The whole thing

Here’s the whole of what I submitted for my SAA candidate statement. I also included the guiding information that we were given to help us craft our responses. I think it’s important that the membership gets this whole picture and understands what goes into these statements!

Also I’m probably going to write a bit more later about the diversity statement section, which is new this year. You can see the prompt below.

The guiding language we received is in bold. My responses are not.

Return by Monday, January 25

Your bio info and candidate statement together should not exceed 1200 words.

Please provide a digital image of yourself. A high resolution (72 dpi) color jpeg or png sized square (2″x2″) is preferred.

Your Name
Your Title, Pronouns

Provide a pull quote from your candidate response, something strong that will be voters’ first impression when they visit your candidate page. Must be a line directly from your candidate response. 50 words max. Does not count against your total word count of 1200.

“[Pull Quote Here.]”

Erin Lawrimore
University Archivist, she/her/hers

“We must identify and give language to the root evil of white supremacy and reckon with our role in sustaining that evil — a process that will take time and effort. Only when this is done can we attempt true reparative action and move towards becoming a genuinely inclusive organization.”

BIOGRAPHICAL STATEMENT (~300 words max)

Please use this space to communicate who you are as a person and an archival professional. Some common topics discussed: professional experience, education, professional activities and accomplishments, awards and recognitions, publications, and/or presentations.

[Provide your response here.]

I currently work as the University Archivist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a position I have held since 2011. Additionally, I am a lecturer for San Jose State University’s School of Information. Previously, I worked at North Carolina State University (2008-2011) and the University of Tennessee (2003-2008).

I initially joined SAA as a student member in 2001 when I began my M.S. in Information Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Since then, I served in numerous capacities with SAA component groups, committees, and task forces. These include chairing the Description Section (2009-2010), co-chairing the Awards Committee (2011-2013), serving on the Annual Meeting Task Force Online Accessibility Subcommittee (2011-2013), and serving on the Committee on Public Awareness (2014-2016). Currently, I am the blog editor for the Accessibility and Disability Section.

From 2016-2019, I served as a member of SAA Council. In 2018-2019, my fellow Council members elected me to represent them on Executive Committee and the Foundation Board. During my time on Council, we eliminated unpaid internship from the Job Board, developed a program giving Section leaders direct access to a small pool of funds, endorsed the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials and stated that many of the initial criticisms were rooted in white supremacy, and shined a spotlight on archivists and archival projects that challenge traditional historical narratives and use archival resources to support justice initiatives.

Additionally, I serve on the North Carolina State Historical Records Advisory Board and the North Carolina Community College Archives Association Board. I also work with numerous local community-based archives to provide resources and training. In these roles, I specifically seek to use my experience and resources as a university archivist to support the work of small, underfunded archives.

You can learn more about me on my website.

DIVERSITY STATEMENT (~400 words max) [New this year!]

A diversity statement reflects on how one’s identity and experience contribute to diversity; demonstrates awareness of DEI issues and how to frame and approach them; and identifies specific DEI strategies that apply to the position they apply for. Thus, it responds to the following questions:

  • What is your own definition of diversity, equity, and inclusion?
  • How have your own personal, academic, and professional experiences and expertise prepared you to advocate for inclusive, equitable practices?
  • Are you aware of your own implicit biases? How have you come to this realization and how do you continue to grow as an advocate for DEI?
  • How do you reflect DEI in your work? How will you model a trauma-informed and inclusive practice, and mentor others who will work with you?
  • What are your specific plans and strategies that will use the position you are applying for to advance DEI within your immediate SAA unit, SAA as a whole, and beyond the organization?

[Provide your response here.]

Valuing differences and providing fair treatment and equal access are important. But simply providing people with a seat at the table does not make an organization “inclusive.” An inclusive organization uses an anti-racist, anti-oppressive framework to acknowledge its current and past wrongs and to actively ensure historically marginalized communities have the power to make and influence decisions.

In my work as University Archivist, I seek not to hide past harms done by our institution but to amplify hidden histories to tell a fuller story. This is difficult and purposeful work, but work that is essential, particularly given the history of my university, which was founded as a segregated school for white women in 1891 and now is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a minority-serving institution where 48% of students are BIPOC. I do this with the recognition that, as a white woman, this is not (and should not be) a comfortable process. I must acknowledge the ways I benefit from the system of white supremacy that remains pervasive today, and I recognize I am not always the person who should be telling these stories. I work with faculty and students to amplify hidden histories, make resources available, and actively document our community through a lens of reciprocity. As University Archivist, I acknowledge that I stand in a position of power, and I know that voices that were silenced in the past could remain silenced without explicit effort to uncover them. I believe it is my responsibility as an archivist to do this reparative work and to fight against the systems that perpetuate oppression.

