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.
In August of 2019, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones spearheaded a special issue of the New York Times Magazine entitled The 1619 Project, "a commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative." The magazine showcased historians, writers, and artists to reflect on the impact slavery has had on the American – and the African American – consciousness. As Ibram X. Kendi points out in his book How to Be an Antiracist, racism didn’t start with the arrival of 20 or so Angolans on a Virginia beach. A Portuguese scholar invented a hierarchy of skin color conflated with generalized personal qualities to honor his patron, Prince Henry the Navigator (who, incidentally, never really navigated himself outside of Portugal). This invention not only took hold as justification for chattel slavery of Black people, it persists as justification for continued personal and societal racism long after slavery-as-America-has-known-it was legally abolished.
Once again, the United States is confronting its racism. Social media, for good and for ill, is amplifying the tragedies of the day and the responses to them. We have watched people being killed. We have watched protesters march. We have watched anger being displayed. We have watched monuments come down. We have watched all of it in real time. Social media is allowing us to replay events on demand, unlike how those before us were able to consume the news of the day. It is exposing even more brightly the consequences of racism for all to see. Non-White people have been telling about the effects of racism all along, though.
I hope people listen. I hope people listen to Black and Brown voices about what needs to be done. I hope people act on what needs to be done. I hope psychologists continue to tease out the mechanisms of racism so we can more effectively combat it in our society and in ourselves. I hope we all continue the long march toward freedom and equity.
For those of you who identify as a psychology teacher of color, I hope you are receiving the care and support you need in these traumatizing times. For those of you who teach students of color, I hope you are finding words and actions that care for and support your students in these traumatizing times. For those of you who do not identify as a psychology teacher of color, I hope you are listening and following the guidance of Black and Brown colleagues and friends who want you as an ally and advocate.
As we journey onward, I am asking what the Society for the Teaching of Psychology can do to move us all along the path toward freedom and equity. How can we as teachers be antiracist? How can we teach students to be antiracist? What do teachers need to be better at identifying and responding to racism? What can we as teachers do to help the discipline of psychology be a more inclusive science? I have written before about my presidential initiative to diversify our membership, and a task force is working this year to develop a process for becoming a more inclusive Society. An inclusive STP, though, is only as effective as the people who participate. I hope you bring your voice, expertise, and skills – and listen to the voices, expertise, and skills of others – to help continue building an STP that helps all teachers of psychology gives psychology away to all students.
Take care, fellow teachers.
Amy C. Fineburg, PhD
Welcome to May, which in my world doesn’t look like it will be much different than April. So, let’s call this season “Maypril.” Whether we get to have a distinct June, July, and August will depend on how well this reopening experiment goes. I’m in one of the experimental groups here in Alabama, but we’re getting a lower dose of the IV than our neighbors in Georgia…
Since the beginning of our isolation responses to this pandemic, people have been waxing philosophic about what might change as a result of our current “normal.” People have been predicting all sorts of societal improvements like a reversing of global climate change, the end of racism, more people getting exercise, a rejection of constant technology dependence, and more man buns. Consider that pollution seems to be clearing up in many places, gas prices are ridiculously low, and my husband’s hair is getting pretty long. Unfortunately, racism still seems alive and well, and my 8-year-old son lives for his 2 hours of entertainment screen time each day. Some things look like they are changing while others remain the same – which is pretty much the same as things have always been, come to think of it.
I think about how other momentous events in my lifetime have changed me and the world around me. I remember watching the Challenger launch live at school in 1986. Afterwards, we rarely watched live events in school. I remember being a new high school teacher the year of the Columbine tragedy. Afterwards, I would make plans in my head for how I could protect my students from an active shooter. I watched the 9-11 attacks unfold in real time. Afterwards, traveling by plane hasn’t been the same. COVID19 has thrown us all for a loop, and, on some levels, we will be forever changed because of it. For a long while, we might be wary of close contact with strangers. We might look askance at people coughing in public. We might be frustrated with people not wearing masks in public.
What will change about teaching and learning? Will more teachers be incorporating good practices in distance/online learning? Will teachers discuss what content or assignments to prioritize in case more closings happen? Will our grading practices and deadlines be better at considering student life circumstances? Will we balance work and life better?
