The Ongoing Effort of Creating an Inclusive Profession

This article originally appeared as the President’s Message in the September/October 2019 issue of Archival Outlook.

What a successful and transformative joint conference we had in Austin in August!

The SAA Council carefully considered the then-pending legislation called the “bathroom bill” when determining to remain in Austin for our 2019 Annual Meeting. Council members value and acknowledge all gender identities, and it was important in this instance to show up in Texas in solidarity with those who identify as transgender, non-binary, and/or genderqueer, and anyone who would have been affected by this legislation.

In addition, the Program Committee wanted to intentionally continue discussions about diversifying the record as well as the profession at this meeting. They wanted to “confront issues—whether new or longstanding—that arise or are systemic in our work and in the relationships that we build.” The 2019 Call for Proposals sought ways to assist members in self care, navigating power dynamics, and preserving and accessing the histories of marginalized communities. By successfully creating an inclusive and safe environment, meaningful conversations were engaged on topics including assessing the impact of multigenerational settings, gender discrimination, racial power dynamics, and low salaries as well as examining efforts to make archival materials and facilities more accessible for those with disabilities.

It was evident that extra thought went into this meeting, as represented by genderneutral bathrooms, ensuring that areas were chemical/fragrance free, sensitivity to weapons, and handouts reminding us of the do’s and don’ts for bystander intervention. I believe that the Program Committee and SAA staff successfully created safe spaces for conversation and deep reflection.

I recognize the elephant in the room as well: The cancellation of the Brown Bag Lunch event to discuss the pre-print of an American Archivist article was done so as not to derail the conference or disrupt the many varying discussions about inclusion we had begun. While vibrant discussion is always welcome, the various responses generated uncertainty, a sense of lack of inclusion, and concern about how the conversation would have been moderated. There were so many sessions trying to help people thrive or survive under stressful, unfair, and inequitable conditions that tabling that conversation for more thoughtful future discussion seemed the most appropriate decision.

SAA cannot protect everyone from hurt, but we can create spaces for conversations to work through the hurt. And while we didn’t get to address everything in Austin, our meeting space was safe and comfortable for most attendees. As we continue to deal with the lingering hurt, I can only hope that we sustain the character of inclusive engagement that defined this past Annual Meeting to our in-person and online communities.

There has been a dramatic shift in our organization. I hope that people will continue to listen to their colleagues and engage constructively with their own fears, insecurities, and anxieties. I hope that we will all be more mindful of what we say and write and better prepared for people’s reactions even when we are misunderstood. I hope that we continue to express ourselves through formal and informal channels from contact with SAA leaders, email lists, and blog posts, as well as with a 33-character tweet.

We are all accountable for our thoughts, words, and actions and we all must learn to actively listen, acknowledge our privilege and bias, and work with a broad range of individuals. There is room for everyone—but working together successfully takes time, discomfort, healing, understanding, humility, forgiveness, awareness, self reflection, and—most of all—effort.

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