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Specialty & Affinity Groups

Policies and Procedures

AAG Specialty and Affinity Groups are voluntary associations of AAG members who share interests in regions, topics or affinities. They are not independent entities separate from the Association of American Geographers. They do not have separate legal organizational standing.

Article VII of the AAG Constitution, called “Specialty Groups” enables the establishment of these groups. AAG Council voted in April 1996 to expand to include Affinity Groups:

 

Specialty and Other Groups:

Groups with special interests in specific subfields of geography, and other professional geographers who wish to organize on the basis of common interest, may be formed by the Association, under such rules and procedures and with such support as the Council may prescribe, to sponsor professional activities designed to advance the collective state of knowledge in their respective geographical interests.

 

The difference between groups is that Specialty Groups reflect a particular sub-disciplinary topical area whereas Affinity Groups reflect a particular status, such as Graduate Student or Retiree. The AAG Council at their Meeting in November 2005 unanimously confirmed that the procedure for establishing and maintaining Affinity Groups is identical to that for establishing and maintaining Specialty Groups.  Learn about forming a group

 

 

Specialty and Affinity Group Functions and Best Practices

The AAG Office includes a list of all Specialty and Affinity Groups with new and renewing membership applications as well as on the AAG website. AAG members may elect to be members of Specialty or Affinity Groups by paying the dues each group has established. AAG members who join by way of an Associate Membership Program, which are processed by the sister organization, should sign up for any Specialty or Affinity Groups through the AAG’s website. AAG members who join by way of the AAG Developing Regions Membership Program may join any Specialty or Affinity groups free of charge.

Chairs can obtain current membership lists through the AAG Knowledge Communities administration settings. Specialty and Affinity Groups may use membership lists for purposes consonant with the goals of the Association and the Group. Groups may not rent or sell their membership lists or make or permit any use that would infringe on the privacy of their members.

Specialty and Affinity Group Officers

Each Specialty Group elects officers with clearly defined roles, defined terms, and limits on the number of consecutive terms. Normally, a Specialty Group Board consists of a Chair, possibly a Vice-Chair or Co-Chair, a Secretary/Treasurer, and from two to five activity directors or coordinators. Officers typically serve two-year terms and the Chair should serve no more than two consecutive terms. All officers must be regular AAG members and members of the Specialty or Affinity Group. Student representation on Specialty Group Boards is encouraged.

The Chair of the Specialty or Affinity Group is responsible for keeping up to date information on officer contact details, finances, meeting plans, and other matters with the respective person responsible on AAG Staff (see below for AAG Staff contacts). The Chair also receives information from the AAG office and shares information with other chairs through the Specialty Group Chairs Knowledge Community. The Council Liaison position on the AAG Membership Committee will automatically be filled by the current National Councilor Chair, who is responsible for liaising between Specialty and Affinity Groups and the Council. The AAG Council usually coordinates direct communication with groups through the AAG Staff or the Chair of the National Councilors.

The AAG Council is solely responsible for appointing ex-oficio positions as well as all members of AAG Committees. However, Specialty and Affinity groups are encouraged to submit nominations for AAG Committees for vacancies each year to the AAG Secretary prior to the Spring Council meeting.

The AAG provides financial and accounting services to Specialty and Affinity Groups. The AAG Office will collect Specialty and Affinity Group dues whenever members join a group. Groups may set dues at the amount they wish and may choose to raise dues at any time. Student dues may be set at a different amount from other member dues.

All groups may obtain the latest balance or other information by written request from the Chair or Treasurer to the AAG Director of Membership Operations. Payments, such as checks to awardees, etc., may also be requested by the Chair or Treasurer to the AAG Membership Director of Membership Operations at any time, pending adequate funds. All awards and honorariums require the collection of certain data by the IRS. This data is collected by completing the AAG Official Disclosure Form or the award form specific to the annual meeting. All requests for reimbursements must include a copy of receipts or paid invoices. The AAG manages all funds according to currently accepted accounting practices, including conducting an annual audit.

Most group-sponsored activities are paid for from revenue generated through individual group dues. Because AAG Specialty and Affinity Groups do not have legal, or fiscal status, they are not entities eligible to receive grants or funds directly as a separate organization. Chairs seeking to generate funding proposals in the name of the AAG Specialty or Affinity Group to external agencies must contact the AAG Staff.

All Specialty and Affinity Groups must do the following three things, which will be reviewed annually:

  1. Submit an annual report form to the AAG
  2. Organize at least one session at the AAG Annual Meeting
  3. Hold an annual business meeting (typically at the AAG Annual Meeting).

