation (with a vote) on Council to ethnic minority psychological associations (Association of Black Psychologists, Society of Indian Psychologists, National Latina/o Psychological Association, Asian American Psychological Association, Middle Eastern/North African Psychological Network) to help to further restore public trust and to encourage divergent perspectives;
Develop mechanisms for Early Career Psychologists and students to engage in governance;
Ensure that voices from the Divisions of Social Justice are not marginalized;
Avoid practices that limit member participation in governance, particularly students and Early Career Psychologists;
More effectively encourage participation of its members in its decision-making processes;
Challenge individuals who use arguments that demean others, bully, or who otherwise abuse their power and leadership roles; and
Conduct a thorough audit to further examine ethics and justice in APA leadership, policy, and practices.
Psychologists must not only increase voice and transparency within our organization (Division and APA) but allow the voices of non-psychologists, particularly those most affected by our policies, to be heard. In pursuing social justice, the voices of communities and individuals must be as strong as the voices of policy makers. We encourage psychologists to:
Engage in participatory action research in creating policies that impact the public;
Extend representation on the Council to representative non-psychologists;
Ask APA to extend voting privileges on Council to ethnic minority psychological associations; and
Develop public outlets (online, town halls) for non-psychologists to provide feedback on our policies.
Adopted by the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity September 17, 2015.
Christopher T. H. Liang, PhD
Jonathan Schwartz, PhD
Marina Epstein, PhD
Bryana French, PhD
Michael Parent, PhD
Carin Molenaar, MEd
Download a copy of the statement: OfficialResponsetotheHoffmanReportofDivision51_formatted