From acceptance to integration

The proclamation, "APAGS is the future of psychology," coupled with distinctively wide grins and exaggerated head-nodding, was once the customary greeting most American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) committee members received from audiences of APA leaders. Admittedly, this salutation required a bit of getting used to on my part. I wondered if there was a conspiracy among those spectators to convey an unquestionably clear message of acceptance and support of APAGS.

Their plot, both well-intentioned and slightly strange, was successful in communicating their unconditional approval of APAGS. Increasing confidence in the work, abilities, potential and mission of APAGS enables us to accomplish remarkable tasks with very limited human and fiscal resources. With membership reaching over 48,000, APAGS accounts for nearly a third of APA membership, and 75 percent of our members are female. Not only are we the largest APA constituency, but we are the only group that is completely self-supporting. What APAGS receives from student affiliate dues pays overhead costs and staff salaries, and our committee allocates the remaining money to programming that directly benefits students.

The scope of what we do

Sub-committees address the needs of students with disabilities, lesbian/gay/ bisexual student concerns, new professionals issues and ethnic-minority students. Another subcommittee focuses on state/federal psychology legislation and coordinates a grassroots network of 300 campus representatives nationwide. Annually, we sponsor 23 hours of programming at the APA's Annual Convention, offer student and faculty/mentor scholarships and awards, organize five to nine regional multicultural events, publish a quarterly newsletter, manage a Web page and create printed resources featuring topics such as internship tips, advocacy training, prescription privileges information and guidance on a host of diversity-related subjects. We also represent the needs of practice, science, education and public policy. Working closely with several key APA boards and committees allows us to advocate on behalf of students. It may be surprising to learn that we orchestrate and complete all of this work with only nine elected and five appointed committee members.

Proudly, our 14-member committee represents diversity in gender, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation. It is encouraging and empowering to know that several groups make important profession-wide decisions only after inviting and seriously considering APAGS perspectives--evidence that we have reached a critical developmental juncture. Our hard-won acceptance magnifies our student voice, allows us to be heard and has already resulted in substantive change. We understand that wise and informed decisions need to be made now because the trajectory of our profession is at stake.

Our priorities

Broadly, APAGS has three main priorities. Professional development is primary. Cultivating leadership skills and activism in every student is our commitment. Fresh ideas may be precisely what psychology needs in these days of uncertainty and struggle. Excluding students from active leadership participation breeds dependence, blind conformity, passivity, immobility and perpetual silencing of difference--the antithesis of leadership. Learning from and honoring the rich history and established leadership practices of psychology, while fostering new ways of thinking and acting, will propel us toward a better psychology for all.

Our second priority is to robustly advocate for women and historically disenfranchised groups. Psychology has not been immune to the biases and prejudices that have plagued all disciplines, resulting in limited opportunities for women, people of color, those with disabilities and lesbian/gay/bisexual individuals. Our current systems, although improved, continue to prevent advancement for these groups and deflect responsibility for change. These unequal advantages hurt our field, which is currently preparing cohorts of more diverse, largely female, psychologists.

Executing and protecting a respectful interdependency between science and practice is APAGS's third priority. Students are not interested in furthering the distinctions that have fueled discontent between sub-fields. We prefer to focus our energies on collaborations. Our discipline's future depends on creative forecasting and active leadership. The idiom of acceptance for APAGS has shifted from smiling and head- nodding to enlisting our participation for crucial decisions, as well as our integration into a culture of leadership. APAGS greetings have transformed into a cordial "hello," simply to launch a pointed discussion about how "APAGS is the future of psychology." Acceptance has advanced to integration and this can only be positive for psychology. To learn more about APAGS, visit our Web site.

Carol Williams is a PsyD candidate at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas. She is completing her internship at the University of Notre Dame Counseling Center.