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Nominating Committee employs new approach to elections

By Nishani Frazier and Nikki Pombier, Nominating Committee Co-Chairs

Some of the members of the Nominating Committee are relatively new to OHA, although they are not new to oral history. As new members, we embraced different strategies for enhancing the OHA structure, in part because we were not informed by or obligated to older models. We asked questions, we considered other possibilities, and we were motivated to help OHA reach its stated goals in the strategic plan.

We approached the process differently for multiple reasons.

First, prior applicants had expressed confusion and even disappointment regarding the lack of transparency and broader participation. How did one get “picked” for consideration? Why was it person A and B? And what happened to candidate C? Incorporating all candidates bolstered transparency and avoided the implication that council service required “insider” status versus work in the field and good ideas.

Second, some felt the process was quite insular and dependent on the contact list of the Nominating Committee. This created a limited pool on multiple levels and stymied broader participation among both members and oral historians outside OHA. We felt that changing how we conducted the process served to build the organization and membership. It also increased OHA’s profile with other organizations where oral historians find homes external to OHA. The Association for the Study of African American Life serves as one example, where oral historians of the black experience were more likely to present their work and who might be brought into the OHA community.

Third, the Nominating Committee was particularly concerned with continuity and sustainability. The multiple candidates provided OHA members with an increased, inclusive selection of potential candidates for the open positions on council and for vice president-elect. But it could also serve as a pool for council and the president for populating other committees with diverse candidates whose demonstrated interest in engaging with the organization ought not be overlooked. The Nominating Committee in previous years faced some difficulty with locating candidates because those who did not transition to the council felt disinclined to be “on the rollercoaster” again. This resulted in a talent loss.

Fourth, the ballot acts as one of the few places of exposure and introduction. Candidates who transition to committees can enter OHA and avoid the questions which sometimes emerge regarding their background or standing in the profession. This is also important because many oral historians outside of the OHA structure feel disaffected by the constraints and presumptions of professional status–independent oral historians are one example.

We believe that the Nominating Committee has an important role to play in tackling the system-wide challenges the strategic plan hopes to address. In the first year of experimental outreach we were able to generate a strong slate of candidates. What we hope to do is turn this new process into forward momentum that expands and maximizes diversity throughout the OHA by reaching out to a broader constituency–especially those most excluded and disaffected by the traditional OHA structure.

The increased pool is an opportunity for OHA to highlight the work of all oral historians in or out of the organization, mentor new leadership, improve transparency and create continuity and sustainability for OHA leadership.

There are many within and external to OHA who would gladly serve the organization. The Nominating Committee believes that we can welcome those persons by simply opening the door.

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