Fostering Diverse Voices in Historic Preservation Through Internships

By Special Contributor posted 08-25-2016 12:48


By Jamesha Gibson

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act. The preservation movement has undergone significant changes since the passage of the Act, and we can anticipate more advancements in the years to come. To ensure that these changes resonate with America’s increasingly diverse communities, it is imperative that preservation organizations (on both the national and local levels) conduct targeted outreach and engagement of underrepresented constituencies (e.g., people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and youth) in their work.

 2015 National Trust Diversity Scholars | Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation

While the preservation movement has begun to prioritize inclusion over the last few decades, many organizations struggle with building workplace diversity and fostering employee development.

Internships are one solution. They provide mutual benefits to organizations and interns, and they can be used to promote diversity and inclusion in preservation. Internships enable individuals to contribute invaluable and wide-ranging insights to the preservation field. Below are five tips to consider when your organization seeks to promote diversity by hiring interns.

Broaden your perspective. Become more open minded about the skills and experiences you require your interns to have. Think about how interns with backgrounds in communications, community outreach, business planning, or legal work—just to name a few—can contribute to your organization’s work and the broader preservation movement. This approach allows your interns to apply their existing skills and experiences in new ways and a different field.

The National Trust, for example, employs interns with backgrounds in fields such as journalism, history, and geology.

Cast a wider net. Contact and establish relationships with multicultural academic programs at universities, social justice and heritage-based organizations, and alumni networks to advertise internship positions. You will attract not only a wider range of skills but also a wider range of people from underrepresented communities.

Take risks. Selecting an intern based on your needs and the projects you want completed by the end of the internship period is important, but don’t be afraid to take a risk on a candidate who may not have previous work experience or education in historic preservation. You might find an “accidental” preservationist in another field.

Don’t just supervise, mentor. During the National Park Service’s public discussion on diversity and inclusion, Dr. Nina Roberts encourages supervisors at National Parks to mentor interns, not just manage them. This is excellent advice. Ask your interns questions, find out what they are interested in (especially as it relates to preservation), and let your interns ask you questions. This gives interns the opportunity to feel out their interests and shape a direction for their careers—which, taken together, will ultimately shape the entire movement. During both of my internships at the National Trust, my supervisors took the time to discuss my interests and career aspirations. They connected me with the resources and individuals that could help me pursue my goals.

Confront diversity and inclusion concerns.
It is essential that your interns have a sense of well-being and inclusion in your organization’s culture, especially if they don’t encounter many staff members from backgrounds similar to their own. Be proactive in creating safe spaces for staff and interns within your organization to ask questions, recognize and confront biases, and have conversations that foster understanding. This promotes a healthy environment where individuals can work together and thrive. During my internships with the Trust, I felt safe sharing my perspectives as a member of an underrepresented group. I also found resources to help me effectively communicate with other interns and staff members about diversity and inclusion within the Trust and its work.

As you prepare for the next 50 years in preservation, consider using internships as a tool to promote diversity within your organization and the entire preservation movement. Let the above tips guide you not only in hiring more individuals from diverse backgrounds but also in ensuring that their voices are heard and that their work makes a revolutionary impact on the preservation movement.

Jamesha Gibson was the summer 2016 programmatic diversity intern at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

#Education #Diversity #DiversityScholarshipProgram

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