Here is a personal anecdote about how SPME has promoted relevant scholarship.
In August 2006, in the wake of the Lebanon war, I was preparing for an outcry on the Columbia campus at the start of the fall semester. As Columbia SPME chapter coordinator, I asked my colleagues for ideas, and one suggested that I get Yuval Neria to speak at an SPME chapter meeting. Dr. Neria is a psychologist on the faculty of the Departments of Psychiatry and Epidemiology at Columbia. He is an Israeli who joined the IDF at age 18 and fought in the Yom Kippur War and the 1982 Lebanon war. He was injured in the Yom Kippur War and was awarded the Medal of Valor, the highest Israeli military honor. He is also a co-founder of Peace Now. His research focuses on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, more generally, the effects of exposure to traumatic events on mental health, especially among war veterans and survivors of disasters and terrorism.
He had actually been in Israel during the recent Lebanon war. It was clear when he spoke that he was not hardened by his experiences but fully aware of the horrors of war and yet realistic about the need to fight.
In early 2008, Daniel Greenberg of the Israeli Consulate in New York asked if I could arrange for two professors from Sapir College, Uri Bibi and Ruth Eitan to speak at Columbia. Because they were presenting their research findings, I thought they should have departmental sponsorship rather than SPME sponsorship. I therefore asked Dr. Neria if he could arrange for them to speak at Columbia with the Department of Psychiatry as the sponsor, and he did.
The two professors had done a study of attitudes in Israel about what the people in Sderot and vicinity were going through. The survey revealed the well-known snobbishness of Ashkenazim and Tel Aviv people toward the people of southern Israel. The professors talked about the demographics of Sderot and Sapir, where relatively recent immigrants have been settled by the Israeli government. The people there never bought into the myth of the heroic sabra with a hoe in one hand and a rifle in the other. All they wanted was to live nice normal lives. The professors also presented some demographic background on Sapir College, where many of the students are the first in their family to go to college. The professors showed a short film depicting life at Sapir and the way college life went on with daily interruptions due to the bombardment. It was impressive. The professors said that a lot of people had moved out of Sderot and vicinity because of the missiles, but that the students were not dropping out or transferring. After the presentations, Drs. Neria and Eitan discussed doing some studies of PTSD together. A week or so after the presentations, a student was killed by a Qassam in the parking lot of Sapir. I spoke to Yuval, who told me Dr. Eitan had been in the parking lot a few feet away from the student when it happened.
As a result of contacts he made through Drs. Eitan and Bibi, he collaborated with another professor at Sapir College, Avi Besser. They have produced two publications: PTSD symptoms, satisfaction with life, and prejudicial attitudes toward the adversary among Israeli civilians exposed to ongoing missile attacks, published in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress, and, with Columbia colleague Maggie Haynes, Adult Attachment, perceived stress, and PTSD among civilians exposed to ongoing terrorist attacks in Southern Israel, published in the September 2009 issue of Personality and Individual Differences. Both articles are based on surveys conducted among residents of the Sderot area, which has been exposed to missile attacks from Gaza for years, and residents of the Eilat area, who have not had that exposure. Both studies found strong associations between exposure to missile attacks and debilitating effects on mental health. These findings are important in themselves because they document the effects of Palestinian aggression, which are too readily dismissed because “only” 20 people have been killed by missiles from Gaza. They are also important to SPME because they result from connections to which SPME contributed.