It shall be the purpose of the Psychology Coalition to allow people majoring, minoring, or simply interested in the field of psychology to meet and participate in psychology-related activities. The Psychology Coalition shall be dedicated to increasing members' knowledge in the field of psychology through psychology-related lectures, field trips, and other activities.
--GSU's Psychology Coalition Constitution, Section A, Article II
An invitation to join Psi Chi is an honor reserved for students who achieve academic excellence in their psychology courses as well as their nonpsychology coursework. Students inducted into Psi Chi are assumed to have an interest in the field of psychology, therefore many chapters sponsor field trips, host guest speakers, arrange or participate in regional conferences, and so forth. These activities give students the opportunity to have meaningful, psychology-related experiences which may ultimately play a significant role in students' career paths. There are other students, however, who are no less interested in the field of psychology or in having meaningful psychology-related experiences outside the classroom, but whose academic records do not make them eligible for membership in Psi Chi. If provided for, most psychology departments will create and maintain a general-interest group that might be called the Psychology Club. Membership in such a club would be based on interest alone, and perhaps the payment of annual dues.
The coexistence of a Psi Chi chapter and a Psychology Club can be cumbersome for some departments. This was the case at Georgia Southern University, a medium-sized regional university where the first author of this article was the faculty advisor to Psi Chi and the second author was the faculty advisor to the Psychology Club. In particular, a few of the problematic aspects of maintaining both groups included the following:
- Although the organizations shared some members, by and large each organization enjoyed only a few regular, active members. Students did not want to spend their limited time and monetary resources on attending and paying dues to two organizations. Consequently, the membership list of each organization was short.
- Even if the students were generally interested in holding membership in both organizations, they often were not interested in attending two psychology-related meetings usually in the late afternoon with one directly followed by the other. For this reason, student participation in the activities of each group was disappointingly low.
- Students, staff, and faculty often did not know to which club they should dedicate themselves and their energy for donating to fundraisers and projects. For example, if both groups were sponsoring holiday fundraisers, nonmembers may find themselves torn in terms of which group to support.
- Communication between organization members was often awkward and cumbersome when scheduling speakers and other activities that were of equal interest to both groups. For example, if one group wished to sponsor an out-of-town speaker that interfered with an activity or meeting time of the other group, then it was difficult to come to a mutually beneficial compromise.
There are creative and workable solutions to each of the problems raised above. Indeed, we, as faculty advisors, generated and implemented some of these solutions with the help of the student members. We asked members of the organizations to consider overlapping their meetings by 30 minutes, with Psi Chi meeting the 30 minutes prior to the combined meeting and the Psychology Club meeting afterward. The students agreed, thus solving the problem of organizing speakers, fundraisers, and other projects. However, we encountered new problems, some a bit more difficult to handle. Speakers, generally more familiar with Psi Chi as an organization, often addressed that group specifically during their presentations. Consequently, some animosity and resentment developed on the part of the Psychology Club members. In addition, money from mutually sponsored fundraisers needed to be divided between the organizations. We recommended to the students that they simply divide the money equally, but students were quick to point out that the members of one or the other organization had participated to a greater extent making an equal division of the profits unfair.
Although these problems were unique to the psychology organizations at Georgia Southern University (GSU), we (as advisors) felt that the difficulty associated with maintaining two separate groups was one that may also exist at other institutions. We thought that perhaps a better solution would be to allocate the more "academic" activities (e.g., GRE preparation workshops) to the Psi Chi chapter and the more social, general-interest activities (e.g., hosting a guest speaker) to the Psychology Club. However, ultimately we again faced the problems mentioned above as well as the cumbersome nature of maintaining and supporting the interests of two groups whose goals were far more similar than they were different.
