Diversity and Inclusion: Aspirations That We Must Realize

While not singled out in our strategic plan, one of SAA’s key strategic priorities is to grow and nurture greater diversity. Diversity within our membership, diversity within the archives profession, and diversity in the collections we hold. In a sense, this priority is too important to represent as a line item in a strategic plan. Rather, it is embedded throughout the plan and poured over everything we do. It is, perhaps, the area we acknowledge as needing the most work on the fastest timeline.

We have made small, measured starts in very positive directions. We have an active and dedicated Diversity Committee that helps us set a course. We have several roundtables that continue to increase our awareness and push us in good directions. We continue to develop and extend our scholarship programs and, in 2016, we have committed ourselves to placing more minority interns in SAA boards, committees, and working groups.

These are good steps, but small ones, that only scratch the surface. How do we gain traction as rapidly as possible so that we as a profession come to reflect the growing diversity we see in American society?  And how do we grow our own thinking so that we do not see “diversity” narrowly, but instead see it in its great fullness?

I think that part of the answer comes in working on ourselves, as individuals, first. We need to crack the nut that encloses us and begin to develop a true appreciation for diversity and, perhaps more importantly, a real desire for inclusion. Chris Taylor, a wise colleague at the Minnesota Historical Society who is dedicated to working on these issues in our own institution, reminds me that diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice. And that means a personal choice. I believe that when we as individuals come to appreciate the value of diversity, and inculcate a spirit of inclusiveness, then we will start to gain real, continuing traction in meeting our shared goal to diversify SAA, our profession, and the archival record. We then become forces that can help to reshape the policies of our employing organizations, as well as the ways in which we as individuals approach hiring, mentoring, and including. These are the sorts of things that have some power to diversify our work and our profession.

In the SAA Council, we are taking initial steps down that road by developing training in cultural competency that can eventually be rolled out to all of our members in a variety of formats. We are also working some additional content into the ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2016 program, including a diversity forum. And we are planning to build a much larger effort into the 2017 Annual Meeting program that relates to diversity and inclusion.

I look forward to this work and to realizing the aspiration that drives it. I hope that you do, too.


7 responses to “Diversity and Inclusion: Aspirations That We Must Realize

  1. Pingback: Dare to listen | NixoNARA

  2. When you say:
    “that part of the answer comes in working on ourselves, as individuals, first. We need to crack the nut that encloses us and begin to develop a true appreciation for diversity and, perhaps more importantly, a real desire for inclusion.”
    Are you refereeing to coming to terms with the ways white supremacy and white privilege affect white archivist’s perceptions and attitudes within the archival profession diversification efforts?

    • Dennis Meissner

      While racial perceptions and attitudes are a very important part of what I’m talking about, I am also looking at diversity in much broader terms than race and ethnicity. Understanding and then lessening the areas of unconscious bias we are all saddled with is an important first step in bringing real inclusivity into our professional associations and our workplaces. I believe it to be the first step on a long journey.

  3. Gloria Gonzalez

    I have a few questions:

    1. If this key strategic priority is so important, why is it not outlined in SAA’s strategic plan?
    2. Will these new minority interns be compensated for their work?
    3. Does SAA Council plan to include coverage of privilege, systematic injustice, and institutional oppression in the development training for cultural competency?

    As well as a few recommendations:

    1. Going forward, please work to ensure that minority members are not responsible for the majority of the workload behind diversity initiatives.
    2. Realize that minority members will most likely feel obligated to participate in diversity initiatives because of their race/ethnicity or because they received money from one of SAA’s diversity scholarship programs.
    3. One of the most significant ways you can help is to advocate for updated statistics that measure diversity within SAA and the archival profession. Accurate statistics are critical for measuring where we are now as well as our progress going forward.

  4. Camille Brewer

    Thank you for your message in the latest “Archival Outlook” on building an inclusive profession. I am relatively new to the archives profession. I come to profession from the art museum/gallery world, which experiences many of the same diversity/inclusion challenges that the library and archival professions do. For some reason, I thought the information profession would be more inclusive than the museum world, given the diverse audiences library and archives serve. In fact, I have found this is not the case. I have a few concerns.

    Having educational scholarships, conference sessions, and cultural competency training in place is helpful for the heightening diversity awareness for SAA members, yet will these efforts really change the face of the profession? As Joan S. Howland states in her 1998 Law Library Journal article, “Diversity Deferred,” “The persistent absence of people of color in full-time professional positions appears to be something more than merely coincidental.” SAA can educate its membership year in and year out about these issues. However if the hiring practices of SAA member institutions remains the same, all of this activity is simply a waste of time. I can count on my hands the number of information professionals of color I know who have left the profession because their contributions were not valued and/or discounted…plain and simple. This is my rub…many of these issues could be resolved with hiring professionals from the diverse communities archivists serve and building retention mechanisms to keep these skilled professionals in the field. Archivists of color are out here, yet we don’t get the full-time jobs to diversify and enrich the competency of the profession. How can SAA address these discriminatory hiring practices?

    Within the last 6 weeks, I have had the same conversation with the membership departments of the Art Libraries Society of North American, the American Alliance of Museums and the American Library Association. The professional organizations are happy to take my “black” membership dollars but do not advocate for me (and others who look like me) to be fully employed within the professional ranks. Why should I continue to contribute money if the profession year after year turns a blind eye to its homogenous nature?

    I am glad to see you bring this discussion to center stage. I hope meaningful discussions move beyond the circle of people of color into the larger membership base. It is imperative to move forward. My concern, as I have expressed to the other professional cultural heritage organizations, is that if change does not occur, the profession will become irrelevant and young people will search for professional support elsewhere.

    I look forward to see what SAA plans for the future. Unfortunately, I will not attend the ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2016. However, I will make an effort to attend the SAA conference in 2017.

    Thank you for beginning the dialog.

    • Dennis Meissner

      Thank you, Camille, for your thoughtful and challenging comments. You are quite correct in pointing out that having educational scholarships, conference sessions, and cultural competency training in place–helpful as they may be–are in themselves insufficient to achieve our goals for diversity and inclusion. Nevertheless, I see them as necessary starting points in what is bound to be a long journey.

      I especially see cultural competency as an essential precondition for eventually moving the needle in more significant domains, that is, bringing an embrace of diversity and more inclusive norms and practices into our workplaces and into our professional associations.

      Before we can change the organizations in which we function we really do need to change ourselves so that we can become knowledgeable and effective champions for inclusivity. Training and resources in cultural competency can help to move us as a profession along the continuum of intercultural competency. SAA can also create, compile, and share many other resources to help its members become advocates and champions in their work[places and other social domains. Those resources might include best practices for hiring and retaining a diverse professional workforce.

      There is a great deal that we can and must do to make significant progress. I look forward to working with you and many others in this shared journey.

  5. I would also love to see SAA, as an overwhelmingly white organization and a very white profession, acknowledge and grapple with whiteness and how it works in the world and in our profession – I don’t see that in this statement. Race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion, are all part of this violent act, just as they are all part of the historical record. This statement does not, in my view, speak to this at all. A commitment to “diversity” is not sufficient – a commitment to anti-racist archives that do not erase the experiences of LGBTIQA+ people of color IS. It is what we should, as a profession, be striving for – it’s the least we can do.

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