Other activities of a Group might include the organization of additional sessions, field trips, or workshops for national and regional meetings; organization of special seminars, symposia, or mini conferences; communication with members through the AAG Knowledge Communities; offering student paper awards, travel grants, or other recognitions; publication of a regular newsletter; and other publications.

Submitting Annual Reports

An annual report form from each group is due on September 15. The official form to submit the report will come from the AAG Community Manager and will request information about the Specialty or Affinity Group’s activities for the previous year and its goals for the coming year. Financial information about each group will be supplied by AAG Staff to allow the AAG Office to account for the expenditure of AAG funds, as required in the AAG’s Standing Rule 2.

Specialty and Affinity Group reports will be reviewed by the AAG’s Membership Committee, which monitors the health and performance of all AAG Specialty and Affinity Groups and reports its findings and recommendations to the AAG Council.

The AAG Office does not keep digital or hard copies of reports from year to year, so each group should retain copies of their own annual reports in their archives and in the documents library of their AAG Specialty Group Knowledge Community. 

Organizing Sessions at AAG Annual Meeting

Each Specialty Group is expected to organize at least one session or workshop at each annual meeting of the Association, subject to scheduling by the meeting Program Committee, which retains final responsibility for the program of the meeting. AAG Council encourages groups to also organize sessions at the regional meetings throughout the year. See the Specialty and Affinity Group Annual Meeting Activities Procedures and Policies for more information. 

Annual Business Meeting

Each Specialty Group is expected to meet annually. Annual meeting Program Committees will schedule a business meeting for each Specialty Group during the Association’s annual meeting unless otherwise requested by the Specialty Group. See the Specialty and Affinity Group Annual Meeting Activities Procedures and Policies for more information.

Specialty and Affinity Group Paper Competitions and Awards

While not a required activity, many Specialty and Affinity Groups offer annual awards or travel grants to their members. These are administered by the Specialty and Affinity Group and at the group’s discretion and criteria. Groups are encouraged to post information on their Knowledge Community discussion boards and through their email lists.

Awards that provide cash prizes or travel support should ensure that sufficient funds are available in the respective group account.

Specialty or Affinity Group awards may be conferred at the Association’s annual awards ceremony or at another event such as the group’s business meetings at the discretion of each group. More information about Specialty and Affinity Group Annual Meeting Activities Procedures and Policies is available.

All Specialty and Affinity Group Awards, for which forms are received, regardless of whether they are formally presented at the annual meeting, will be announced on the AAG website.

On behalf of AAG Council, the AAG Membership Committee annually reviews all Specialty and Affinity Group activities to determine the overall health of the group. A Specialty or Affinity Group is considered to be healthy if it accomplishes the below activities 1-4, OR 2-5.

  1. Maintaining an annual minimum of 100 members for three subsequent years;
  2. Organizing at least one paper or panel session at three subsequent AAG Annual Meetings;
  3. Addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in its activities (e.g., ensuring diverse representation of participants on panels, as session or special event speakers, supporting minority and underrepresented geographers through awards programs);
  4. Promptly submitting annual reports to the AAG Council;
  5. Maintaining fewer than 100 members per year but being active in points b) through d) over the course of three subsequent years.

Each fall, after receiving the annual reports from all Specialty and Affinity Groups, the AAG Membership Committee will review the reports and determine which Groups are considered healthy and which may instead benefit from a closer review. Specialty and Affinity Groups that are considered healthy will not come under review again for the next three years.

If the Membership Committee finds a Specialty and Affinity Group that is not accomplishing the activities required to be considered healthy, the Membership Committee will contact the Chair(s) of the group and inform them that the group is undergoing review. The Chair(s) will be notified of this finding in writing, including a list of what the Membership Committee suggests the Specialty or Affinity Group should strive to accomplish during a three-year probationary period. These activities could include suggestions such as electing a new board; using (more of) their funds to benefit their members; holding sessions or events; submitting annual reports; developing awards or grants programs; other activities as advised by the Committee. During the three-year probationary period, the Board of the Specialty or Affinity Group being reviewed is encouraged to communicate as often as they need or desire with the Director of Membership Operations, or with the Chair of the Membership Committee to obtain additional guidance, feedback, and support, and in order to also communicate openly on the effectiveness or usefulness of the support being offered to the group.

For Specialty or Affinity Groups that are unable to successfully accomplish what the Membership Committee has recommended for at least two years during their three-year probationary period, the Membership Committee may suggest one of the following to the AAG Council, which is the final decision-making body in this process:

  1. Incorporate the group under another existing Specialty or Affinity Group, if a complimentary Group exists;
  2. Disband the group and have any remaining funds revert to the AAG

Use of the AAG seal by regional and specialty group publications requires Council approval (per resolution at the April 1978 meeting).

