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BIPOC Forum turns 3: where we've come in two years

12 Apr 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous

The ACA BIPOC Forum is an annual informal networking event hosted during the ACA annual meeting. This space facilitates connections between BIPOC archivists, students, and other memory workers. The ACA 2021 BIPOC Forum planning committee included Moska Rokay, Tamara Rayan, Laura Hernandez, Melissa Adams, Erin Brown, Lara Maestro, and Lisa Uyeda.

The first Forum for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour Archivists (BIPOC Forum) was created by members of the student and alumni-led Diversity Working Group (DWG) at the University of Toronto Faculty of Information (iSchool). The intentions for this first BIPOC Forum were to create a space for BIPOCs in the Canadian archival field to connect with one another to discuss issues of race, diversity, and strategies to navigate the field. Moreover, as a result of the facilitators all being students and alumni of the University of Toronto, a secondary purpose for this first BIPOC Forum was to inspire the creation of other diversity working groups within Faculties of Information across Canada, but the content of the Forum was primarily focused on Toronto. Recognizing the need for racial justice in the profession, in October 2019 the DWG applied to the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) 2020 conference. However, by the time the conference rolled around in June 2020, George Floyd had just been murdered. The rest of the archival profession had sobered up to the reality of racial inequality in the field and BIPOC archivists needed a means to come together to feel solidarity during a traumatic time. The BIPOC Forum became timelier than ever. Due to a boost in promotion by the ACA and opening up of subsidized spots for BIPOC archivists to attend the Forum for free, 60 participants from across Canada and the United States came forth to share this one-hour of space together, the first of its kind.[1]

Following the ACA's Equity Commitments Report on October 6, 2020, the ACA made a commitment to "provide meeting spaces and networking opportunities for BIPOC professionals to connect and meet (virtually and in-person at the annual conference).” In line with the report, the ACA 2021 conference Programme Committee reached out to potential moderators for the 2021 BIPOC Forum, a clear deviation from the year before. Many of the moderators of the first Forum were happy to return. With a total of six moderators, up from the previous year’s three, and considering the moderators were no longer solely students and alumni of the University of Toronto, this year’s Forum was uniquely positioned to address BIPOC experiences in Faculties of Information and the profession across Canada. Unfortunately, just as the year before, the months leading up to the conference were mired by difficult times for BIPOC communities as a result of multiple traumatic events: the horrific discovery of 215 unmarked Indigenous graves at a Kamloops residential school, the deadly attack on a Muslim Canadian family in London, Ontario, the senseless bombing of Gaza, and rampant Asian hate crimes instigated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet again, the 2021 BIPOC Forum became a critical space for BIPOC communities to come together in solidarity and healing, and brought increased awareness to the larger archival profession of the pains felt by their BIPOC colleagues." This time around, the Forum was 2 hours long and consisted of multiple Zoom breakout rooms of small group-led discussions on racial equity, diversity, and inclusion in archival education and the profession as a whole led by one of the six moderators.

As part of the 2021 Forum, the BIPOC Forum planning committee created the BIPOC Forum Participant Survey for those expressing interest in being involved in the creation and management of a network or community of BIPOC Archivists and Memory Workers in Canada. Below are highlights from the survey. 

24 participants responded. Most were new professionals, followed by seasoned archival professionals, and those somewhere in between. A few respondents were students and others were looking for work. 

We asked participants what type of institution they worked with and the top 2 responses with 4 respondents each were government archives and libraries. Others indicated they work with university archives, community archives, non profits, and corporate archives. The comments indicated that others worked in records management, special collections, museums, library and information studies programs, and for First Nations. Overall, 11 individuals indicated they work with a large institution, 6 a medium sized institution, and 3 a small institution. 

Our first question asked, “How would you like to create a network or community of BIPOC Archivists and Memory Workers in Canada?” The top two responses show that folks would like to see the annual BIPOC Forum at the ACA conference continue and are interested in the development of an ACA BIPOC Special Interest Group. The other responses indicate that folks would like to stay connected more frequently and informally through communication channels such as a listserv, Slack, Discord, or Facebook. A few folks also suggested collaborating with other BIPOC-specific associations in or related to the profession, including those in the USA. 

Our most important question asked, “Why do you want to join this community? What would you like to see come out of its activities?” The open-ended responses were detailed and meaningful. Most BIPOC respondents expressed the importance of staying connected and supporting one another in a profession where many feel alone because we are under-represented. Folks would like to see the continuation of a safe-space for BIPOC professionals to come together to listen and learn from one another, discuss their work, work environments, and experiences in the profession, work through issues together, and mentor new professionals. Many expressed the importance of building a community, both within the BIPOC community and the profession as a whole, that will encourage and foster new BIPOC professionals. The responses acknowledge that institutions, including Faculties of Information across Canada, need to begin meaningful and actionable EDI work. This includes keeping the concerns of BIPOC folks top of mind across the profession, in schools, and addressing representation in archives and beyond. Lastly, respondents would like to see a strong, collaborative community in all areas of the profession that actively fosters and supports BIPOC professionals and those interested in entering the profession. 

To conclude the survey, participants provided feedback on the BIPOC Forum in general. We greatly appreciate everyone’s kind words of thanks and feel so honoured to have helped provide a safe-space that brings our community together. We recognize that the sessions are never long enough, that meeting once a year is too infrequent, and continuing the forum is really important and necessary. We thank the participants for providing comments that will help guide the next session, including: most folks enjoyed the small breakout room discussions and noted the benefits of connecting with one another; the facilitators were great; the polls were good additions; the information shared was valuable and insightful; a student focused group could be valuable with working professionals to be involved as mentors; folks hope to meet in person next time or in the future; and a recommendation to host a second session at the end of the conference. 

As for next steps, we aim to continue this important work by planning a third installment of the BIPOC Forum at ACA 2022. As the first two BIPOC Forums have shown, there is a continual need for BIPOCs in our field to meet and hold space for one another. To ensure that we are fully representing our growing and changing community, we are seeking new voices for next year’s planning committee. If you are interested in being an organizer or moderator, please send an email to Moreover, we understand that hosting these spaces once a year is far too infrequent for our community’s needs, so we are planning to host more regular community check-ins on a smaller and more informal scale. Additionally, we recognize the need for BIPOC students to have leadership and guidance from members in the field who represent and understand their own lived experiences. For this reason, we are exploring mentorship options with the ACA Mentorship Program to match BIPOC students and early career archivists with BIPOC professionals. Finally, we are also exploring the option to create a Special Interest Section with the ACA so that we can continue the work that the DWG started, but on a national level, and continue to enact racial justice in the field.

[1] For further information about the impact of the first BIPOC Forum, please see this piece the facilitators authored in Off the Record: Martin, Stefanie, Tamara Rayan and Moska Rokay. “45 Years Later: The First BIPOC Forum at ACA.” Off the Record, v.36, no. 3 (Summer 2020): 16-18.

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