National Trust Diversity Scholarship Program Has Been Promoting Equity in Preservation for 25 Years

By Jacquie Johnson posted 04-10-2017 11:01


Note: The 2017 Diversity Scholarship Program application is now available online. Please apply and share the application with organizations and higher education institutions—as well as with individuals interested in attending PastForward 2017 in Chicago as diversity scholars. In honor of the 25th year of the program, a limited number of scholarships will be available to past scholars who have met the two-year attendance limit. The application deadline is May 12.

We know that a lack of diversity in any given field is often rooted in structural inequality—the bias built into the structures of organizations, institutions, governments, and social networks within that field. Leaders and practitioners then perpetuate this bias, both purposefully and unintentionally, which creates inequity along identity lines like race, ethnicity, gender and gender expression, age, disability, and sexual orientation or expression.

Diversity scholars listen during the orientation session at PastForward 2016 in Houston, Texas. | Credit: David Keith Photography

Leaders and attendees at the 1991 national preservation conference in San Francisco recognized this pattern in preservation and committed themselves to addressing the need for racial and cultural diversity in the movement. One of their first steps was providing access to opportunities in the preservation profession by creating the Cultural Diversity Scholarship Program, known today as the Diversity Scholarship Program (DSP). Over the course of the past 25 years, more than 2,100 diversity scholars representing a wide variety of U.S. states and territories have attended the preservation conference. Many of these aspiring preservationists would not have had access to PastForward were it not for receiving diversity scholarships to cover their attendance. The DSP aims to help them attain their full potential in the field. And their presence has not only steadily increased the socio-economic, racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of attendees at the conference but it has also enriched the preservation movement with a broader range of perspectives.

Over time the program has evolved from its initial focus on increasing the number of attendees from historically underrepresented communities at the conference to increasing that number across National Trust educational events, as well as helping to advance and profile the very important work of those attendees. As our nation grapples with a succession of events that disproportionately impact our most vulnerable and marginalized communities—leading many to question their safety in the places where they live, work, and play, the same places that preservation works to protect—the DSP is as critical as ever.


While much work remains to be done to ensure a representative preservation movement, the impact of the DSP has already been far reaching. Some of the program’s most important outcomes have been strategic partnerships—especially the one with its oldest and most consistent champion, the National Park Service (NPS). Beginning in 2003, the NPS committed to helping the DSP fund educational programming. The programs’s other national partners have included Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation (APIAHiP), Latinos in Heritage Conservation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rainbow Heritage Network, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The DSP has also provided local organizations with the opportunity to show their commitment to a more inclusive preservation movement, most recently at PastForward 2016 in Houston. Thanks to the generous support of Texas organizations and businesses, the DSP was able to increase the number of individual scholarships—and therefore participants—from 30 to 50 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act.

In addition to creating strategic long-term partnerships, the DSP’s other impacts include:

  1. Touching local communities across the nation. In 2001 the National Trust Diversity Council was created and charged with enhancing and expanding the diversity of Trust staff, board members, volunteers, and constituents, as well as programmatic diversity across the preservation field. In an interview for the spring 2014 Forum Journal, “Imagining a More Inclusive Preservation Program,” the council’s 2002 chair, Mtamanika Youngblood—also a 1994 and ’96 diversity scholar and former National Trust Trustee—explained that it was clear that many historic neighborhoods, most of them urban, were occupied by people of color. She went on to say that “in addition to people of color, there were many preservationists in the LGBTQ community that we needed to be intentional about reaching out to and including in all aspects of the work of the National Trust.” The council’s directive spurred the DSP’s targeted outreach to LGBTQ populations, expanding the reach of the program in a variety of local communities.

    Further insight into the breadth of the DSP’s targeted outreach is forthcoming in the program’s 25th anniversary report, slated to be published later this year. The report will largely draw from information gathered in a recent assessment survey that was designed to collect demographic data about the race and ethnicity, gender, age, education level, employment status, and geographic distribution of scholars. The survey also measured the ways in which DSP participants remain engaged with the Trust as well as the influence of Trust programs on their ongoing development as preservationists. A preliminary finding in the report shows the racial and geographic diversity of scholars, as illustrated in the “Distribution of Diversity Scholars by Race” map. Since research suggests that people are more likely to live near and interact with others of similar backgrounds, the map speaks to the demographics not only of the scholars but also of the people and places the scholars influence through their local work and community leadership. 

