A Transformative Experience!

by Joyce Gabiola, Tanya Marshall, and Rachel Winston, Program Committee Co-chairs

TRANSFORMATIVE! is the theme of the 2019 Joint Annual Meeting of the Council of State Archivists (CoSA) and SAA, held July 31– August 6 in Austin, Texas. As program co-chairs, we’ve been intentional about using this opportunity to put into practice ideals that CoSA and SAA seek to uphold. Many discussions that occur within the archives profession— at conferences, workplaces, classrooms, and in our daily lives— revolve around issues of inclusivity, accountability, creating space for underrepresented voices, and challenging the status quo. However, such discussions are often held in the margins. We hope that this conference will help to widen the arena.

Taking steps to ensure that members of our organizations who have been marginalized feel seen and cared for, particularly in today’s challenging social climate, espouses our profession’s goal of inclusivity. A new element to the program submission process is an inclusivity statement, which encourages people to consider the ways in which inclusivity can be promoted and integrated into their sessions. Some proposals explicitly named white supremacy, whiteness, racism, or bias, and we’re pleased that so many proposals intend to address the effects of systemic power on archives, records, people, and the environments in which we work, study, and teach.

During the program committee’s January meeting in Chicago, members engaged in thoughtful discussions around proposals. We regret that we had to decline many proposals that were not only relevant to the conference theme but also robust in their educational objectives. For this conference, we made space for under-discussed topics by creating tracks on:

  • Diversity/Whiteness Normativity, and Cultural Humility
  • Invisible Labor 
  • Instruction and Pedagogical Practice
  • Leadership Development and Mentoring; Spaces, Places, and Margins
  • Government Archives and Records Management 

With these optional tracks, we hope that conference attendees find professionally enriching sessions.

As co-chairs we’d like to acknowledge the power structures that underlie our collaborative work as a committee. We also want to acknowledge the emotional and invisible labor that is required for some of our fellow committee members as they serve in this capacity, as well as some of you—our colleagues—who navigate the systems of power under which our institutions and organizations operate. Relevant to this is an excerpt from the notification emails sent to session chairs:

As presenters at the Joint Annual Meeting, it’s important to recognize your positionality as it relates to your topic. At a basic level, this involves reflecting on and acknowledging power structures and your social location (intersecting identities) as it relates to your topic. As the nature of archives is a colonialist project, to not acknowledge the power structures that control our work reproduces that power and, depending on the topic of your presentation, erases the contributions and voices of historically marginalized people and communities.

On a related note, we’d like to remind you that the SAA Council voted in 2017 to keep the Joint Annual Meeting in Austin despite anti-trans legislation in process at the time. Currently, there are no civil protections for our trans colleagues in Texas as they engage in everyday activities that the rest of us take for granted, such as using the restroom. In regard to your presentations, we ask that you reflect on and acknowledge the ways in which any aspect of your presentation may cause harm for our colleagues/attendees and/or the community that you and your institutions serve. Please be assured that the conference organizers and the hotel are making every effort to ensure the safety and comfort of all attendees.

We hope that the committee’s approach to the selection process will create an experience that will be vibrant, informative, and thought-provoking—and encourage you to take on challenging but meaningful endeavor. We believe there are endless possibilities that can move us toward transformative work and relationships. Our efforts combined with your energy will make our time together at the Joint Annual Meeting memorable. Let’s make history in Austin. We look forward to seeing y’all!



As published in the March/April 2019 Archival Outlook

Annual Meeting referenced: 

CoSA and SAA thank the following Conference Sponsors for their support!