Category Archives: Diversity and Inclusion

Some Remarks on the SAA Council’s Recent Statement on White Supremacy

My very first job as a young archivist was at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, where I learned to process and describe collections and also to grapple with the enormity, complexity and, quite often, the awfulness of American history. As a transplanted Yankee, it did not take me long to figure out the reason for the Confederate flag above the Capitol, or why the state holidays list included Martin Luther King, Jr./Robert E. Lee Day (still) and Confederate Memorial Day. I understood too well why the street on which I was fortunate to attend the dedication of the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center also hosted a Ku Klux Klan march several years later. This is not isolated to Alabama, or even to one region of the country. The symbols of oppression and our violent past are all around us, as indicated in this list compiled by The Guardian:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/17/public-symbols-landmarks-racist-confederate-flag

SAA traditionally has not commented on issues or events not related to archives or records, but have reserved our judgments for areas in which our archival experience means something. The recent events in Charlottesville point to the need for archivists to use our expertise to assist communities in researching and determining the meaning and value of the names, images, and monuments in their midst, and whether what those symbols represent is historical truth or something else.

The Council’s Diversity and Inclusion Working Group was created in 2014 to provide the Council with greater focus and direction in achieving the Society‘s strategic goals in D&I, explore meaningful new initiatives in this area, and coordinate the work of appropriate component groups to leverage their contributions into broader cultural competency for the Council, staff, and members. Now led by Courtney Chartier, its members include Steven Booth, Amy Cooper Cary, Meredith Evans, and Audra Eagle Yun. The group‘s highest priority in the coming months is to create a toolkit for archivists to use with local community members when they are faced with these hard issues. A number of individuals and SAA groups have already volunteered to assist the working group as needed, which is greatly appreciated. Courtney‘s team will submit a concept to the broader Council for discussion at its November meeting, a draft for review on the Council’s January conference call, and a final version for approval in May. If you have ideas or resources you think should be considered, please send them to me at president@archivists.org and I will pass them on to the working group.

I have been reflecting on some eloquent words by a friend, Mary Foskett, on Charlottesville, which I pass along with her permission:

“Throughout my week in Berlin, and even more since returning home, I have been thinking about what a difference it could make if we had more memorials and monuments, not fewer, to make us pause, take stock of our history, and commit to becoming our best selves as a people. Specifically historical markers noting the spaces and places and lives brutalized by our nation’s history of racism, bigotry, and white supremacy, and the courageous men and women who stood up against it, markers urging us on, together, to remember and to do better. Berlin has challenged me to contemplate more deeply the power of facing ourselves in the hope of becoming our best selves. Charlottesville reminds me that we haven’t a moment to lose. ”

As always, if you have questions or concerns, please share them with me at president@archivists.org  My next post, in early September, will be an expanded version of my Incoming President remarks at SAA’s Business Meeting on Friday, July 28.

Barriers to Participation Survey Report

Contributed by Kate Dundon and Matthew Gorzalski, Membership Committee

The SAA Membership Committee recently surveyed members about the barriers hindering participation in SAA.  We wanted to identify the issues affecting members’ engagement with the organization, and propose strategies to foster greater participation. The report is available on the SAA Membership Committee microsite. The survey returned 1,279 responses, or 21% of total SAA individual membership.  This blog post highlights some of the findings.

Slightly over half (52%) of respondents indicated that they’d like to be more involved in SAA.  When asked to choose from a list of barriers, respondents are most hindered by lack of financial support (58%) and lack of time (47%), followed by feelings of inexperience (28%) and uncertainty on how to become involved (22%).  Others (12%) noted unsuccessful attempts at appointment or election to a leadership position.

