SPS Statement on Diversity

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Oct 8 2009

Council action

The governing Council of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) and of Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honor society, has approved the following statement for general dissemination, with the final approval process being completed on October 8, 2009.

The Society of Physics Students recognizes that there is a vast untapped intellectual resource in all groups underrepresented in physics. For this reason, the Society of Physics Students is committed to making physics more accessible to everyone. We are committed to providing programs, resources and opportunities that encourage greater participation in the community of physics from members of all groups.


The SPS Council, which met at the American Center for Physics Sept. 24-27, 2009, includes 36 elected student and faculty representatives. The 2009 SPS Council voted to issue the preceding formal policy statement, something that has only happened a few times in the past, on diversity issues in the physics community; previous statement topics were evolution and cosmology in the classroom, ethics education, and most recently, undergraduate research (see all SPS Statements here).

Future Faces of Physics (FFP) Campaign | FFP Diversity Kit | FFP Jeopardy FFP Logos

A Brief History of the statement

In response to recommendations emanating from the deliberations at the 2004 Sigma Pi Sigma Congress, the governing Council of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) and Sigma Pi Sigma established a committee on Under-Represented Groups in Physics with Toni Sauncy, faculty member at Angelo State in Texas, serving as Chair. At that time this committee struggled to produce a policy statement on underrepresented groups in physics that the entire Council could approve, but despite many attempts, ultimately their efforts at that time failed. The committee proceeded to craft a one page document outlining a case for national dialogue on diversity to be kicked off by a student conference, wherein they also made plans to continue to push for an official policy statement for the SPS Council. While the conference itself was not funded the dialogue idea took root, and the document inspired SPS to push the issue further including:

  1. approval from the Council to request demographic information on the SPS membership application and
  2. adoption of the Future Faces of Physics (FFP) campaign in 2007 wherein discussions of underrepresented groups in physics were brought to dozens of physics meetings via Physics Jeopardyand the FFP Diversity Kits. These meetings led up to a truly engaging set of talks and activities on diversity at the 2008 Sigma Pi Sigma Congress at FermiLab.

SPS has partnered, formally and informally, with many groups concerned with issues of diversity in physics including MentorNet, NSBP1, NSHP2, SACNAS3, APS’s CSWP4 and CoM5, AAPT’s CWP6 and AGU’s CEHR7 and others. SPS has established SPS and/or Sigma Pi Sigma chapters at a large majority of institutions that serve minority physicists, with many of the most active chapters being established very recently. These actions were taken, in part, as a response to, and sometimes with the aid of, the work of the SPS Council committee on Under-Represented Groups in Physics. While the committee has taken nearly half a decade to craft a statement onto which the SPS Council could eagerly sign, their efforts and impact on related diversity questions has been remarkable. Now the SPS Council has embraced the statement above---so that its official words live up to its actions of the past 5 years.

1) National Society for Black Physicists, 2) National Society for Hispanic Physicists, 3) Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, 4) Committee on the Status of Women in Physics and the 5) Committee on Minorities of the American Physics Society, 6) Committee on Women in Physics of the American Association of Physics Teachers and the 7) Committee on Education and Human Resources of the American Geophysical Union and others.


Document of the SPS Diversity Committee

October, 2006

The Future Faces of Physics

SPS National Student Conference on Diversity in the Physics Community

In keeping with its commitment to helping students transform themselves into contributing members of the professional community, the Society of Physics Students National Council recently recommended that the SPS organize and host a student-oriented national conference aimed at diversity issues in physics. This action is in part driven by a recent report from the National Academies stressing the need for professional scientific societies to take a leading role in addressing issues of diversity (see Beyond Bias And Barriers, a publication of the National Academies). Included among the goals of this conference are:

  1. to provide a forum for students and physics community leaders to discuss and act on a wide variety of student diversity issues such as making physics more welcoming to all, hindering the effects of bias, financial aid issues, child care/family leave issues, non-traditional physics career trajectories, the importance of competent and diverse mentoring;
  2. to provide participants (both actual and virtual) with authoritative documentation of the current climate for under-represented groups in physics;
  3. to facilitate inter-organizational cooperation in addressing diversity issues in physics
  4. to produce a statement in support of diversity in physics, preferably brief and potent.

As a society committed to student success, the SPS initiative to involve students in a dialogue on diversity issues was motivated for several reasons: 

  • Physics has a unique set of issues concerning diversity. For example, the representation of women in physics is dramatically lower than in other scientific disciplines, and the representation of minorities remains very low when compared to the general population distribution.
  • Local SPS chapters are often the initial contact that students in physics have with the broader professional physics community.
  • Several studies have shown the importance of community outreach and mentor relationships in affecting the participation of under-represented groups in science (see for example “What Works for Women in Undergraduate Physics?”, Physics Today, September 2003 and references therein) Local SPS chapters play a major role in many science-outreach programs across the country, providing a direct link to those students considering a physics-related career.

With this gathering, the SPS can serve in uniting and coordinating the efforts of multiple groups who may have common goals. This national level conference will bring together students and professionals from diverse backgrounds, regions, and experiences, whose futures will be impacted most strongly by the actions taken toward addressing the issue of diversity in the physics community. The hope is that this united voice will lead to ideas and actions that will have a positive impact on the future faces in physics.