Specialty and Affinity Groups may choose to create external websites or social media accounts for their respective group. When posting to websites or social media, follow all applicable state and federal laws, the AAG Professional Code of Conduct, regulations, and policies. This includes respecting copyright laws and the rights of others. The AAG is an academic organization and affiliated groups should follow citation guidelines and attribute sources where applicable. Make an effort to include and tag appropriate handles, usernames, and pages whenever possible while sharing content. Profiles and websites should note that the Specialty or Affinity Group does not speak on behalf of the AAG organization in an official capacity and that the views expressed are the views of the group and do not necessarily reflect the views of the AAG. The AAG logo or seal should not be used as a profile photo for a Specialty or Affinity Group unless it has been modified to reflect the logo of the Specialty or Affinity Group.

All current AAG Specialty and Affinity Groups have a dedicated webpage that includes information about their Chair and a link to their Knowledge Communities. Those are listed here: https://www.aag.org/community/. Members must be logged into the AAG website in order to visit the Knowledge Communities for the groups in which they are members.

To log on to the AAG Specialty and Affinity Group Knowledge Communities, visit http://community.aag.org and sign in with your AAG username and password using the blue button in the upper right-hand corner. On successful login, click on the “Communities” tab and then “My Communities”. A list of the Specialty group communities to which you are affiliated is displayed. Groups may post descriptions and a message from the Chair, along with officer contact information and current dues on the AAG Specialty Group Knowledge Community display page. Individual webpages not hosted from the AAG Knowledge Communities may be linked from the Specialty or Affinity Group Knowledge Community display page.

To post a message or discussion to the discussion board, from the main page, click on “Discussions” to read messages posted to the discussion board or to post a thread. Threads are organized by date, with the most-recently posted threads located at the top of the list. To post a message, click on the “Post New Message” button located on the main page. All current members of the Specialty or Affinity Group have the ability to post messages to the group.

Once logged in, Chairs will be able to make any necessary edits to the group page by clicking on the “settings” button next to community name. Only those with admin access will see the settings button and have access to editing and reporting functions. Please note to formally change your dues charged when members sign up for your group, you must have the Treasurer or Chair contact the AAG Membership Director. After a Specialty or Affinity Group holds an election, AAG staff must be notified in order to update the group’s Knowledge Community and website. Once notified of officer changes, AAG staff assigns the chair admin access. Chairs can then grant admin access to other officers.

After logging on to the AAG Knowledge Communities and navigating to your Specialty Group’s community page, you may download a file of your current active members by clicking on the settings button and selecting reports. There are several report options, but Current Community Members will give you the current membership roster for your group. You can download an excel file of your members by clicking the “save disk” button on the Current Community Members report. Please note that all AAG staff will appear as part of your roster. You must remove them to get a true membership count.

Email addresses from Chairs and Co-Chairs are added to the AAG Specialty and Affinity Group Chairs Knowledge Community by AAG Staff. The Chair(s) receive information from the AAG office and can share information with other chairs using this Specialty and Affinity Group Chairs Knowledge Community.

All inquiries to the AAG from Specialty Groups should be directed to the Community Manager, Emily Fekete, at efekete@aag.org who will direct requests to the appropriate AAG staff. However, questions related to finances, bank account balances, check requests, membership, dues, etc. can be directed to Membership Services, at membership@aag.org. Annual meeting related questions may be directed to meeting@aag.org. Technical help questions about the website AAG Knowledge Communities, log-ins, or passwords can be directed to techsupport@aag.org.

Annual Meeting Activities

As part of the healthy Specialty and Affinity Groups review criteria (see Specialty Group Functions and Best Practices), each group is expected to organize at least one session or workshop at each annual meeting of the Association and host an annual business meeting. AAG Council encourages the Specialty and Affinity Groups to also organize sessions at the regional meetings throughout the year. The following document outlines practices and procedures for Annual Meeting activities.

The AAG Events Team will create the business meetings from requests received through the SG/AG Business Meeting Request Form. If a request is not received for your Specialty or Affinity Group, then a virtual business meeting will be scheduled in the remaining available timeslots.

