Each year, the SAA Nominating Committee (committee membership elected by the general membership in the previous year + the addition of two third-year Council members) collects information from candidates for SAA office to be included in the biographical pages that you see distributed with the ballot (these types of pages). This year, the NomComm asked candidates for VP/President Elect this question:
Among SAA’s strategic goals is to meet members’ needs by delivering outstanding service, fostering a culture of inclusiveness and participation, and being proactive and responsive. Identify one factor that undermines diversity, equity, and inclusion in SAA and describe what programs and/or projects you would implement to overcome this barrier.
As I mentioned in my previous post, my response to this question is focused on the need for SAA to do an organization-wide assessment of its role in sustaining and benefiting from white supremacy. Then with a true reckoning (and the reflection that stems from that), it could move forward with genuine reparative actions that are financially supported and that come with clearly stated objectives and accountability. Basically, what the awesome Dr. J. Jackson-Beckham says here:
Ultimately, what I’m proposing is that SAA commits itself to the difficult work of clearly acknowledging the truth. And then commits itself to the follow up work of change. This would be difficult because it would be uncomfortable. As Jasmine Clark wrote recently, “LIS is passive aggressive and conflict averse because conflict mediation runs counter to its white supremacist roots.” This is true of archives and it’s DEFINITELY true of SAA.
This is uncomfortable work (as it should be). And I know this would be “uncomfortable” financially. Not only would this require a substantive, long-term financial commitment from the organization, but honestly, there are members who will leave SAA because of its commitment to truth and reparation. I’m thinking of the person who cancelled their membership when I was on Council, and wrote to tell us that they were doing so because of SAA’s “socialistic agenda.” Ultimately, though, this is the Society of American Archivists – with an emphasis on the people, not the stuff. Our organization has done harm and has sustained harm done to our Black members (not to mention the extensive harm done to communities of color from our practices, gatekeeping, etc.). We need to name that.
I quoted this piece from Bergis Jules in my last blog post, and if you haven’t read it already, please do. But I’m going to quote another part of it here:
Yes, I agree that archives have the potential to change and even save lives, but whose lives are we talking about and are we really invested in this idea? I offer that we haven’t done the truth work necessary to allow us to claim these lofty ideals.
Basically, this whole idea comes down to a need for SAA to do what Dr. J said — acknowledgement, apology, and action. To act and keep acting even when people rightfully don’t accept apologies or when they are hesitant to accept that an organization can change. To act and keep acting even when its really uncomfortable (emotionally, financially, etc.). You can’t DEI workshop your way out of systemic racism. And the organization has got to do the difficult work to get to anything resembling “atonement.”
*** I think the “official” candidate pages will be published on the SAA website in early March. I submitted the content for mine last week, but I’ll probably write more here about my process of developing the full candidate profile in the coming weeks.