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President’s Letter

By Dan Kerr
August 2021 Newsletter

             As we near the end of August, the OHA Executive Office, the program committee for the annual conference, the Council and our standing committees and taskforces are very busy completing work as we near our annual meeting, “Moving Stories,” this October. As I near the end of my term of president, it has become clear to me that we have our own moving story to tell.

In the past three years, I have had the privilege to witness the commitments, the dedication and effort that many people have made to advance the work of the association and the field of oral history. Witnessing the collectivity of this effort during the extraordinary time that we have lived through and continue to live in is truly awe inspiring.

When it became clear that we would need to cancel last fall’s in-person meeting, I was not alone in my fear that OHA faced a looming catastrophe. If I knew then that we would not be meeting in person in 2021 either, there is no way I could have imagined the level of resilience the OHA would demonstrate and the growth it would undergo throughout this crisis. That growth and resilience was by no means a foregone conclusion. It was only possible because of the time, effort and creativity that so many people have dedicated to the OHA during the pandemic.

This activity and stability have only been possible because of the solid foundation countless committed members of the association have constructed over our 55-year history.  Together we have built something extraordinary that none of us ever could have conceived of on our own.

Last fall OHA members passed a visionary new strategic plan that has shaped our work over the current year:

https://www.oralhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Strategic-Plan-October-2020.pdf

To put this plan in motion, Council formed the Restructuring Taskforce led by Tomás Sandoval and Cynthia Tobar. Since last November they have carefully reviewed our organizational structure, and in June they presented to Council a series of recommended changes.  I expect that Council will endorse their recommendations this month, and we will ask our members to approve changes to our bylaws at this fall’s business meeting.

The taskforce is recommending that we establish a standing Development Committee, charged with planning for our long-term economic sustainability. To achieve the advocacy goals defined in our strategic plan, the taskforce is proposing to establish an Advocacy Committee.  To enhance our year-round programming, workshops and webinars, the taskforce is suggesting the creation of a standing committee (the name of which is still under discussion) to oversee this work. To coordinate the membership of these committees, the proposal calls for forming a Committee on Committees.

The standing committees will oversee the ongoing work of the OHA that needs to be done year in and year out. For projects that are not ongoing, we will continue to rely on the taskforce structure – committees that dissolve upon completion of the work.

The Restructuring Taskforce also is proposing a new category of participation, member- formed and -led caucuses, which will be formally recognized by the OHA. The caucuses, formed from the bottom up by members who hold a shared interest, identity or other commonality, will, we hope, foster community and inclusivity and create spaces for building mutually beneficial relationships.

I believe these recommendations will allow us to be more responsive, inclusive and transparent as the OHA to evolve.

In July the OHA publicly announced its search for a new Executive Office, which we hope will succeed our current Executive Office on Jan. 1, 2023.  The search is being led by Kelly Navies, Zaheer Ali and LuAnn Jones.

Kris McCusker, Louis Kyriakoudes, and Faith Bagley have done a terrific job overseeing the Executive Office since 2018.  After next year they will have completed their five-year commitment, and they will leave us in a great position for growth.  Stephen Sloan, who chairs our current Development Taskforce, recently produced a chart demonstrating how important the executive office structure has been to our endowment’s growth, which is an indicator of our long-term economic sustainability. The chart notes when the first Executive Office was created at Georgia State University, followed by the move to Middle Tennessee State University.

The Executive Office has also enabled us to expand our membership numbers and the levels of membership participation.  Acknowledging the value of Executive Office for the OHA, the Council has agreed to increase our commitment to the next Executive Office by $20,000 to a total of $70,000.  Please consider submitting a proposal or encouraging someone else to submit a proposal to help lead the OHA over the coming years in an Executive Office capacity.

In July, Council approved a recommendation from the Diversity Committee, chaired by Anna Kaplan and Daisy Herrera, that the OHA form an Equity Audit Taskforce to further our strategic goals with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

This new taskforce will lead a sweeping and introspective audit of OHA’s past, current and future commitments to DEI in all facets of its operation. The audit will assess OHA’s track record of achieving “the meaningful involvement of historically-marginalized populations, in particular based on race/ethnicity, spiritual beliefs, gender, sexuality, class, educational background, and ability,” while remaining open to additional inequities and fault lines that the audit reveals.  The taskforce will work closely with our members over the next two years to as it undertakes this audit.

The Independent Practitioners Taskforce, chaired by Sarah Dziedzic and Jess Lamar Reece Holler, is nearing completion of a suite of materials for all our members, especially those working as non-salaried professionals. These resources will include an Independent Practitioners’ Toolkit (a guide to navigating the field of independent oral history practice for freelancers), an Oral History Practitioner’s Directory (to promote networking connections and job opportunities) and an Advocacy Statement (a statement of support drafted for an audience of hiring organizations that recommends baseline best practices and ethics for working with freelance oral history practitioners).  Council in July approved funding to develop the new directory.

In July, the Social Justice Taskforce, chaired by Nishani Frazier and Cliff Mayotte, presented a draft Summary and Recommendations Report for Council feedback.  The report presents new ethical and procedural frameworks for practitioners working with vulnerable communities in a social justice context.  Calling for a narrator-centered approach to oral history, the taskforce recommends practices that lead to deep community collaboration and power sharing and proposes new models of rolling consent. The taskforce will continue to seek feedback on their work over the coming months.

The OHA thrives on our members’ activity and contributions of all sorts. You can help shape the association with your time, creativity and money.  On Aug. 25, we will hold our Annual Day of Giving. With this campaign, we are seeking to further build our endowment with the longer-term goal of reaching $1,000,000.  A larger endowment will allow us to invest in the advancement of the field of oral history and will help propel the OHA forward. Would you join me in contributing to this campaign?

Contribute now at https://oha.memberclicks.net/2021-day-of-giving#/

Together we have built the Oral History Association, and through our ongoing contributions we can help ensure that the association and the field will continue to thrive well into the future.

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