Sponsored Sessions — Poster, Paper, Panel, or Keynote sessions held during the Annual Meeting which are being coordinated, organized, or uplifted by your Specialty or Affinity Group. (At its discretion, the annual meeting Program Committee may request the papers submitted to it be included in Specialty Group sessions as part of their annual conference paper sorting)

Curated Tracks — A slate of sessions from your Specialty or Affinity Group that are scheduled on specific days and times during the Annual Meeting so as not to overlap with one another

Highlighted Session — One to two sessions held during the Annual Meeting that is considered your Specialty or Affinity Group’s most prominent session. Typically your plenary, keynote, awards, or a memorial session

Specialty & Affinity Group chairs can submit a group of sessions to form a session schedule that is representative of the specialty group. This schedule will consist of “must-see” sessions or sessions on a particular topic as determined by the specialty group chair. The chair in conjunction with session organizers will also be able to request the dates and times for the sessions within their curated track. Once these details have been determined, the Specialty Group Chair will submit to meeting@aag.org to formally include their curated track in the session gallery.

The purpose is to clearly highlight specific sessions affiliated with each Specialty or Affinity Group to provide a  guided program or “Curated Track” for Annual Meeting attendees. The curated track format enables attendees to identify the “must see” or topical sessions from a specific Specialty or Affinity Group without the worry that these sessions may overlap. These curated tracks are intended to supplement the Specialty and Affinity Group Highlighted Session to allow for targeted scheduling of specific sessions sponsored by each specialty group. 

Curated Track Submission Guidelines:
  • Submitted by the Specialty or Affinity Group Chair to meeting@aag.org
  • Minimum of 10 sessions *exceptions considered on a case by case basis*
  • Contains sessions on each day of the conference
  • Contains proposed title for the Curated Track. Examples from 2021 are below:
    • Black Geographies Specialty Group Curated Track
    • HDGC & HRD Symposium: Socio-ecological Justice in Hazards Adaptation
    • Geomorphology Specialty Group River Curated Track
  • Track is organized around a specific topic, and/or sessions that are high-profile/cutting edge/”must see”

Track includes the requested dates/times for sessions with no session overlap within the track.

AAG Annual Meeting field trips organized by Specialty or Affinity Groups will be managed in a manner identical to other AAG field trips, in coordination with the AAG Meetings team, and open to all members of the AAG.

Annual meeting workshops organized by Specialty and Affinity Groups will be managed in a manner identical to other AAG workshops, in coordination with the AAG Conference Director.  Groups will be responsible for the content of the workshops they sponsor. All workshop participants must register for the annual meeting to attend the workshop. AAG may cancel any workshop for which registration is insufficient.

Each year, one of the Quarterly Specialty and Affinity Group Chairs meetings is held during the AAG Annual Meeting and presided over by the AAG National Councilor Chair. This meeting typically occurs at the beginning of the week, so Chairs may be able to share information exchanged at that time with attendees of their respective Group Business Meetings that are held throughout the week.

Chairs are strongly encouraged to attend. Incoming chairs are also encouraged to be present. If the Chair(s) are unable to attend, another officer or group representative should be in attendance.

All current AAG policies regarding registration remain in effect for all meeting attendees, including participants invited by groups. Specialty and Affinity Groups do not have the authority to waive, reduce, or otherwise alter the registration policy of the AAG; however, they may choose to sponsor part or all the registration and/or travel costs of any attendee from their group financial accounts.

AAG Groups are also encouraged to utilize the existing programs within the Association to help defray the costs of annual meeting attendance, such as by submitting applications to the AAG Specialty and Affinity Group Keynote Fund, the Student Travel Fund, the Conference Assistants Program, or other mechanisms publicized on the AAG website.

Specialty or Affinity Group awards may be conferred at the association’s annual meeting or at another event such as the group’s business meetings at the discretion of each group.

Each year, an online awards form must be completed for each recipient of an award. This form is used for both monetary and non-monetary awards. The information collected will be used to recognize recipients at the awards celebration and on the AAG website. If the group member completing the online form is not the Chair or Treasurer, then approval from either officer must be emailed to membership@aag.org prior to funds being dispersed.

Groups have the option of mailing an award check directly to the recipient or picking it up on site at the AAG annual meeting. If award checks will be picked up at onsite registration during the annual meeting, please provide at least 24 hours for the check to be prepared. The online award form contains a section to add the name of the person picking up the check as well as the date and time check pick-up is requested.

Formation of New AAG Specialty and Affinity Groups

AAG Specialty and Affinity Groups are voluntary groups of AAG members who share interests in regions, topics or affinities. They are not independent entities separate from the American Association of Geographers. They do not have separate legal organizational standing.

