Diversity and Inclusion in Archaeology

*DISCLAIMER*: This blog post reflects my own thoughts and comments as a volunteer member of the SHA Boston 2020 Organizing Committee. These are not official statements made on behalf of the Society for Historical Archaeology or the Boston 2020 Organizing Committee, merely personal opinions.

When my friends Joe and Jen first asked me if I wanted to be a part of the organizing committee (OC) for the Society for Historical Archaeology 2020 Conference in Boston my gut reaction was “this is a bad idea, of course I’ll do it!”

At first I didn’t have a defined role, but as we discussed the committee roles, and several others on the OC spoke to SHA members about past conferences, it became clear that there was a need for the Boston 2020 OC to direct our focus towards accessibility of all kinds. Our conference theme is Revolution — not just because of the fight for independence from Britain that began in Boston, but the many revolutions, small and large, that surround and embody our city. By focusing on accessibility we are aiming to make sure that all attendees not only feel welcome, but supported, while presenting, socializing, and visiting in Boston.

SHA 2020 Boston Logo, designed by Joe Bagley

Thus, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee was born. With, inexplicably, myself at the helm. Well, maybe not so inexplicably. I do have a decent amount of experience organizing accessible events and implementing diversity and inclusion mandates in professional organizations. Along with that professional and volunteer background, I also have my own lived experiences as a disabled queer woman informing my actions as committee chair.

But beyond vows of inclusion and promises on the internet, what does the actual work I’m doing for the OC look like?

So far, it’s been a lot of speaking to SHA members about what they’d like to see implemented at future conferences to make them the most comfortable, enriching experiences possible. While in St. Charles for the 2019 conference I made it a point to talk to as many people as I could about their experiences, attend talks, workshops, and forums that were relevant to my goals, and take LOTS of notes.

In the weeks since attending that conference I’ve been able to identify the groups and communities that have been historically marginalized at academic conferences, and in academia in general. Oftentimes when talking or thinking about “accessibility” for an event, our minds go to visible, physical disabilities. And while the importance of creating accessible spaces for people with these disabilities CANNOT be overstated, the range of “accessibility” concerns is far broader than baseline ADA compliance.

When I speak about “accessibility” I mean improving access for members and attendees from a large variety of communities and intersecting identities. My not-at-all comprehensive list of people who I constantly have in mind when I’m considering accessibility issues include:

  • Attendees who are Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color (BIPOC)
  • Attendees who are LGBTQ/Queer or any other combination of gender and sexual minorities
  • Attendees who are women (this absolutely includes trans women. No TERFS allowed here).
  • Attendees who are undocumented
  • Attendees with chronic and/or invisible illness and mental health concerns
  • Attendees with disabilities
    • Includes physical (visible) and invisible disabilities
  • Attendees who are parents/guardians of children or other dependents
  • Attendees with dietary concerns (whether this is due to choice, religion, allergies, or illness)
  • Attendees who are religious minorities

Some of the accessibility challenges are easier for me to deal with than others — after all, I can just say “Okay, what would I like to know if I was a queer person travelling to Boston” or “What kinds of things would make it easier for me to attend a conference as someone with some minor disability concerns?” or “Where have I felt myself excluded as a woman in past conference experiences?” or “Where can I safely worship in Boston, as a member of a religious minority?”

But I am not Black. I’m not Autistic. I’m not a parent, or gluten intolerant, or trans, or any of a number of other intersecting and complex identities that make our SHA members so wonderful. So my challenge is to try and understand the barriers to access that other marginalized groups face, and in order to do this I’m implementing several approaches.

First I am recruiting committee members who can provide personal and professional experience with approaching accessibility problems and providing support for conference attendees. I have also compiled a list of reports and self-assessments done by other professional organizations and schools that have taken a detailed look into how they have historically provided accessibility accommodations, and how they can adapt and improve. This includes literature from the American Bar Association, SPARC, Syracuse University, and the American Library Association, among others. Using this literature, and resources that I’ve gathered and referenced in my past work making events accessible and inclusive, I’ll be spending the next few months writing up an SHA Boston 2020 Diversity and Inclusion Guide, which will address as many accessibility concerns as possible, and provide a document that attendees can search and reference while they plan their conference experience.

I will also be releasing a survey within the next few weeks that will aim to collect information from SHA attendees, and other archaeologists, on their concerns and past experiences with conference attendance. This will give our community a chance to tell me, and other members of my Diversity and Inclusion Committee, what matters most to them.

Why is this important? Why would I voluntarily put in dozens of hours of unpaid work in order to compile and research all of this information for a conference that only lasts 3 days?

Because no matter how long they are here, I want my fellow archaeologists to feel safe, respected, and supported in my city. If I can do something, ANYTHING, to make that goal a reality, I will do it. It’s not solely the job of the marginalized to tear down the barriers to full access that they face– it’s the job of people in relative positions of power (myself included) to fix the problems we have created, whether we created them through outright hostility or negligence.

Our discipline is not alone in perpetuating racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism — see the many, many, many, many, many — DEEP BREATH — many, many, many, many, relevant posts, studies, and reports. But, as much as we’d like to pretend otherwise, we have very big problems in archaeology.

