PRESIDENT LETTER BLOG
This blog contains an archive of "Greetings from the President" that appeared since January 2020 on the STP home page and in STP News. To view letters from STP Presidents from 2016 through 2019, click here.
I’ve discovered that I am a pretty horrible blogger. Instead of throwing my thoughts out into the marketplace of cyberideas, I overedit myself to the point of irrelevance. I’ve found that I’m too careful a writer to be good at posting frequent, insightful posts. Kudos to those of you out there who put out great posts with more frequency than I can usually manage.
Case in point: I’ve been working on this post for over a month! One of my presidential initiatives in 2020 is to explore – and hopefully implement – ways to diversify our Society’s membership. I am clearly not alone in this goal. Last January, I went to an APA-sponsored leadership retreat for incoming division leaders, and it seemed as though most, if not all, of the other divisions represented had the same goal. Some divisions were approaching their diversification efforts to attract younger/early career folks, and others were exploring attracting more diverse gender and race/ethnic representation. Diversity, widely defined, seems to be a recognized value for most of APA right now.
My struggle with this post is that I have been wrestling for some time now about how to use the word “diversity.” When I worked for a large, metropolitan school district in Alabama, we would talk about our “diverse” schools, but we were not really referring to those schools that had real diversity. The district has schools that range from 99% White to 99% Black, with almost every demographic breakdown in between. The 99% White school and the 99% Black school had the same problem – they were each not “diverse” in the true sense of the word. Yet, we spoke of the 99% Black school as our “diverse” school. We never referred to the majority White school as diverse. Using the word “diversity” in this way upholds a majority normative standard, and I don’t want to perpetuate that standard in my work. I’m working on better ways to talk about these issues.
Diversification efforts have been a goal for organizations like ours for a long time, yet we haven’t made the progress we all say we want. The psychology student population has been decidedly diverse for more than a decade, yet only 17% of psychology faculty identify as racial/ethnic minorities (APA Center for Workforce Studies, 2019). While women make up 56% of psychology faculty, women have outnumbered men in psychology graduate programs three to one for more than a decade (also from APA CWS). If we’ve been working on diversifying for this long, we should really be more frustrated that we haven’t figured out how to do it better than we do it. I know I have felt such frustration.
Often, diversity efforts become more about moving the metrics than truly creating spaces. Diversity efforts that merely move the metrics play diversity as a zero-sum game where room is made for some at the expense of others. Viewing diversity as a numbers game may explain why attempts generally fail to live up to the hype. If the spaces that we open up aren’t welcoming or empowering or supportive, the new people won’t stay in those spaces for very long. People who have been pushed out or aside to make the numbers work become resentful and often sabotage the work that’s been done.
In membership organizations like ours, we don’t have a finite number of membership slots to give out. We don’t have to push anyone aside or out the door to make room for new people. There aren’t a limited number of teaching ideas or resources to be had. We are only limited by our members’ capacity for ideas and work; if we need a bigger table to seat us all, let’s build it.
I am working with our membership and diversity committee chairs (Rita Obeid and Teceta Tormala) and their respective STP VPs (Meera Komarraju and Kelley Haynes-Mendez) for the last few months to discuss how to make room in STP. We are discussing not only ways to recruit new members, but also how to develop programming and resources people need. We are considering diversity needs related to where and who people teach. We are considering what people who teach about diversity need. We want to create spaces that allow people to be intersectional, affiliating with STP in all the ways they choose to identify. We are considering the types of funding the efforts will need. There is so much to consider to make sure the spaces are open, welcoming, empowering, and supportive.
I want to hear your thoughts about diversity in general and how to diversify what we do and who we serve in STP. Here’s a Google form to collect your thoughts.
Some questions asked include:
As always, comments are confidential. I will do my best to respond personally to anyone who provides contact information.
Thanks for this opportunity to serve you and your students.
Amy C. Fineburg, Ph.D.
STP President - 2020
As President of STP this year, my focus will be on exploring how well we are serving our members and psychology teaching and learning. As I think about these things, I am struck by how people affiliate with STP and whether that affiliation says something about the value of STP to psychology teachers and instructors. I wonder whether we as a Society are reaching anyone and everyone who teaches psychology, or if we are just reaching people who teach in certain contexts or from certain professional backgrounds. I wonder if what we are offering is compelling enough for people to identify with us in formal, overt ways (like paying for membership or volunteering to serve on committees). I think the act of formally joining a group like ours depends on many factors, not the least of which is how people choose to identify themselves professionally.
How I identify myself personally is something I get to think about often. When I got remarried in 2017, I didn’t legally change my name. For one, changing one’s name is a real hassle. For another, my husband is “Dr. Meadows,” and now my stepson is “Dr. Meadows,” so I didn’t think Birmingham was big enough for three “Dr. Meadowses.” And for another, my first married name is the one my children have, so I decided to retain my affiliation with them. My current husband and I just happily use our full names when we introduce each other to people, hoping to keep people from addressing me as “Dr. Meadows” and him as “Mr. Fineburg.”
But I did add my husband’s name to my Facebook profile name. I did the “Facebook-official” name change as a part of my exuberance over marrying my current husband, but it has created confusion with my Facebook friends. When they see me in real life, they stutter through what to call me, often referencing Facebook as the source of their confusion. Of course, now that the Facebook-official name change is there, I can’t go in and change it without people thinking something is terribly wrong with my current marriage. So, I live in real life with my legal name and in cyberlife with my husband’s name.
