By Megan Crutcher
ACUA and RECON Offshore 2023 DEI Award Winner
I am incredibly grateful to have received the ACUA and RECON Offshore Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Student Travel Award to attend SHA 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal. As part of the award, I was asked to write about a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive underwater archaeology. As I brainstormed what to write, I asked myself: what does it mean for our field to be diverse, equitable, and inclusive? Are these simply elusive buzzwords with pessimistically little improvement, or is there a deeper value behind them? And if it is the latter, how do we, as underwater archaeologists, and members of the international field of practice, foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in underwater archaeology?
I think we understand diversity on paper. It means representation, the presence of people who don’t look or think like us. It means people from every background, country, race or ethnicity, and gender, as well as other social identities and characteristics, participating in the SHA meetings and presenting papers on scholarship from around the world. We know that diversity and representation matter.
We also understand inclusion on paper. It means more voices are heard and more people are represented. It means people aren’t just in the room but have a seat at the table. They aren’t just “allowed” to speak, but their voices are heard and valued as important. It means increased numbers of diverse participants and leaders, and articles written by diverse people or groups of people. It means consultation with stakeholders and the presence of stakeholders in decision-making.
But I wonder sometimes if we understand equity. I see equity as the harder concept, because it requires evaluating systems and financial spending that have been created to be unequal by nature. Funding is a major way to confront the prevailing image (and often reality) of archaeology as a white, straight man’s field. I think a lack of financial security is one of the primary barriers to equity and increased diversity and inclusion in archaeology, a point which was raised by a fellow PhD student at the conference. Of course, racism is a barrier. Sexism is a barrier. Ableism is a barrier. Homophobia and transphobia are barriers. But without people on the inside willing to ally against those, we cannot effectively fight them. And the number one way to get people to the table in larger numbers, especially in a field that often struggles so desperately with funding and wages, is to give people better wages, increased funding, and travel awards like the ACUA and RECON award that allow them to contribute to the global underwater archaeological conversation.
Money won’t ruin the legacy and ongoing demons of racism or sexism or homophobia, but it will bring people in the room and to the table. And that’s the first step to outcry the din of discrimination that bars so many people from fully participating in the field of underwater archaeology.
When I applied for this award, I wrote about how maritime archaeology often has a sexism and racism problem not only in who is represented in the practice, but who is represented in the research. I wrote about how important allyship is to combating racism and Eurocentric scholarship. After attending SHA 2023, I reflected on my conference experience and some of the progress that I noticed during the meeting in Lisbon that left me excited for a future career in this field. While those systemic issues of discrimination are still paramount in my mind, I experienced the 2023 SHA meeting as a place of profound intellectual curiosity and collegiality between people from diverse backgrounds.
During the conference, I had a discussion with a colleague about decolonizing archaeology—how everyone wants to talk about it, but few want to step back from their places of status or power to accomplish it. A fellow PhD student at SHA suggested that collaboration is our future. Within my generation of maritime archaeologists and scholars, there seems to be a greater desire to include, collaborate, and share knowledge and experiences. For example, the session on maritime archaeology in West Africa that I chaired at SHA 2023 was composed of almost entirely younger scholars (generationally-speaking), from PhD students to practitioners in CRM. We were from different countries, universities, and backgrounds, with the majority of the speakers coming from West Africa. We came away from the conference with new ideas and new partnerships. This would not have been possible for many of us without financial support to attend the conference, whether from universities, other agencies, the SHA, or the ACUA.
The ACUA and RECON award is a major step in the right direction. The ACUA mentorship program is another important part of that effort. I am thankful for mentors like Ole Varmer, whose mentorship through the 2022 ACUA program led to my inclusion in a panel at SHA 2023 about ocean literacy. But there are so many more steps to go in the future, such as creating more awards of this type, increasing funding for underwater archaeology education and field opportunities.
In many ways, underwater archaeology is fighting itself. We do often have a diversity problem, where many practitioners look the same and come from the same types of backgrounds. A commitment to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion is imperative, but it’s not enough. Allyship is vital, but it’s not the end of the game. To really change our system and structures, we must support people financially. For us budding maritime archaeologists, as we become more prolific in our careers, we can step back and push others who have maybe been silenced or ignored in the past to the forefront. We can also advocate for increased moves toward equity—like funding—that pave the way for diversity and inclusion.
Categorised in: Deep Thoughts