We teach psychology, so we know that, in all likelihood, people will drift back to habits and preferences from before the pandemic faster than the predictions hope. We have spent – and probably will spend – a long time under these cautious conditions, and new habits surely will form. We might eat in more. We might spend more time talking to each other. We might do better at distance learning in the future. We might keep the daily walk ritual going. We will also get manicures and haircuts. We will eat out and shop in stores again. Our children will play with other children again.
I encourage you during this extraordinary season to reflect on what you want to return to and what you want to be different. What for you has been precious about this time? What has been unmanageable? What will you hope to regain? What will you never return to? Connect with me on our STP Facebook page and on Twitter (just tag me - @afineburg in your @teachpsych tweet) to share your visions of our future as people and as teachers of psychology.
Here’s hoping our post-COVID world learns lessons from pre- and thru-COVID that leave us better than before.
I hope that you are finding some semblance of rhythm in this uncertain time. I hope that you and yours are healthy, and if not, that you are able to find effective healthcare. I hope your online teaching and communications platform is working. I hope that you are finding joy seeing your students’ faces from time to time. I hope that your children are finding new and fun ways to play and learn. I hope your pets are loving every minute of you being home more. I hope that your cooking is better than mine. And if none of these things are happening for you, I hope you can reach out to someone in this community or another one near you for help. Even though we must maintain distance, we are not alone.
The Executive Committee met virtually on March 28, and we were able to get some important work done for the Society. Some of what we do in the spring meeting is to review what we did last year. We had a great 2019 under Rick Miller’s presidential leadership:
For 2020, we are planning some 75th anniversary celebrations at ACT (again, hope springs eternal for a conference this fall), and I will be formalizing work I’ve been doing with our Membership and Diversity Committees on further diversifying STP’s membership and work. Susan Nolan, our President-Elect, shared her vision for 2021, and I’m excited for you to hear more from her in the fall on what she has in store for STP.
While things feel cruel right now, there is goodness going on. People are helping each other. Pet photos are being shared. Silly things that kids say are making the rounds. John Krasinski (of The Office and Jack Ryan and Emily Blunt’s husband fame) shared Some Good News. We found some toilet paper in a store last week. Small victories in trying times are beacons of light in the darkness. Our STP community is a light in my world. Thanks to you all for your generosity and solidarity.
See you this fall, I hope.
STP President 2020
Hello, my heroes! I have been completely impressed and humbled by the generosity of our teaching psychology community in the wake of this extraordinary time dealing with COVID-19. As this virus – such a tiny little thing – has such a big impact on everyone, I have seen so many ways that our community has reached out to be “all in” with helping everyone move to online or home learning.
The Facebook group has grown as people recognize the quality of the resources being shared there in the spirit of doing what is right for students. So many individual members – more than I can recognize specifically here – have given their time and expertise publicly and privately over the last couple of weeks to help those who are shifting to a totally new (to them) platform of teaching. I thank everyone so much for making that group a part of the “helper” community. Shout out to Lyra Stein, Chair of our Member Communication Committee and her colleagues on the committee for managing it so well!
It feels like STP has been preparing unknowingly for this kind of thing for a while now – we have people who not only teach online regularly but engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning about online teaching. Our members know how to set up and deliver instruction online, and we know some of the conditions and practices under which it works best. We all recognize that things will not all go smoothly as we go to full online instruction at our institutions, but we can feel confident that people are nearby (both physically and virtually) to lend a hand when things feel wrong. I am so proud to be a part of such an outstanding community!
Our Spring 2020 STP Executive Committee meeting, scheduled for March 27-29 in my city Birmingham, Alabama, has been canceled. We are working as a group to find time to meet virtually. Like many of us who are grieving missed opportunities and experiences, I am heartbroken not to be able to share my city with our fabulous EC. STP sponsors so many programs that involve travel and support for conferences, and we are so sad that people who were supported by our various programs and grants cannot use them this spring and early summer. The EC has voted on a set of policies regarding deferring awards and grants that hopefully will fulfill those in the coming year. If you have incurred travel expenses that were to be funded by STP, please review our new policiesso we can work with you on those expenses.
I truly hope that we can work together as a larger community to do our part to flatten the curve with this virus so that we can get back to meeting and learning together in person. Virtual meetings and learning certainly have their charm. As an introvert who works from home already and likes her personal space, I can’t say I’m struggling with social isolation and distance. But I do look forward to reducing the social distance I need to keep from other people and seeing y’all face-to-face, especially y’all in my cherished STP family.
Be safe and well with you and yours. Reach out when you need. Help where you can. We will persist!
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