In his 1977 article “Secrecy, Archives, and the Public Interest,” Howard Zinn wrote “the rebellion of the archivist against his normal role is not, as so many scholars fear, the politicizing of a neutral craft, but the humanizing of an inevitably political craft … Our choice is to follow the politics of the going order, that is, to do our job within the priorities and directions set by the dominant forces of society, or else to promote those human values of peace, equality, and justice, which our present society denies.” Archives and archival work are not and can never be neutral. There is value for everyone in learning a fuller history and in acknowledging how and why these histories were hidden — including the role of archivists in contributing to historical marginalization and erasure.

QUESTION POSED BY NOMINATING COMMITTEE

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.

CANDIDATE RESPONSE (~500 words max)

[Provide your response here.]

SAA’s Statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion defines “diversity” broadly, encompassing “socio-cultural factors related to individual and community identity, including the attributes mentioned in SAA’s Equal Opportunity/Nondiscrimination Policy” AND “professional and geographic factors, reflecting the Society’s desire for broad participation from archivists working in various locations, repository types and sizes, employment classifications and rank, and professional specializations.” In my experience, this broad definition too often allows us to skirt around candid, necessary discussions about white supremacy.

While SAA’s current Strategic Plan contains a commitment to “continuous proactive steps to ensure that marginalized members of our organization are seen and cared for,” this work could be improved through development of an action plan focused specifically on anti-racist and anti-oppressive action. This action plan would critically explore the legacy and impact of white supremacy on our profession and our organization, use member feedback to develop specific, measurable actions that SAA can take towards dismantling white supremacy, and state a clear, continous commitment of time and funding to ensure this work is sustained through leadership transitions and that the organization is held accountable for carrying out this work.

When I served on SAA Council, we began each meeting by reviewing the specific goals and strategies outlined in the organization’s Strategic Plan and discussing progress (or lack of progress) towards achieving them. A trained facilitator was brought in to help us think through and review the Strategic Plan. If we want to focus on “fostering an open an inclusive culture,” we should start with ourselves, prioritizing the time and funding for experts in cultural humility and organizational DEAI efforts to work with Council and membership on an actionable plan, developing a vision of what this work looks like within SAA, and centering this plan in all conversations. An actionable plan focused specifically on dismantling the legacy and impact of white supremacy on our organization and profession would serve as a clear message to guide us across all decisions — across component groups, across leadership transitions, across the goals and strategies of the Strategic Plan.

I am wary of plans and statements that come without funding or clear paths of action and accountability. A statement of values and aspirations without reflective examination, deep engagement, and action is not effective. Committing to developing this type of action plan would allow us to more readily and clearly center questions of accessibility and inclusivity in Council meetings and all other organizational decisions now and in the future, just as the Strategic Plan is currently placed in the forefront to guide the group’s conversations. We must identify and give language to the root evil of white supremacy and reckon with our role in sustaining that evil — a process that will take time and effort. Only when this is done can we attempt true reparative action and move towards becoming a genuinely inclusive organization.

A first look at my SAA candidate statement

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.

Try 5 – try it!

We’ve got a few more days before the first batch of materials for the November Council meetings are available, so in the meanwhile, I wanted to make sure folks know about current SAA President Nance McGovern’s “Try5” Initiative.  This initiative encourages archivist to try five new technical things and share their experiences. Fellow Council member Bert Lyons just published a blog post about his ideas for Try5.

Continue reading “Try 5 – try it!”

Catching up with Council work

Long time, no update. Sorry about that! September is the single busiest month in our University Archives, and this one has been particularly hectic. We have six student researchers (three undergrads, three grad students — all paid!!) who will be working with us this year on projects related to our upcoming 125th anniversary. And we have 73 classes booked this semester (for perspective, we had 100 in all of last year, and that was a 56% increase in classes over the previous year — and we’re not a huge staff at all). Next week, I have my final seven classes of the semester, which will wrap things up for me until the Spring.

Continue reading “Catching up with Council work”

August 6th Council meeting (and what I’m currently thinking re: my spot on Council)

As I mentioned in my last post, the SAA annual meeting wrapped up for me with a short Council meeting. This was the first for Courtney, Bert, and me as officially seated, voting Council members. This meeting was very short (just over an hour long), and was primarily scheduled so that we could discuss any issues that arose over the course of the meeting. So the agenda was very light.

Continue reading “August 6th Council meeting (and what I’m currently thinking re: my spot on Council)”

What I Did in Atlanta: the SAA Annual Meeting as a Newly Elected Council Member

I’m finally home and settled in after a long week in Atlanta for SAA’s annual meeting. I wrote a few days ago about our August 1st Council meeting that took place while we were there. But I also wanted to write a bit about the experience of attending Council as a newly-elected Council member. This year’s annual meeting was a particularly crazy one because I was balancing obligations from pre- and post-Council election.

Continue reading “What I Did in Atlanta: the SAA Annual Meeting as a Newly Elected Council Member”