Racism in archaeology is one of the oldest problems haunting the discipline. In many ways archaeology, and the intersecting fields of cultural and biological anthropology, has been a tool of White/European colonialism and imperialism. So the idea that academic and archaeological societies need to actively support and include archaeologists of color is not simply a nice gesture, but anti-racist praxis. Just one of the many ways to mitigate the negative effects that academic and scientific racism has on our fellow archaeologists is to seek out opportunities to prioritize, center, and support them.

Map detailing racial segregation in Boston.
Source: Vance, 2015. https://medium.com/the-opportunity-series/the-still-segregated-city-88d66cfcaa6d

It’s no secret that Boston has a perception as a very racist city. Massachusetts is also not always the shining beacon of sexual or gender equality that some may hope. And, to be honest, archaeology isn’t too friendly to LGBT/queer folks, women, and those with disabilities of all kinds. There are problems both in the field and in the academy.

So how do we make sure that the archaeologists of color, disabled archaeologists, women archaeologists, and trans and queer archaeologists we invite to our conference feel welcome and safe here? My hope is that by implementing a strong Diversity and Inclusion mandate for our conference we will set the tone for how visitors interact with our city.

As mentioned above, I plan to begin by soliciting feedback through an anonymous targeted survey, which will hopefully be disseminated starting in March. This survey will ask for accessibility feedback and commentary, as well as demographic information, from both members of the SHA and non-SHA archaeologists who have attended similar conferences. The next step is doing the research and work of compiling relevant information into an accessibility guide for SHA Attendees, which will be customized to attending a conference in downtown Boston, but which will hopefully serve as a template for future conferences to use.

This guide will answer questions like the following:

  • Where can I breastfeed or pump in the conference hotel?
  • Where in Boston can I find a queer or trans friendly walk-in clinic?
  • Where is the closest mosque? The closest shul? Baptist church?
  • What are my rights as an undocumented person in Boston?
  • Where can I find more information about Black/African American community organizations in Boston?
  • Who do I contact to arrange a paratransit ride from the MBTA?

Obviously I will never be able to answer or anticipate every question that an attendee may have, but it’s my hope that the process of compiling this information will not only illuminate accessibility challenges I may not have anticipated, but make our attendees feel they have at least some measure of support as they attend the conference. The SHA has always had systems in place, and has always done its best to address issues of racism and gendered oppression, but sometimes a reaffirmation and a conference-specific approach is what is needed to really reinforce the policies of diversity and inclusion that the SHA has tried to embody.

And finally, during the conference itself members of the Diversity and Inclusion committee, and trained volunteers, will be available to address accessibility concerns as they happen on the ground. Because the last thing anyone wants is worries about their safe enjoyment of the conference getting in the way of… actually enjoying the conference.

With that, I’ll wrap up this extra-long post, and also ask that if anyone has any comments, questions or concerns about the current plans for the SHA 2020 Diversity and Inclusion Committee that they please contact me at Elizabeth.Quinlan002@umb.edu, or even DM me on twitter at archaeoliz. I’m more than happy to chat.



(Sources, both linked in-text and others consulted)

American Bar Association
2015 Planning Accessible Meetings and Events: A Toolkit. https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/mental_physical_disability/Accessible_Meetings_Toolkit.authcheckdam.pdf

Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)
2017 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Learnings and Next Steps. https://sparcopen.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Diversity-Equity-and-Inclusion-Report-July-10-V1-Release.pdf

Pollack, Kate and Diane Wiener
2018 A Guide to Planning Inclusive Events, Seminars, and and Activities at Syracuse University. http://sudcc.syr.edu/_documents/InclusiveEventsSeminarsGuide.pdf

American Library Association
2017 Final Report of the ALA’s Conference Accessibility Task Force (CATF). http://www.ala.org/aboutala/sites/ala.org.aboutala/files/content/cd_37_1_catf_rpt_62017_inf.docx

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
2018 Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Paula A. Johnson, Sheila E. Widnall and Frazier F. Benya, Editors. https://www.nap.edu/read/24994/chapter/1

Zevallos, Zuleyka
2018 Racism in Research and Academia. Other Sociologist. January 13, 2018. https://othersociologist.com/2018/01/13/racism-in-research-and-academia/

WOC Faculty
2018 “A Collective Response to Racism in Academia”. Published on May 8, 2018. https://medium.com/@wocfaculty/a-collective-response-to-racism-in-academia-35dc725415c1

Fields, Andre Rubin
2014 The Effects of Systemic Racism on the Academic Achievement of African American Male Adolescents. Doctoral dissertation, Department of Psychology, Western Michigan University. https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1376&context=dissertations

Brown, Nicole, Paul Thompson, and Jennifer Leigh
2018 Making Academia More Accessible. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice. Vol 6 (2): 82-90. https://jpaap.napier.ac.uk/index.php/JPAAP/article/view/348/467

Walsh, Lisl2018
“Academia is Irreparably Ableist”. Published in September 24, 2018. https://medium.com/@lislanna/academia-is-irreparably-ableist-925fb33721ff

