From February 17th-20th, I attended my first APA Council of Representatives (COR) meeting in Washington, DC with the other SPSSI Representative, Allen Omoto. Rather than focus on the business completed at APA Council we have reported elsewhere, I thought it appropriate for this column to be a more personal reflection of the meeting as a way for SPSSI members to get to know me and to acquaint members unfamiliar with APA governance with information on the Council of Representatives.
I had more than a little trepidation walking into my first orientation meeting on Thursday afternoon. Prior to the meeting, I was inundated with emails and packets of information about the structure, function, and agenda of the Council. In addition, I was very conscious of the great job that prior SPSSI members have done representing Division 9. Thus, I arrived in DC feeling a bit overwhelmed with the tasks ahead. Thankfully, there were a couple of key things that made me feel more comfortable from the moment I arrived at the first session.
The APA COR has recently begun both a mentoring program for new Representatives and a series of orientation sessions. In my opinion, both of these programs were invaluable. Prior to arriving in DC, I was asked to choose a mentor, and to my delight Meg Bond agreed to be my mentor. Currently Meg is the representing Division 27 (Society for Community Research and Action: Division of Community Psychology)but many of you will also recognize Meg as a fellow SPSSI member. Allen Omoto also agreed to be a mentor for another incoming new COR member, Susan Clayton (who is currently representing Division 34: Society for Environmental, Population and Conservation Psychology), but who is also another SPSSI member. The APA staff seats new members with their mentors, and so I was able to sit with (and learn from) two mentors (Meg and Allen)—as well as have another new (although already seasoned) Council member to go through the process with (Susan). In addition, one of the APA’s governance committees, the Committee on the Structure and Function of Council, held two orientation sessions and one reception for new Council members. These meetings were great as far as getting to know other members, as well as learning more about how COR works.
One of the first things that I noticed was how warm and friendly everyone was. I found that people went out of their way to talk to each other and especially to make the new Council members feel welcome. Although there are clearly people who have shared interests and so they tend to talk to each other more, I generally found that these were not exclusive groups and that on the whole people were interested in meeting and talking with others. Despite the fact that the Council is very large (with APA staff, there were probably 200 people in the first session), by degrees, I came to know more names and faces. This was due in great part to the fact that my co-SPSSI Rep, Allen, did an excellent job introducing me to people. In addition, there were also multiple opportunities to get to know people in smaller settings (orientation meetings, receptions, etc), and this added to my ability to get to talk with other members.
Because of the size of the Council, a number of Caucuses were formed to help people with similar interests discuss items on the agenda. I attended several Caucus meetings (including the Women’s Caucus, Public Interest Caucus, and the Coalition for Academic, Scientific and Applied-research Psychology), and although I had been told about the Caucuses prior to the meeting, I do not know that I fully understood their importance until I saw them in action. It was clear to me how these groups use their time together to discuss current items of interest, to work on future agenda items, to inform members of candidates running for various positions within APA, and to network. I also attended a lunchtime meeting of the Divisions for Social Justice, which is somewhat less formal than a Caucus but which functions similarly to Caucuses. Watching these groups in action made it clear how vital they are in both informing and mobilizing their members, as well as how they can be utilized to build coalitions around agenda items.
Taking all of this together, I am left with several lasting impressions from my first APA COR meeting. First, it is clear that the staff at APA work very hard on behalf of the members. Every staff person was cheerful, helpful, and well-informed. As a group, they were very impressive. Second, I learned that although it is easy to be intimidated by the size and prestige of the COR, I found that people were very nice, genuinely interested in meeting other Representatives, and on doing good work on behalf of the organization. Finally, it is clear that SPSSI is well-regarded among APA staff and other representatives. I went into the meeting feeling a strong desire to live up to the legacy of previous COR representatives, and I left the meeting feeling that although I still have a lot to learn, I am very much looking forward to continuing the important legacy of SPSSI at APA. Since I am representing SPSSI members and the interests of SPSSI at APA, I invite members to feel free to contact me with their comments, questions or concerns.