Comments from the free text response question revealed an interesting dichotomy of members’ perspective concerning SAA as an insular organization versus its efforts to engage membership in recent years. Many members experience feelings of intimidation and unwelcomeness that contribute to their hesitation to participate in SAA. These include: perception of cliquish leadership and membership; first-time annual meeting attendees intimidated by the size of the conference; low proportion of people of color in SAA; perception that SAA is dominated by the interests of academic archives; and the perception that the organization is dominated by liberal political views. On the other hand, others remarked that SAA has become significantly more engaging over time, particularly to younger members. One respondent stated, “New members have never had such opportunities for service.”

This survey has given us a better understanding of the complex barriers faced by members in participating in the organization. The Membership Committee compiled a list of suggestions for addressing these obstacles in our report, many of which were presented to us by survey respondents. Below is a small selection of the actions that we think would be the most impactful:

  • Continue to create more opportunities to participate virtually in order to mitigate geographic and financial barriers to participation. Consider live streaming annual meeting sessions, plenaries, and section and committee meetings. When feasible, provide recorded professional development workshops online for a fee.
  • Create a “Get Involved” section on the SAA website that clearly articulates the various paths toward involvement in committees, sections, etc., and centralizes information about all leadership positions. Open elected positions and committee appointments, with with estimated time commitments, could be posted to this centralized location.
  • Produce regular profiles of current SAA leaders or volunteers with a description of their path of service that led them to their current positions, perhaps in In the Loop or Archival Outlook. A respondent commented, “I think I’d have a clearer picture of how to start my own service with SAA if I saw examples of how others have done it.”

Do you have ideas about how to support engagement with SAA? Leave them in the comment section below!

Portland in 2017: Confronting “The Whitest City in America”

Contributed by Maija Anderson, Host Committee Chair.

Just a few days after I finished writing a cheerful Host Committee greeting for SAA’s on-site conference program, I heard the devastating news that three men had been stabbed – two of them fatally – by a white supremacist who was hurling racist invective at two young women of color. It all took place on a MAX light rail train near a busy transit center in Portland. My initial reaction was both shock and a familiar sorrow. Portland has a reputation as a progressive, prosperous city with a low violent crime rate. However, like anyone with even a passing knowledge of local history, I also registered the event as a frightening recurrence of racist violence, which is as much a part of Portland’s legacy as its rose gardens, bridges, and breweries.

The following week, the Host Committee recognized that some archivists were questioning whether Portland was a safe place to visit for the Annual Meeting. We saw calls for archivists to protect each other, and for SAA to issue an official statement, which was forthcoming. Initially, I felt defensive. Portland isn’t perfect – for example, I anticipated that colleagues who expected an urban utopia would be shocked by our highly visible houseless population – but I still thought of Portland as a safe city. At the same time, I felt the Host Committee should respond. All of us on the committee were well aware of Oregon’s history of white supremacy, and Portland’s status as “the whitest city in America.” Most of us on the committee are white women, and are aware that we have the privilege of feeling safe, and experiencing racially charged violence as a freak occurrence. We recognize the reality that women of color encounter disproportionately high rates of violence. We wanted to provide a safe and welcoming environment, and we were not in a position to tell our colleagues, especially our colleagues of color, that they have nothing to worry about.

Taking into account the reactions from our peers on social media, email lists, and via personal contact, we explored opportunities to respond. For a variety of reasons, we chose not to issue our own “official” statement in response to SAA’s. We agreed it would be more effective to focus on peer-to-peer communication and support.

Several of us independently came up with the idea of promoting Portland’s many cultural resources led by historically marginalized communities. We felt that national news coverage had inadequately represented communities who have demonstrated resistance and resilience in the face of white supremacy. Follow #saa17 on Twitter to learn about community-based cultural projects, institutions, and businesses in Portland. Consider coming to open houses at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center and the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, where staff are generously opening their doors to attendees.

You can also expect the Host Committee to fully support SAA’s efforts, which will include “I’ll Walk With You” ribbons, active bystander resources, and more. Looking forward to the meeting, we welcome more feedback on how we, as your colleagues in Portland, can support you.

