A Recap of 2020 ACUA Panel Turning the Tide: Women and People of Color in Underwater Archaeology
Aleck Tan, ACUA Graduate Student Associate

Last year, I wrote a blog about my experiences as an Asian American in underwater archaeology and suggested ways to improve diversity. To incorporate other minority experiences in the field, and to follow up on a 2017 SHA Conference panel discussing women’s experiences, I wanted to put together an ACUA Panel for the 2020 SHA Conference in Boston and where people of color (POC) and women could share their minority experiences with a greater audience. ACUA graduate student representatives Morgan Smith, Tara Van Niekerk and I invited Bert Ho, Joel Cook, Kim Faulk, Kirsten Hawley, and Michelle Gray to share a conversation where we can talk about roadblocks for POC and women in the field, and brainstorm ways to break them down. 

Our panel, “Turning the Tide: Women and People of Color in Underwater Archaeology” first revisited how things have changed since the 2017 SHA Conference Panel “Women in Diving and Archaeology: Past, Present, and Future.” Since 2017, ACUA has organized a successful annual mentorship program at SHA Conferences for students to have access and to interact with professionals in the field. Students who sign up can connect with a mentor one-on-one to ask about everything and anything in the field. There has also since been more females in academia and the field, but there is still much to be done about women of color (WOC) and POC.

L to R: Morgan Smith, Bert Ho, Aleck Tan, Joel Cooks, Kim Faulk, Kirsten Hawley, Michelle Gray.

Panelists identified limitations as to why we are not seeing more people in the field. Some major reasons include family expectations, cultural stereotypes, and financial limitations. Even though other fields have increasing diversity, archaeology is not experiencing the same changes. All agreed that this leads to a loss of important perspectives in our field. As a result, the panelists suggested some solutions.

Panelists agreed that creating opportunities and grants for minorities would be an immense help. For example, it may mean they can attend a field school, take an internship, or purchase SCUBA gear. Funding may also be used towards attending important conferences that allow minorities to make connections with professionals, and other minorities. For many POC, seeing other minorities be successful in the field promotes the feeling that they too belong and can be successful.

One important suggestion is that we must not only focus on increasing diversity, but we must also make space and create environments for minorities to thrive. This means allowing them to share ideas and stories, letting them focus on their goals, and normalizing their differences. This also means being inclusive of people of different ages, backgrounds, and positions, including interns, young graduate students, and retired volunteers. The goal is to actively create safe spaces in programs and projects for different communities to not only be successful but be themselves.

Another major point during the discussion was that minorities are often the ones bringing up issues in diversity. One solution is to help others have a voice and to not be fearful of rattling the cages to help create change. One can learn how to be an ally through training workshops in order to learn how to identify and address minority and diversity issues. This can provide minorities with emotional support when faced with an issue.

One final important suggestion was to increase participation and visibility of public archaeology programs and programs that involve younger audiences. The goal is to “plant the seed” early on and encourage younger generations, especially minorities, to pursue underwater archaeology. This may mean sparking childhood curiosity, connecting with kids’ interests, providing free swim lessons to children, and creating mentoring relationships with younger students. One suggestion is to work with organizations and dive shops to allow students to get in the water with SCUBA gear or learn underwater archaeology skills. One program to look up to is Diving with a Purpose, which provides adults and youth with education and training in maritime archaeology and ocean conservations.

It may take a lot of time and effort, but if we work towards these solutions together, we may eventually see more minorities in the field.

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