Lead Article, May 2021

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​​​EIC Calls for Structural Inequity Changes

By Anya Dani, Anisha Gupta, and the Equity & Inclusion Committee

The Equity & Inclusion Committee (EIC) is actively working to combat structural inequity within AIC in partnership with individual members, AIC and FAIC staff and boards, and volunteer leaders committed to this work. The dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice have laid bare the unjust structures and systems that affect every corner of our society, which have repeatedly failed people from marginalized groups. The conservation field is not immune to structural racism. In fact, it should be expected that inequitable structures are embedded into our field given our history founded on western standards and colonialism. Although this article focuses on AIC, many of the themes can be applied more broadly to cultural heritage organizations and institutions.

It is common knowledge that the demographics of the conservation field do not reflect the diversity of our society and this is borne out by demographic data (Figures 2 and 3). Even if unintentional, AIC’s decisions and culture have resulted in people from historically underrepresented groups feeling either indifferent to or (worse) not welcome in the organization. AIC must evolve in order to stay relevant.

EIC members believe that increasing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in conservation is not only morally just but is necessary to ensure that our workforce and audience are reflective of diversity within our society. In cultural heritage institutions, conservators often act as gatekeepers, determining who has access to collections, how much access, and under what conditions. If we harness this power and break down existing barriers, we can replace these gatekeeping structures with new, inclusive structures that center people in our decision making. This will require structural change at all levels.

Figure 1. Membership Demographics graph. Figure credit: Katelin Lee, AIC Staff Liaison to EIC.
Figure 1 shows data from the September 2019 Member Satisfaction Survey, which was sent to all individual members; 19% of 3,285 members participated in the survey. The term BIPOC refers to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. While demographic data is collected with most surveys created by AIC, this is the most recent survey that also asked participants about their membership type, which is why it is used here. As with any survey where individuals may self-select in, this information may not be wholly representative of the membership. In order to make the demographic question more inclusive, members were given the option to select multiple choices and also to opt out of the question or provide additional information. This led to some answers being unclear as to how the respondent might identify.