Article VII of the AAG Constitution, called “Specialty Groups” enables the establishment of these groups. AAG Council voted in April 1996 to expand to include Affinity Groups:

Specialty and Other Groups: Groups with special interests in specific subfields of geography, and other professional geographers who wish to organize on the basis of common interest, may be formed by the Association, under such rules and procedures and with such support as the Council may prescribe, to sponsor professional activities designed to advance the collective state of knowledge in their respective geographical interests.

The difference between groups is that Specialty Groups reflect a particular sub-disciplinary topical area whereas Affinity Groups reflect a particular status, such as Graduate Student or Retiree. At the November 2005 AAG Council Meeting it was unanimously confirmed that the procedure for establishing and maintaining Affinity Groups is identical to that for establishing and maintaining Specialty Groups.

The AAG Council has sole authority to receive, consider, and approve requests to form new Specialty and Affinity Groups. Requests to form new AAG Specialty or Affinity Groups should include:

  • The signatures of at least 50 current paid members who support the creation of the new group and its mission
  • The names and contact information of the group’s organizing committee
  • A request packet containing the following creation and governing documents:
    • A mission statement or a succinct description of the group’s purpose. This should be articulated for both future group members as well as a broader audience. The statement should focus on what is important about the group and should express a sense of its direction. The petitioners for the new Group must clearly explain the reasons why they believe this new Group needs to be established, what it will accomplish, and who it will benefit.
    • A group constitution that establishes the group’s structure and operational procedures; i.e., characteristics not subject to frequent change. The constitution should articulate the fundamental principles governing the group’s identity and operation, such as, but not limited to, the group’s name, purpose, membership requirements, officers, meetings, provisions for amendments to the constitution, and requirements for adopting the document.
    • The bylaws should provide more detailed guidance on the methods of operation, particularly policies that are best documented in written form. Bylaws prescribe specific procedures to conduct business in an orderly manner and can be changed more easily as the needs of the organization change. They should not contradict the constitution, and may address such topics as membership responsibilities, dues, duties of officers, and other specific policies and procedures as necessary.
    • A statement of relationships to existing Groups. The new Group must not substantially intersect or overlap with the interest or topical areas of existing Specialty or Affinity Groups. Proposers must explain why their interests and proposed activities cannot be advanced through participation in any existing Group. If there are existing Groups that may be perceived as covering areas that are similar to or close to the proposed Group’s interest or topical areas, then the proposed new Group must present statements of outright support from such existing Specialty or Affinity Groups.
    • A list of proposed activities that the group is looking to undertake. This can include sponsoring sessions at the Annual Meeting or at a regional meeting, pursuing publications (newsletter, special journal issue, etc.), hosting lectures, issuing awards/grants, among many other possible activities. These proposed activities should be specific and actionable.

The materials should be submitted as a complete set and emailed to the AAG office to be considered at the next appropriate AAG Council meeting. In addition, it is recommended that group organizers communicate directly with the AAG Staff as early as possible, to consult about procedures, establish a reasonable date for submission, and coordinate the process.

AAG Council decisions about proposed new Specialty and Affinity Groups are based on several factors. The Council is receptive to all topics and subjects related to geography and the geography community; however, it is Council policy not to encourage the proliferation of new Groups without sound justification. Council is averse to proposed new Groups that appear likely to undermine existing healthy Groups by substantively duplicating their interests or competing for memberships. Council will carefully consider whether proposed Group activities are already well established within existing Specialty or Affinity Groups and whether the new Group would truly represent a new area that warrants the kind of framework, system, and character of AAG Specialty and Affinity Groups.

All newly approved Specialty and Affinity Groups will be approved for an initial three-year period. During this initial period, these Specialty and Affinity Groups will be more closely observed by the Membership Committee and AAG Staff, who can advise on their progress and performance (see Specialty Group Functions and Best Practices). If a newly approved Specialty or Affinity Group has successfully accomplished the required criteria for two of the three initial years, it will be considered healthy and will continue its operations. Specialty and Affinity Groups who are unable to accomplish the activities for two of the three years of the initial period will undergo a review process.

It is anticipated that each newly recognized Specialty Group will hold an organizational meeting at the next annual meeting of the Association, after its approval. The organizational meeting typically is called and chaired by a member of the organizing committee and should have the election of its officers as one of the first orders of business.

It bears noting that the formal creation of a Specialty or Affinity Group is not necessary for organizing sessions around particular focused topics at the AAG Annual Meetings or for other informal activities, special events, or exchanges among groups of members.

The AAG main office does not automatically preserve governing or other documents for specialty and affinity groups (e.g. bylaws or annual reports).

For annual functions of Specialty and Affinity Groups including healthy group review criteria and best practices for groups, please see Specialty Group Functions and Best Practices.