Helen Wong Smith, Candidate for Vice President/President-Elect

Helen Wong Smith

Archivist for University Records
She/her/hoaaloha (friend)
I advocate employing the definition of cultural competency: 'the ability to function with awareness, knowledge, and interpersonal skill when engaging people of different backgrounds, assumptions, beliefs, values, and behaviors,' removing limitations of ethnicity, socio-economic status, and more importantly, the 'us vs. them' mentality.



An “Iʻm just a girl who canʻt say no” philosophy has provided professional experience in a variety of repositories. Currently archivist for University Records at the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) at Mānoa I possess over 35 years’ experience in library and archival collections after earning a Hawaiian Studies BA in 1986 and an MLIS in 1991 from this institution.

While librarian for Gemini North Observatory, Kamehameha Schools Hawaiʻi and the Hawaiian Collection at UH Hilo, I launched archival protocols. As the first Certified Archivist for the eleemosynary Queenʻs Medical Center, founded in 1859, lead archivist for the Pacific Island Network of the National Park Service, librarian/archivist for the State Historic Preservation Division, and executive director of the Kauaʻi Historical Society, I established professional standards and exemplary workflows. Positions such as recruitment coordinator for the Native Hawaiian Center of Excellence creating opportunities for K–post high school students reflect my dedication to advancing the underrepresented students into professions continues by creating numerous internships and practicums.

While on the SAA Council, 2013–2016, I introduced the cultural competency framework by developing a workshop. Appointed lead co-chair of Academy of Certified Archivists (ACA) task force to develop this new domain, I am developing training for the Council of State Archivists through IMLS funding. Elected and appointed to positions within SAA, ACA, and the American Association of State and Local History, I have served as president of Hawaiʻi Library Association, Hawaiian Historical Society and twice of the Association of Hawaiʻi Archivists, who bestowed me with the Agnes C. Conrad Award that recognizes outstanding contributions to the archives profession in Hawaiʻi. I was named a Distinguished Fellow of SAA in 2016, I was guest editor of the Diversity, Inclusion, and Cultural Competency Special Issue of the Journal of Western Archives. For over a decade I have served as a grant reviewer for IMLS, NEH, NHPRC. Currently a communication and information sciences doctoral student.



Each candidate prepared a diversity statement according to SAA guidelines.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are conditions to seek, accommodate, and hear the traditionally underrepresented or marginalized. By viewing each as complementary—diversity, allowing for the presence of those with differences; equity, acknowledging the root causes of disparity and addressing them; and inclusion, the outcome of their full participation in a safe atmosphere—we create a more responsive society to achieve broader goals. To realize these formidable goals, I advocate cultural competency: “the ability to function with awareness, knowledge, and interpersonal skill when engaging people of different backgrounds, assumptions, beliefs, values, and behaviors,” removing limitations of ethnicity, socio-economic status, and more importantly, the “us vs. them” mentality. When a term becomes ubiquitous it is often misinterpreted or misrepresented, making it subject to appropriation and denigration. Too often, outreach to underserved communities, employing people of color, or criticizing dominant cultures are considered exercises in cultural competency when the trifecta of cognitive (knowledge about other cultures to inform their skills and practice), affective (positive attitudes are needed toward one's own culture(s) as well as the cultural heritage of your colleagues and patrons), and behavioral (ability to adapt and accommodate behaviors to a different culture) are required to seek understanding others with respect.

As a female (strike 1) of color (strike 2), unsupported nontraditional student (strike 3), not of pure-Asian ancestry (strike 4), and now post 60 years old (strike 5), I have responded to multiple discriminatory professional events by advocating for other disenfranchised people and promoting cultural competency to address my implicit biases against the dominant cultures which have committed these offenses. My efforts include supporting para-professionals receiving professional development, flexible work schedules to accommodate domestic and cultural obligations, successfully nominating women of color to national boards and opportunities, and creating internships and practicums for diverse students, several of whom are archivists today. My approach to DEI is reflected through collaborative outreach to community archivists based on the precepts of cultural competency, creating opportunities for the underrepresented, and considering multiple viewpoints (listen, listen, listen) when there is conflict. I favor a participatory action model to address trauma-informed inclusive practice, which facilitates opportunities for communities to explore their own practices, to establish sustainable relationships, and articulate what is relevant to them.



The SAA Council recently approved the SAA Work Plan on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility, with the goal of incorporating DEIA and cultural competency into all aspects of SAA’s work, taking into account the SAA Strategic Plan (2020–2022) and informed by existing goals and strategies developed by component groups. Please identify one of the four areas in the work plan that you see as a priority and discuss how you would implement that area and align it with SAA’s Strategic Plan.


I believe DEI training and education for archives workers is the required foundation for recognizing the nuances and facets of DEIA and applaud the Diversity Committee for identifying it as a first step for SAA. The reason for this action—“The work of inclusion is both personal and institutional. We want to provide resources to archives workers that ensure they can make changes to discover their own bias, and help push the profession forward”—aligns with the self-reflective and inquiry-based steps of the cultural competency process. After delivering my full-day Cultural Diversity Competency workshop to the SAA Council and staff in 2015, they considered it fundamental training to be delivered free-of-charge to all members to reflect their commitment. I would work to see this implemented. The popularity of presentations, discussions, and the establishment of the Diversity Committee and the SAA Work Plan on DEIA reflect the importance of the awareness and methods to promote DEIA training and education in which we can combine cultural-mindedness with culturally centered communication skills for effective relationships with all people forming the basis for a diverse, equitable, and inclusive SAA.

Cultural competency has been erroneously criticized as a method to teach whites to work with BIPOC colleagues and patrons or as having a terminal status. However, competency proficiency, like all aspects of DEIA, are as dissimilar as people. A Hawaiian proverb, ʻAʻohe pau ka ʻike i ka hālau hoʻokahi (All knowledge is not taught in the same school), reflects  that we can learn from multiple sources through a variety of structures, nomenclatures, and methodologies (i.e., cultural humility and antiracism).

Dr. Rebecca Hankins and I successfully proposed cultural competency as a new domain to the Academy of Certified Archivists in 2019, and as lead co-chair with ACA President Tomaro Taylor the task force developed the core reading list and exam questions referred to in Task 3.2 of the Work Plan. The other tasks in this area of the Work Plan are obtainable through collaborative and transparent efforts. Recognizing these efforts will have direct impact to three of the four goals of the SAA Strategic Plan in the following ways: Enhancing Professional Growth through the delivery of training and education which can impact all facets of professional growth; Advancing the Field, promotes a more diverse archival record through the awareness and skills learned; Meeting Members’ Needs providing a structure to increase DEIA within the organization and for their success in the profession with a strategic approach. In light of recent events both within SAA and in society at large, this is the opportune time to attend to reconciliation through understanding of DEIA and cultural competency.



Slate of Candidates

The Nominating Committee has slated the following SAA members as candidates for office in the 2022 election:

Vice President/President-Elect


Nominating Committee