NCPH’s own “Repair Work” at #ncph2019 and beyond

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This spring at the 2018 NCPH Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, NCPH’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force (NCPH Inclusion) held an on-the-fly session about sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the public history profession. You can read more about that session in Mary Rizzo’s recent post and a June 2018 Public History News piece.

Out of that session, a sub-committee of NCPH Inclusion prepared a report for the NCPH staff and board that contains both short- and long-term recommendations for how NCPH can ensure our members and attendees feel respected and safe while participating in NCPH events; to provide our members with resources to advocate for and protect themselves in their professional lives; and to hasten a wider cultural change that improves the working conditions cisgender women, transgender women and men, and non-binary people experience as public historians.

While the board, staff, and task force are working on all of the report’s recommendations, I’m writing specifically about a few changes that will be coming for 2019 in Hartford, parts of which you’ll see in evidence as soon as next month if you pre-register as a presenter (acceptances will go out September 15, so don’t worry if you haven’t heard!). The logistical details of implementation are still being worked out, but we thought you might appreciate a look at how decisions like these get made and the factors we consider whenever we make changes or additions to the conference—even changes that may seem from the outside to be small.

1: Share Your Pronouns

At the Las Vegas conference, we received the above tweet from an attendee and exhibitor. Every year, people ask us to add more information to the conference name badges or the conference Program, not realizing that this well-meaning question keeps me up at night (I’m only mostly joking). The problem is primarily one of accessibility. Every new piece of information we include on badges reduces the font size we can use, and because some people have longer names or affiliations the badges become difficult to read and see very quickly.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t provide NCPH attendees with another way to share their pronouns, and that’s what we’re going to do. We consider it an issue of fundamental respect and professionalism to refer to people in the way that they wish to be referred to and which accurately represents their identity. One of the report’s recommendations is to find a way to make this happen, and probably this will come in two steps:

Step 1: Registration. When you register for your next NCPH conference, there will likely be a field on that form to identify what pronouns you use. My pronouns, for example, are she/her, which represent both how I identify privately and how I want to be spoken about publicly and professionally. We’re currently planning for an optional question on the registration form which will allow you to tell us your pronouns if you want, or to simply proceed if not. By providing that information in advance, you give us the ability to “pre-stuff” your badge with a pronoun-identifying item to wear onsite, but you won’t ever have to do so in order to participate in an NCPH event.

Step 2: Onsite pronoun-sharing. In Hartford we’ll be providing a pronoun-identifying item: either a sticker that can be affixed to your badge or your person as you choose; a ribbon that would go at the bottom of your name badge like our current committee member/exhibitor/sponsor ribbons do; or a button to pin to your clothing or lanyard. Here we have to consider a number of factors. How user-friendly is the item? Is it likely to get misplaced, requiring the attendee to pick up a new one each day? How expensive is it (buttons are by far the most expensive)? How visible is it, if you’re looking at it from across a session room?

With both of these steps, our goal is to make pronoun-sharing a cultural norm for NCPH conferences. Our hope is that attendees will share their pronouns regardless of how they identify and regardless of whether they have ever been mis-gendered in the past, and not leave it up to those who use alternative pronouns to do all the heavy lifting. We’ll also be encouraging presenters to provide their pronouns at the beginning of sessions.

2: All-Gender Restrooms

A second short-term recommendation from the task force’s report was to establish an all-gender bathroom at NCPH conferences. The premise behind an all-gender restroom is simple: as the name suggests, all people, regardless of how they identify, are welcome to use it. It’s important to us that all our attendees feel safe at the conference, including anyone who isn’t comfortable in a binary restroom set-up.

For 2019 our host venue doesn’t have a pre-designated all-gender restroom, but they are allowing us to designate one or more of the restrooms on the main conference floor as all-gender and will provide signage to that effect. We’ll also be indicating clearly in the Program where the all-gender restrooms are located, so that those who want to use one can find it and those who’d rather avoid it can do that too. Bathrooms are abundant on our conference floor, so no one should be inconvenienced by this move—although if you have a preference in terms of the all-gender restrooms being located in closest proximity to the session rooms or in closest proximity to the NCPH registration desk and exhibit hall, please do reach out to let me know.

In some ways, this short-term recommendation is also a long-term request that we add the availability of all-gender restrooms to our (already very long) list of things we look for in future conference venues. Most attendees don’t realize that NCPH’s size is limiting in terms of conference venues; many smaller cities don’t have a single venue big enough to host our conference, but we’re priced out of many of the biggest cities (like New York City and Chicago) where we’re considered small fish. Not to mention our reliance on local public history institutions to volunteer to host.

What this means is that we don’t always have the luxury of choice; often we only get a couple of bids that can accommodate us. I can’t guarantee that the presence of an all-gender restroom can be a make-or-break demand for us going forward, but I can promise that I’ll be making a point of asking about it on all future site visits (which helps venues understand that this is an issue organizations take seriously, itself an act of advocacy) and that we’ll do everything we can to make sure there’s a facility that fulfills this need.

3: Affinity Gatherings

NCPH Inclusion also asked us to consider facilitating informal gatherings, which we’re currently calling “affinity gatherings” (this name is a work in progress and alternative suggestions are welcome) and where people with shared inclusion-related goals and needs can come together at the conference to have productive conversations (or just to reassure each other, vent, and feel comfortable) without feeling like those conversations are being policed or judged. These might be race/ethnicity-based (for example, an African American or Latinx affinity gathering), but they might also include a LGBTQ+ gathering, one focusing on accessibility concerns, and so forth.

We are flexible about what these groups can be and how they’re given space at the conference. If participants prefer, we can dedicate meeting space in the convention center. We can also set some up in a structure similar to Out to Lunch and Dine Arounds, where participants go offsite for a meal together and experience the conference city.

Before we move forward with a plan for affinity gatherings, we have questions for you: Are these something you’d participate in? Would you be interested in taking a leadership role in helping with onsite logistics? Would this be a valuable addition to your NCPH conference experience?

Taken individually, these may seem like small changes. All together, they represent a joint effort on behalf of NCPH staff, the NCPH board of directors, and the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force to make our conference a better, safer, more welcoming event for everyone. We never want to find ourselves talking the talk without walking the walk. Other changes will be coming as well, so watch this space.

We welcome your feedback on any and all of these upcoming additions for NCPH 2019, either in the comments section or via email. You can email me at [email protected].

~ Meghan Hillman is NCPH’s Program Manager.

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