Message from the SAA Council

The following message was sent to SAA Members today by email.

Dear SAA Member:

The SAA Council was outraged to learn on Saturday afternoon, August 6, that someone placed an anti-transgender and gender nonconforming flyer by the #I’llGoWithYou ribbon and flyer on the ribbon table in the conference registration area at the Hilton Atlanta.[i] The language and tenor of the unapproved flyer were disrespectful and vile. This behavior is repulsive and inexcusable and will not be tolerated by the SAA leadership.

If the hate flyer was left by an SAA member, this is a violation of SAA’s Code of Conduct and a threatening act directed toward members of SAA’s community in what should be a safe space for all of our members and attendees.

The location – a public space near the conference registration desk that was not monitored in off-conference hours – and the anonymity of the culprit is important because we can never know if the hateful message came from within our community or from an ill-willed person who had access to the hotel space. Unfortunately the hotel security office did not capture the act on security camera.

Incidents like these are terrorizing – intended to intimidate and diminish. In his keynote address during Plenary 1 on August 4, Chris Taylor referred in a compelling way to the levels of understanding and response from individual to marketplace. If we frame our responses as individual (all of us), group (any SAA group), association (SAA), and the broader (archival) community, these are examples of what we can and are doing to respond:

Individuals:

  • We can each continue to work at being a diverse and inclusive community, even when we experience fear and even when it’s difficult.
  • We can be active bystanders. (This program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology describes what we can do when we are not directly involved.)
  • If you see something, say something. Let someone in SAA know.
  • Reach out to members and visitors who may feel threatened, who may need encouragement, or who may just want to talk, share, and understand.

Groups:

  • Reach out to members to discuss, inform, and/or identify things your group can do. Plan sessions. Collaborate with other groups on shared priorities.
  • Refer to SAA’s Core Values and Code of Ethics and Diversity and Inclusion Statement, which reflect our expectations for how members and visitors will interact with each other, and our Code of Conduct, which guides how we respond to incidents and behaviors that break our norms.

Association:

  • The core of our mission statement clearly states: “SAA promotes the value and diversity of archives and archivists.”
  • We have revised our Diversity and Inclusion Statement.
  • We created a page for the Council Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion, and developed a resource page on recent and current SAA Diversity and Inclusion groups (e.g., the Diversity Committee, Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable, and others) and activities that we hope will grow as we do. These will help you identify possible groups to contribute to or join (if you haven’t already).

Community:

  • We can share what we’re doing on diversity and inclusion, including lessons learned from challenging events.
  • Engage other communities, learn from what they are doing, and share what we learn.

Throughout the Joint Annual Meeting, attendees heard that SAA is continuing to work toward its strategic priority of being more diverse and inclusive. We can’t prevent hate incidents. What we can do is call out incidents if they happen, inform members and others about ways to respond, raise awareness, and discuss issues even when that’s challenging. And we can include.

We hope you’ll join us in discussing these issues and sharing ideas about what we all can do at #SAAincludes.

If you have concerns, questions, or suggestions, share them with SAA President Nance McGovern (president@archivists.org), any member of the Council, your component group leader, or Executive Director Nancy Beaumont (nbeaumont@archivists.org). We’re working on this together and we’re going to make progress.

The SAA Council

 


[i] Responding to SAA members’ requests, the #I’llGoWithYou ribbon and flyer were provided so that allies could support and help protect transgender and non-binary attendees when using restrooms and other gendered spaces. To learn more about this national campaign, visit www.illgowithyou.org.

 

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.

 

A Few Words on Diversity

In a couple of hours I’ll be heading to Chicago for our next Council meeting. This time we will be spending part of the meeting focusing on the issue of Diversity. Diversity is a hard topic for us. We’ve been wrestling with it as long as I’ve been a member of SAA. It is also an extremely difficult issue for me both as an African American female member and as a leader of the Society. Continue reading