By Jacqueline Johnson
In October 1992, the National Trust sent its first class of conference scholarship recipients —123 culturally diverse individuals from various parts of the country—to the National Preservation Conference in Miami. No one could have predicted the long-lasting impact of what started as an interim outreach effort to attract conference participants that reflected the diverse nature of America. Fast forward 20 years and this diversity initiative has evolved into the National Trust’s Diversity Scholarship Program (DSP) and has welcomed more than 2,100 new preservation leaders to the historic preservation community.
Each year, the program receives more scholarship applications than the year before, making it a very competitive entry point for emerging preservation leaders to the field. Participants enjoy attractive benefits such as complimentary conference registration, lodging accommodations, a discounted National Trust membership at the Preservation Leadership Forum level, and access to online training, news, and networking resources in preservation. First-time Diversity Scholars are also paired with a mentor to provide practical advice and facilitate important networking during and after the conference. These volunteer mentors, established preservation leaders in their own right, are often National Trust Advisors and Trustees, staff or board members of statewide or local organizations, SHPO staff, commission members, and previous scholarship recipients.
In recent years, scholars have become more integrated in the conference programming. They serve on the conference planning committee, make presentations, and are lively participants during conference sessions. Diversity Scholar input in conference planning resulted in the extensive content on Native American heritage and its protection at the Spokane conference, including the first ever National Preservation Conference Powwow and a Gathering of Native Nations for a roundtable discussion. The general conference session entitled “Telling Richer Stories of Place,” which by many reports was a conference highlight, featured a panel of four 2012 Diversity Scholars (Edgar Garcia, Michelle Magalong, Keith McGee and Aissia Richardson) telling their “rich” and “diverse” stories of place. Scholars also presented on a variety of preservation topics during the many education and power sessions at the conference. These opportunities put these individuals in the spotlight, and many go on to serve in preservation leadership roles such as National Trust Board of Trustees and Advisors.
So, how does one get the gift of a diversity scholarship? We’ll let you in on a little secret. Race and ethnicity aren’t the only forms of diversity. Diversity is generally defined as acknowledging, understanding, accepting, valuing, and celebrating differences among people with respect to age, class, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, spiritual practice and public assistance status (Etsy, et al., 1995). As such, while racial and ethnic diversity are the mainstays of DSP, other forms of diversity, including, but not limited to, social economic status, sexual orientation, disabilities/abilities, and interest in serving under-represented communities are also taken into consideration when selecting award recipients.
As the preservation movement becomes more reflective of America, we need to constantly evaluate the changing demographics and employ a holistic and multi-prong approach in determining the diverse people and places in preservation. In 20 years DSP may be known by another name, but it will continue to provide opportunities for every voice in the preservation movement to be heard. And that’s where you come in. Help us recruit the next group of preservation leaders reflective of America by understanding and knowing your communities, reaching out to community leaders, and staying informed about diversity issues in historic preservation. We look forward to your participation and continued support of the program, as today’s preservation leaders. Happy holidays to you and yours from DSP!
Esty, Katherine, Richard Griffin, and Marcie Schorr-Hirsch (1995). Workplace Diversity. A Manager's Guide to Solving Problems and Turning Diversity into a Competitive Advantage. Avon, Mass.: Adams Media Corporation.
Jacqueline Johnson is program manager for conferences and meetings at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.