How does all this identity talk relate to STP? Consider this – we have over 10,000 people who are connected to our STP Facebook page. That’s over 10,000 people who, at some point, joined us in cyberlife. The act of joining a Facebook group, though, doesn’t involve paying a membership fee, so it’s a relatively low commitment to make compared to joining an organization formally. It’s an affiliation that matters, and the contributions people make to our Facebook group are vibrant and active. Yet, we only have a little over 3000 paid members in real life. It seems that around 7000 people see something valuable enough to affiliate with us on Facebook, but not enough to pay the $25 membership fee to join us formally. Our Society is experiencing a similar type of identity disconnect that I experience – we have one group identity in real life, but a different one in cyberlife.
We need to ask ourselves why this disconnect happens and what we can do to make joining us more attractive. Much of my focus this year is to explore why this disconnect exists. Is it too much of a hassle to join us in real life? Is what we offer in real life as vibrant as what people can get for free on Facebook? Do people feel there is space for them in STP in real life?
As I work with the Executive Committee to tackle these questions, I ask you to think about your identity as a psychology educator and how STP fits in. What do you hope your students gain from learning psychology from you? What do you need from STP to accomplish your psychology teaching and learning goals? What do you need from a professional network of psychology educators to improve your teaching life? Where and how do you need your voice to be heard in STP? What would you like to share with other members of STP?
Share your thoughts with me (confidentially, of course) by completing this online form.
Happy Anniversary, Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP)! In 2020, STP turns 75 years old, and I am honored and excited to serve as the Society’s President for this historic year. STP was one of the original 19 divisions inaugurated by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1945. In 2020, we will celebrate on our website, www.teachpsych.org, at the various conferences with STP-sponsored and STP-supported programming, and at our Annual Conference on Teaching (ACT) in Pittsburgh, PA, in October. Bill Hill, our Society’s archivist, is working on updating our history to reflect more recent events and milestones, and Jordan Troisi, who directs ACT, is working with me and the Executive Committee to incorporate some special events and recognitions. I’m excited to spend some time in 2020 to reflect on where we’ve been.
I hope that we can also take time to dream about our future. We need to ask what resources, programming, and grants are missing or what can be implemented better. We need to engage more people in conversations about what good teaching of psychology looks like in practice. We need to encourage more people to implement the scholarship of teaching and learning so we can be more confident that what we are sharing is effective. We need to gather and encourage more diverse voices. We need to foster graduate and early career teachers through training, mentoring, and partnering. Leaders and members throughout STP’s history have done so much to get us where we are now—financially healthy, respected, and generous with our work. Current and future leaders and members can both continue that legacy and chart a new path for STP that takes us farther than any of us can imagine.
My presidential initiatives for 2020 look to expand STP’s work to emerging and underrepresented groups. I am working with our Graduate Student Teaching Association to reorganize that group and develop a suite of training and mentoring opportunities for graduate students and faculty who work with them. According to APA’s Center for Workforce Studies, “one in five psychologists with a research doctorate primarily work as college or university professors,” with “35% of research and experimental psychology doctorate holders reporting themselves as postsecondary teachers in a science field” (retrieved from www.apa.or/monitor/2019/07-08/datapoint). We know that people in most doctoral programs often get minimal instruction or mentoring in how to teach well, yet they will likely get a job postdegree that involves at least some teaching. We as a Society are well positioned to offer in-person and virtual training and support, and our members have expertise, skill, and willingness to work with graduate and early career psychology teachers. I’m looking forward to crystallizing this work as the year progresses.
I am also working with our Membership and Diversity Committees to create meaningful spaces for underrepresented teachers in our Society’s structure. Our Society welcomes all teachers, from high school psychology teachers to graduate supervisors. Yet, our membership is skewed in many categories, from race/ethnicity to age to region of the country people live and work in to level of student taught. My personal goal is to work to create spaces for people who teach in different contexts to serve and lead the Society into the next 75 years. I want people who teach in high schools, community colleges, predominantly White institutions, historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, parochial schools, and any other context to feel as though they have a home in STP. With more than 3,000 members, we can capitalize on our size to create spaces for people who teach in certain contexts to network and join together to develop resources, programming, and grant programs that serve people who teach in those contexts. Often, good teaching is good teaching, regardless of context or student. Yet, more often than not, what works in one context doesn’t always translate to other ones. STP’s members have the expertise and skill to explore when and how practices translate and when they do not. By creating places where people can network and collaborate, STP can foster the type of scholarship about teaching and learning that will help not only our members but all teachers everywhere. What a gift we could give to the world!
Our Society offers members not only the opportunity to explore ways to teach psychology better, but we offer members the ability to use psychology to teach psychology. Even if your area of expertise isn’t teaching and learning, at some point along your professional journey, you’ve learned about how people think and learn. While you may be teaching intro psychology, neuropsychology, geropsychology, or history of psychology, you can apply theories of learning and thinking and memory in your classes, helping students learn the content and, with purposeful planning, learn it better. My hope is that with every meeting or conference, psychology teachers, instructors, and professors can gather to share practices that make learning psychology better.
We have made a difference in our first 75 years. We offer a growing annual conference focused on teaching psychology each year. We offer over 10 different award and grant programs that recognize excellence in teaching and provide support to develop high-quality resources and programming. We support speakers and programming at regional psychological association and disciplinary conferences. We publish e-books and host social media accounts that boast thousands of members and followers. We will spend this next year celebrating those accomplishments and more. What will we accomplish next? What new doors will we open? What useful opportunities will we create? I’m excited to see what STP’s future holds.
Happy Diamond Anniversary, STP…can’t wait to see what you do with the next 75 years!
Amy C. Fineburg
First published online October 31, 2019 in Teaching of Psychology: https://doi.org/10.1177/0098628319884488