The Society of Physics Students: A Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion

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The Society of Physics Students: A Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion


Chloe Ong, Adelphi University, and Megan Anderson, William Jewell College, 2018–19 Associate Zone Councilors, SPS Governance Committee Members

Chloe Ong.SPS isn’t a static organization; your elected leadership—the SPS National Council—is constantly revisiting our mission, policies, and values. Have you ever noticed the “Governance” tab under the “About” section of the SPS website? (Go ahead, click on it - we’ll happily wait.) This page may not look terribly exciting, but it describes the structure and values that give SPS life. As members of your 2018–19 National Council Governance Committee, we are thrilled to introduce two new official SPS policy statements that reinforce our commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Megan Anderson.  Photos courtesy of SPS National Office.Commons Rooms, Department Health, and Identity

We know that successful SPS chapters create unity among students through consistent events and activities, but where do fellow students gather just to study or work on projects together? Though campus libraries and local cafés can be welcoming, they tend to lack the physical resources and faculty presence that can benefit physics students. Besides, these locations may discourage group collaborations, especially noisy ones that require a lot of space or equipment. After reading a number of SPS chapter reports, we began to see a solution emerge: A common room specifically for physics students. The more we explored the idea of common rooms, the more we realized just how much they can contribute to a physics department and the success of its students.

First, a physics common room facilitates communication between faculty members and students who may find it difficult to interact outside the lab and lecture hall. With a designated common room, faculty can provide supplementary course help and informal and formal mentoring, and students can take advantage of networking opportunities through study sessions, alumni talks, and other events.

Second, common rooms can be equipped with tools that are useful to physics students and that may not be available in general campus spaces. Readily available whiteboards, physics literature and journals, and computers with necessary programs are just a few of the resources that can attract physics students to these lounges. They may also have engaging physics toys, research equipment, and spaces in which students can leave works-in-progress.

Finally, physics common rooms nurture engagement, functioning as a forum where physics students discuss all kinds of topics, both formally and informally. They provide a landing place—a reason to meet up after class, study together, build friendships, unwind, and welcome new physics majors, all of which can keep students encouraged and inspired along their physics journey.

While this is helpful for encouraging overall student involvement, it is particularly relevant for SPS chapters. When SPS leaders know what their members want, they are better equipped to design successful, enjoyable events and seek relevant resources. This community involvement may also encourage newer members to seek leadership roles in the chapter.

The overall health of a physics department relies on strong communication and collaboration between its members. In light of this, in early 2019 the SPS National Council voted to adopt the following statement in support of common rooms.1

No matter their budget or size, a physics department can and should invest in some version of a student commons room—a space for physics students. If your department lacks square footage, think creatively. A single table, some chairs, and relevant literature can be enough to give students a sense of belonging.

Diversity, Inclusion, Ethics, and Responsibility

The discussion of physics commons rooms naturally leads to a discussion about the importance of diversity and inclusion within departments and SPS chapters. These are ideals that many people value yet struggle to fully realize, a reality that SPS also faces. In 2016, the SPS National Council approved two statements on diversity and inclusion that focused on making physics more accessible to everyone and physics gatherings welcoming to all. The new statement, also adopted by the SPS National Council in early 2019, partners with these statements, providing more concrete guidelines pertaining to the ethical behavior of SPS members. The SPS National Council hopes that this new statement serves as a resource for chapters and individuals seeking to nurture and grow our community.

To learn more about how to make commons rooms welcoming to all, see the article on page 16, Fostering Inclusive Physics Spaces.

On behalf of the Governance Committee, thank you for taking the time to invest in the growth and strengthening of this organization. Together we can create spaces for physicists of all identities to come together in community and feel welcome.

 SPS Statement on Commons Rooms, Department Health, and Identity

“The Society of Physics Students (SPS) recognizes that a physics commons room or physics lounge encourages community and provides a space for learning. Physics and astronomy students, faculty, and guests benefit from a dedicated place for discussion and discovery. Access to a commons room empowers undergraduate students in their studies while also promoting collaboration. SPS is committed to providing resources that support and highlight student commons rooms. We encourage other groups within the physics and astronomy community to create student commons rooms with the goal of nurturing our physics communities.”

SPS Statement on Diversity, Inclusion, Ethics, and Responsibility

 “The Society of Physics Students (SPS) welcomes all students with a passion for physics independent of identity, regardless of but not limited to race, ethnic origin, religious beliefs, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, age, family and socio-economic status, or cultural background. Many groups are under-represented in physics, and SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma have not always been welcoming to diverse groups. Today all our events are subject to our Code of Conduct,2 and SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma are committed to working to correct this exclusion and will continue to update our policies and best practices in pursuit of promoting diversity, inclusion, and equity.”


1. Additional information on the benefits of student common rooms can be found at
2. To read SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma’s Code of Conduct, please visit

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