22 April 2016 – Brian Joyner
Ask people what diversity within an organization or institution means and you’ll get many answers–responses so disparate, you wonder how anyone can identify a common thread or focus.
In 2015, the National Council on Public History created a Diversity Task Force to address the paucity of professionals of color engaged in public history in general and NCPH in particular.
Kristine Navarro-McElhaney of Arizona State University and I were asked to co-chair the group, made up of Aleia Brown, Middle Tennessee State University; Alima Bucciantini, Duquesne University; Kathleen Franz, National Museum of American History; Blanca Garcia, California State University, San Bernardino; Modupe Labode, Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis; and Mary Rizzo, Rutgers University-Newark. Rather than leave that discussion among the earnest, but decidedly few, individuals in the task force, the group decided to open up the topic at this year’s annual conference in Baltimore. The task force set out to answer the question of what NCPH means by diversity through a series of events held throughout the conference.
In Baltimore, the Diversity Task Force sought to do several things
- Let the NCPH membership know there was a group looking at ways to acknowledge and amplify the profile of under-represented segments of the public historian community
- Engage the conference with discussions of what diversity might look like for NCPH
- Question whether the work should be about “diversity” or “inclusion”
On Thursday, March 17, the task force organized a Twitter chat, #HistoryInMyImage, hosted by Aleia Brown (@aleiabrown). Nearly 300 tweets responded to and expounded on a series of questions directed at understanding how professionals of color view NCPH, what diversity and inclusion mean to NCPH members, and what they expect as members. The tone of the responses mirrored much of the debate occurring through the conference. (Here is a Storify of the chat.)
The Twitter chat segued into the task force’s first face-to-face meeting in the afternoon. After a presentation from Sangita Chari from the National Park Service about their Office of Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion, the discussion quickly moved from whether we defined diversity primarily as race and ethnicity or whether we should expand to include gender, sexuality, and ability. The group identified opportunities for further engagement with membership by submitting a proposal to the NCPH Board of Directors to make the task force a standing committee, proposing a mini-con on diversity and inclusion, connecting with other committees dealing with related issues (such as accessibility), and hosting future Twitter chats. Several interested individuals attended the meeting, providing useful feedback and perspective. There was a call for increased transparency around the task force’s work as it moves forward.
Later that evening, the task force hosted an UnConference on #HistoryInMyImage at Teavolve Cafe to continue the dialogue the social media chat initiated. Attendees shared, in groups, their experiences at the conference to that point. More people requested increased transparency as the task force moves forward. Participants were asked to write one or two words on sticky notes to describe what diversity should mean for NCPH and the public history field. Many of the issues surrounding inclusive practices–panel diversity, session slotting, accommodations for the differently-abled–arose as the group teased out this question. I proposed starting an online group as an additional step toward transparency.
So what’s next? More intentional engagement around diversity and inclusion, as social media and informal responses to other sessions indicated, is necessary. Well-intentioned people at the conference indicated that “diversity is important” while failing to invite people representing those groups into the room when the conversations occur. Still others are tired of the discussion and want to “see change happen” without knowing what that looks like or what their responsibility is to that change. The collected one-word responses from the UnConference plus the Twitter chat results will shape the dialogue with the NCPH Board as to how NCPH incorporates diversity and inclusion as a core value. Finally, expanding participation of NCPH members in the task force seems critical. Baltimore proved to be a good first step, but persistent effort and engagement is crucial to achieve the shift that so many see needs to happen.
In the immediate future, the task force will 1) work toward gaining standing committee status, and 2) outline the scope of the task force and plan its future direction. This blog post is the first in a series that hopes to answer the question of what diversity is and why it’s important to NCPH.
~ Brian Joyner has worked for the National Park Service for many years and currently serves as a legislative specialist.