February 7, 2000
As you know, SAA's 64th Annual Meeting will be held in Denver this coming August at the Adam's Mark hotel. The Program and Host Committees have been working hard to make this an outstanding meeting. SAA Council, however, has recently became aware of a controversy that could mar the meeting's success. The Adam's Mark hotel chain has been charged with discrimination against African Americans during the Black College Reunion, an event held in Daytona Beach, Florida. On further investigation, Council learned that the U.S. Department of Justice had filed suit against the chain for engaging in a pattern of discrimination against minorities in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Several organizations, including the Episcopal Church and the Human Rights Campaign, which had planned meetings at the Denver Adam's Mark, have decided to move those events to other properties. Those organizations' decisions to cancel contracts with the hotel will require the organizations to pay substantial cancellations fees. Other organizations meeting at Adam's Mark hotels, including the Organization of American Historians, felt that they could not afford the cancellation fees and will have their meetings as scheduled.
This past weekend, Council spent almost half of its two-day meeting considering appropriate responses to these allegations. Council desires to deal with this issue in a fair, responsible, and sensitive manner, recognizing that there are significant financial and professional ramifications to this situation.
In their deliberations, Council members considered the following:
1. The Society has an existing policy regarding equal opportunity and non-discrimination. "Because discrimination and unequal treatment are inimical to the Society's goals, SAA hereby declares that discrimination on the grounds of race, color, creed, gender, national origin, age, marital status, family relationship, individual life style, and disability is prohibited within the Society. SAA will vigorously pursue a policy of non-discrimination and equal opportunity through its programs, activities, services, operations, employment, and business contracts." (Approved by Council, January 1992)
Notwithstanding this policy, discriminatory practices remain a part of American culture. The charges against the Adam's Mark have brought forth testimony from SAA members who have experienced discrimination at other SAA meetings and in daily life. It is important, therefore, that SAA not only address the specific issues surrounding the Adam's Mark, but to take this opportunity for self-reflection and to seek ways that the Society can at all times be more inclusive and respectful of diverse cultures.
2. The Adam's Mark has not yet been found guilty of criminal conduct in this suit and is presumed innocent until proven guilty. SAA, however, recently learned that the company was found guilty of employment discrimination in a 1996 decision in Federal Court, and their actions and public statements denying the current charges have caused Council to question the hotel's sincerity and their willingness to deal with the issue in an open and responsible manner.
3. Council reluctantly concluded that pulling out of the contract with the hotel would actually reward the hotel while at the same time cause irreparable financial harm to the Society. The Society's contract with the hotel includes a standard clause requiring it to pay a cancellation penalty of $300,000, roughly equivalent to the revenue expected by the hotel from our meeting. This penalty would, in effect, mean that the Adam's Mark would suffer no financial harm if the Society canceled its meeting, while SAA would be penalized an amount roughly equal to one-quarter of its annual budget or $100 per member.
At its meeting last weekend, Council took several immediate actions to begin addressing the issue:
1. It passed a resolution reaffirming its 1992 policy on equal opportunity and non-discrimination. Council also resolved that if the Adam's Mark chain is found culpable of violating individuals' civil rights or fails to reach a settlement with the Justice Department, the Society will hold no future functions at any Adam's Mark property.
2. It added a special session to the Denver meeting and will ask the Archives and Archivists of Color Roundtable to help develop a program focused on issues of diversity and archives. Council will support recruiting a major speaker for this event.
3. It assured that, as usual, the Society will provide those attending the meeting a list of other hotels in the vicinity.
Council was unanimous in seeking to consult broadly (though speedily) with the larger Society leadership about additional specific actions. Council considered a range of actions to address concerns relating to the Adam's Mark hotel and to ensure that all members of the Society feel they can attend the annual meeting and that they will be treated with respect at the annual meeting. Council seeks comment from those in positions of leadership in the Society on those proposed actions or on additional or alternative actions.
1. The Executive Director and Meeting Planner will consult with other organizations to discover contract language that will help the Society enforce its equal opportunity/non-discrimination policy.
2. SAA President Thomas Hickerson will write a letter to all members and to affiliated organizations informing them of SAA's concerns and its policies regarding diversity.
3. Any member who feels that he or she has suffered discriminatory treatment at the annual meeting in Denver will be asked to contact a member of Council for the record. Further, those individuals will be encouraged to file a complaint with the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
4. The Society will investigate the possibility of a fund-raising event or campaign benefiting SAA's Harold T. Pinkett Minority Student Award or benefiting one or more archives/museums of color in the Denver area.
Council asks the leadership to comment on these suggestions and to add others. Low attendance at the Denver meeting will hurt SAA far more than it will hurt the Adam's Mark. We would like to combat the alleged discrimination of the hotel chain with a positive commitment to diversity in our profession.
H. Thomas Hickerson
President, Society of American Archivists