  1. High-profile leaders. Past DSP participants have gone on to serve as National Trust Advisors and Trustees, as well as DSP mentors, and several have received National Preservation Awards—and their achievements don’t stop there. Bambi Kraus, diversity scholar in 1997 and 2009, is president of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, a nonprofit organization that supports the preservation, maintenance, and revitalization of the culture and traditions of the Native peoples of the United States. In fact, Kraus is just one of the many former diversity scholars who hold senior-level positions at organizations that serve underrepresented communities through preservation or closely aligned fields. Joseph McGill, a 1993 and ’94 diversity scholar, served as a field officer and DSP program manager at the National Trust for a number of years before founding The Slave Dwelling Project. Another notable leader is Mtamanika Youngblood: in addition to her former roles with the National Trust, she is the board chair of the Historic District Development Corporation and CEO of Sweet Auburn Works in Atlanta, Georgia. Youngblood’s work was key to the National Trust’s successful completion of the Sweet Auburn Historic District National Treasure campaign. Dr. Deborah L. Mack, a 2008 diversity scholar and associate director for the Office of Strategic Partnerships at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, has spearheaded several educational program collaborations between the museum and the National Trust. John Arroyo, also a 2008 diversity scholar, is a doctoral student in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s department of urban studies and planning. Arroyo’s nationally recognized research investigates how the public built environment influences and reshapes sociocultural behavior among transnational Latino migrants. And Edgar Garcia, a 2009 and ‘12 diversity scholar and preservation planner, now works as arts and culture deputy for the mayor of Los Angeles. Garcia has also served as a fellow for the James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation and participated in the Pocantico Center Preservation Fellowship, which is funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the National Trust.

    These are only a few of the countless accomplishments of DSP alumni. As this community continues to grow, preservation will continue to benefit from its many contributions.

  2. Diverse attendance resulting in more inclusive conference programming. The DSP’s targeted outreach efforts to communities that have been traditionally underrepresented in preservation are the largest driver of increasingly diverse demographics among conference presenters. Thirty-five percent of the 42 speakers and presenters who participated in the PastForward 2016 post-conference survey self-identified as a race other than white. This figure reflects the diversity of the United States’ population, more than 35 percent of which is composed of races and ethnicities that have traditionally been labeled minorities. DSP participants and alumni made up 13 percent of the more than 120 speakers and presenters at the conference. While these figures are promising, significant work remains to be done, as only roughly 12 percent of the more than 1,600 conference attendees self-identify as one of the racial or ethnic categories that have been historically underrepresented in preservation—black or African American, Latino or Hispanic, American Indian, Asian, and Pacific Islander.

    The 2016 diversity scholars represented 17 different states. Sixty-two percent of them were women, 38 percent were men, and many identified as millennials. These figures, which are consistent with previous DSP classes, reflect the variety of perspectives that diversity scholars bring to the conference. And that variety has broadened the programming at PastForward, increasing the range of topics addressed and enhancing communication with different audiences. For example, the two most recent conferences have each featured a day of inclusion programming, which has created opportunities to discuss the specific challenges that various underrepresented communities face and to collaborate on solutions and strategies for working toward a fully integrated, diverse, and inclusive preservation movement.

  3. Diverse and inclusive online resources. The DSP community often inspires content for the National Trust’s online resources. The summer 2016 Forum Journal issue, “Prioritizing Diversity and Inclusion in Preservation,” featured several articles written by DSP alumni who spotlighted effective diversity and inclusion efforts in preservation: 

    • Lily Anne Welty Tamai, 2015 diversity scholar, was one of the heritage professionals interviewed for “Diversity and Inclusion at Heritage Organizations”;
    • Claudia Guerra, another 2015 diversity scholar, wrote “Culture Mapping: Engaging Community in Historic Preservation”; and
    • 2009 and ’10 diversity scholar Keilah Spann wrote “Discussions on Broadening Outreach and Programming.”

    “The recent Forum Journal … was literally the most exciting and reinvigorating thing that I have seen from the preservation world in years,” said Danielle Del Sol, a 2013 diversity scholar.

    New online resources have also been instrumental in developing diverse preservation leadership, as DSP participants were among the emerging leaders recently selected to pilot a day-long introduction to ARCUS, a cutting-edge leadership course in preservation. Launched by Preservation50 and funded through American Express, ARCUS is a six-month fellowship with an online learning and networking platform that helps shape effective cultural heritage and historic preservation leaders. Diversity scholars are among those currently evaluating these resources, which will eventually be available online to the entire preservation community.

What’s Next?

Moving forward we will continue increasing the number of scholarship award recipients and building more inclusive and impactful programming. In Chicago, where outstanding architecture and diverse neighborhoods have become a proving ground for preservation approaches, PastForward 2017 will present a unique opportunity to celebrate the progressive thinkers who first envisioned the DSP. Leading up to the conference, we plan to interview DSP alumni and profile their work and to develop Forum webinars that will focus on inclusion and feature DSP projects. In keeping with the program’s legacy, conference organizers will aim to present transformative educational programming for the scholars and the communities they serve as well as events marking the DSP anniversary. As the founders of this program knew 25 years ago, inclusivity through equity programming is essential to broadening the impact of historic preservation. 

Jacqueline Johnson is the manager of programmatic diversity for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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