Combining the Groups into a Single Organization
A more drastic solution to the problems associated with housing the two groups in a single department was to completely combine the Psi Chi chapter and the Psychology Club into a single organization. Given the recent animosity that had developed between the two organizations, we felt that it would also be important to create a new name for the combined group in order to give students a fresh perspective and a sense of equal ownership of the organization. The name we selected and offered to the students, "The Psychology Coalition," seemed to embody the idea of many members working together as one group. We each discussed the idea with members of our respective organizations, and the students agreed that they would like to form one entity to promote psychology among students. During our first meeting of the Psychology Coalition, we discussed what the nature of the new group would be. As a group, we decided the following:
1. Members of the Psychology Club and Psi Chi would combine into a single organization, with all members enjoying equal status.
2. The Psychology Coalition would be the active psychology student organization, with its own student officers (President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer), faculty advisor(s), and bank account. All money raised would be deposited into this account.
3. The primary officers (President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer) would represent the Coalition.
4. Psi Chi would continue to exist as an honor society; however, all student-based activities would be sponsored by the Coalition. Psi Chi inductions would be arranged and directed by a separate (Psi Chi) president and faculty advisor. The president, elected by Psi Chi members, would conduct Psi Chi business at special meetings of members (e.g., after induction meetings) or through mailings to members. The faculty advisor would facilitate Psi Chi recruitment, help with inductions and other Psi Chi business, and maintain permanent records.
After making these decisions, a constitution for the Psychology Coalition was written and filed with the university to replace the existing constitution for the Psychology Club. As the new organization ran its regularly scheduled meetings, an immediate change (for the positive) in attitudes among Psi Chi and non - Psi Chi members emerged. Total membership increased beyond the sum of the two clubs. Consequently, activities of the Psychology Coalition were more productive and enjoyable than were those associated with the Psychology Club or Psi Chi alone. In short, the problems we had experienced as two separate entities appeared to be solved, and the Coalition was a success.
Overall Assessment and Success of the Combined Group
After two years of working with the members of the Psychology Coalition, we have observed membership continue to grow. The organization still appears to be serving the needs of the students better than before the fusion of the two groups. For example, within a single academic term, Coalition members will often hear from one or two speakers in a psychology-related area of interest to them, conduct a fundraising activity (either for charity, for the organization, or both), plan and participate in a student-faculty activity (such as baseball or bowling), visit a psychological treatment center or facility, and attend a regional or national conference.
In summary, a group representing the combined interests of students in Psi Chi and those in the Psychology Club has been successful, at least at our university. What we think makes the combined organization successful is that the interests of neither individual group have been compromised by the fusion. Members of Psi Chi are honored in a formal induction ceremony (usually held twice a year), and the special opportunities afforded to Psi Chi members are publicized. For the student who is interested in psychology but is not a Psi Chi member, membership in an active organization that promotes the field of psychology is offered. In essence, it is a win-win situation. We, as advisors, have also witnessed benefits above and beyond our initial expectations. For example, members of the combined group insist on sponsoring the Psi Chi induction by creating their favorite refreshments and attending the ceremony to applaud and lend support to their honored colleagues. In this way, students within the organization support each other's interests, increasing the likelihood that the organization as a whole will succeed in its primary mission: to explore and nurture the psychology-related interests of its members.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS: John Murray, PhD, is assistant professor of psychology at Georgia Southern University. Following undergraduate training at Purdue University, he earned his master's and PhD at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where his primary research interests were in the areas of social categorization and language processing. He honed his research skills in language processing through a postdoctoral research position at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, followed by a teaching position at the University of Florida. Since 1993 he has served on the psychology faculty at Georgia Southern, where he is a Psi Chi/Psychology Coalition faculty advisor.
Janie Wilson, PhD, is assistant professor of psychology at Georgia Southern University. She began her undergraduate work at the College of Charleston as an English major, later switching to psychology. She earned her PhD at the University of South Carolina. Her primary research interest is in the study of fetal alcohol syndrome. Since 1995 she has served on the psychology faculty at Georgia Southern, where she is a Psychology Coalition faculty advisor.
Winter 1999 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 20-21), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 1999, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.