Walker, Francis
2017 Transphobic Microaggressions in Academia. Conditionally Accepted. Published on July 7, 2017. https://conditionallyaccepted.com/2017/07/07/transphobic-microaggressions/

Gannon, Linda
1999 Chapter 3 Homophobia in Academia: Examination and Critique. In The Constructions of Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men. Lynn Pardie and Tracy Luchetta, Editors. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=dJ2igh8tascC&oi=fnd&pg=PA43&dq=homophobia+in+academia&ots=7V5xHvrZY1&sig=fCQNdhJBAWiYdW_uEOQa3KfqYDg#v=onepage&q=homophobia%20in%20academia&f=false

Fenby-Hulse, Kieran
2016 “The paper unwritten: is my sexuality holding me back in academia?” The Times Higher Education. Published March 30, 2016. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/paper-unwritten-my-sexuality-holding-me-back-academia#survey-answer

Godsen, Chris
2006 Race and racism in archaeology: Introduction. World Archaeology. 38(1): 1-7. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00438240500509702?needAccess=true

Parikh, Anar
2018 “Race is Still a Problem in Anthroplogy”. Anthrodendum. Published April 9, 2018. https://anthrodendum.org/2018/04/09/race-is-still-a-problem-in-anthropology/

Antrosio, Jason
2011 “Biological Anthropology and Racism: An Entangled History.” Living Anthropologically. https://www.livinganthropologically.com/biological-anthropology/biological-anthropology-racism/.  Published on 25 May 2011. Revised 15 January 2018

Moro-Abadia, Oscar
2006 The History of Archaeology as a ‘Colonial Discourse’. Bulletin of the History of Archaeology. 16(2): 4-17. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/276191960_The_History_of_Archaeology_as_a_’Colonial_Discourse’/citations

Wen, Patricia, Akila Johnson, Liz Kowalczyk, Todd Wallack, Nicole Dungca, Adrian Walker, Andrew Ryan.
2017 “Boston. Racism. Image. Reality.” 2017 Boston Globe Spotlight Series on Racism. https://apps.bostonglobe.com/spotlight/boston-racism-image-reality/

TRT Editor
2019 “GLSEN Reports Massachusetts Schools Unsafe for Many LGBTQ Secondary Students. The Rainbow Times. Published on January 9, 2019. https://www.therainbowtimesmass.com/glsen-reports-massachusetts-schools-unsafe-for-many-lgbtq-secondary-students/

Carmichael, Sarah Green
2017 “Boston Has Eliminated Sexism in the Workplace. Right?” Boston Magazine. Published July 7, 2017. https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2017/07/23/sexism-workplace/

Blackmore, Chelsea, Leslie Drane, Richard Baldwin and David Ellis
2016 Queering Fieldwork: Difference and Identity in Archaeological Practice. The SAA Archaeological Record. 16(1): 19-24. http://onlinedigeditions.com/publication/?i=287180&article_id=2367825&view=articleBrowser&ver=html5#{%22issue_id%22:287180,%22view%22:%22articleBrowser%22,%22article_id%22:%222367825%22}

Claassen, Cheryl
2000 Homophobia and Women Archaeologists. World Archaeology. 32(2): 172-179. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249007296_Homophobia_and_Woman_Archaeologists

2016 “The secret life of an archaeologist: soil in your sandwiches and sexism on sites”. The Guardian. Published on April 25, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/25/secret-life-archaeologist-soil-sandwiches-sexism-sites

Christopher Sims and Hanna Marie
2017 “Ableism in Archaeology – GDAH Episode 21”. Go Dig A Hole Podcast on The Archaeology Podcast Network. https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/all-shows/gdah-21

CRM Archaeology Podcast
2013 “Women in Archaeology Pt. 2 – Episode 20”. CRM Archaeology Podcast on The Archaeology Podcast Network. https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/crmarchpodcast/20

Society for Historical Archaeology
2012 “Diversity and Anti-Racism in the Society for Historical Archaeology. SHA Presidents Corner Blog. Published on August 1, 2012. https://sha.org/blog/2012/08/diversity-and-anti-racism-in-the-society-for-historical-archaeology/

Gender and Minority Affairs Committee
Var. dates Post Archive of the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee. Society for Historical Archaeology Blog. https://sha.org/blog/category/gender-and-minorities/

National Park Service
2016 LGBTQ Heritage Theme Study. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/tellingallamericansstories/lgbtqthemestudy.htm

Anise Vance
2015 “The Still Segregated City”. Medium. Published on October 20, 2015. https://medium.com/the-opportunity-series/the-still-segregated-city-88d66cfcaa6d

Siapkas, J.
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Morton, Ashley and Bill White
2013 “Sexism, CRM archaeology, and the Male Response”. Succinct Research. Published on December 2, 2013.  http://www.succinctresearch.com/sexism-crm-archaeology-and-the-male-response/

Oxlade, Summer Jasmin
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Antrosio, Jose ad Sallie Han
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1 Comment

  1. Hi Liz, great article. Have you been able to get some quotes from the hotel about child care for the 2020 Boston conference. This was a item of much discussion at the board meetings and at the GMAC meeting in St. Charles! Thanks for all you are doing!!


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