Back in June, the RAC released a statement in solidarity with the Black Community, and more recently a statement in solidarity with the Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander Community. For the rest of the summer, a few RAC staff members brainstormed ways we could turn these words into actionable change within our institution. We immediately saw the connection between cultural competency and archival description and decided to propose a “Culturally Competent (Re)description Campaign.”
A Step in the Right Direction…
Our goals for the (Re)Description Campaign were rather ambitious. It would start off with learning about culturally competent descriptive practices and end with a repository-wide audit to address problematic terms or language found within legacy description. Embedded in this was the need to create an organization-wide understanding of and commitment to culturally competent description, and incorporate this understanding into all processing projects and all aspects of our descriptive practices. It became clear that education would be the foundation for any culturally competent descriptive work. We decided to transform our original campaign into one focused on education with the idea that changes to our descriptive practices would come a later time.
…With A Focus on Education
Our education campaign aimed to formulate and facilitate training activities to equip staff with the knowledge and expertise to recognize, prevent and remove pejorative, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, euphemistic, and ableist language; hagiographic description that valorizes white men and people with power; and to address the absence of description related to individuals and groups from marginalized communities.
Preparing to take full responsibility for running this campaign, Katie Martin, Darren Young, and I met with other staff members who had experience running an education program. We were able to learn from their experiences and gather helpful resources. We wanted to make sure participants understood that this was a group learning experience and even though we would act as learning facilitators, we were not experts. We gathered and shared specific resources that were geared toward both personal and institutional change that would be extremely important as we moved through the education campaign.
Below is an excerpt from the Culturally Competent (Re)description Education Campaign that shows how we plan to navigate learning together what it means to be “culturally competent”.
Education Campaign Project Milestones
Phase 1: Self-Guided Remote Learning
- Introduce cultural competency concepts and practices in the framework of archives
- Create awareness of unconscious bias and racism within ourselves and our collections
- Identification of inclusive and reparative description in archives
Proposed Courses and Learning Modules:
- LinkedIn Learning Confronting Racism Course
- SAA Cultural Diversity Competency Course
- SAA Archives*Records 2020, On-Demand Session 24: Implementing Inclusive (Re)Description at Predominantly White Institutions
- Three discussion sessions in January 2021 to accommodate staff
Phase 2: Reading Group
- Monthly virtual meetings with co-facilitated discussions via Teams/Zoom
- Establish and share ground rules for productive and safe discussion
- Meetings begin with a lightning round style reflection question that is shared with staff prior to the meeting
- Silencing the Past, Chapter 1: The Power in the Story - Michel-Rolph Trouillot
- Me and White Supremacy - Layla F. Saad
- Anti-Racist Description Resources - Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia’s Anti-Racist Description Working Group
- Identifying & Dismantling White Supremacy in Archives poster - Michelle Caswell, UCLA Archives, Records, and Memory class, with poster design by Gracen Brilmyer
- Jessica Tai, “Cultural Humility as a Framework for Anti-Oppressive Archival Description,” Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 3 (October 1, 2020)
Thank you to Patrick Galligan, Bonnie Gordon, Katie Martin, Hannah Sistrunk, and Darren Young for their collaborative efforts to envision, strategize, and document the scaffolding which led to the creation of the RAC’s Culturally Competent Re(Description) Education campaign.
Stay tuned for more blog posts documenting our experience facilitating the Culturally Competent (Re)Description Education Campaign!
- Anti-Racist Description Resources from Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia’s Anti-Racist Description Working Group
- Toward Culturally Competent Archival (Re)Description of Marginalized Histories, SAA panel slides (trigger warning: racist images and language in these slides)
Example research guides, description policy, and contextual information: