My Resignation as Chair of the SAA Media Relations Committee
|My name tag from the 2018 SAA conference in D.C.|
Since 2017, I have been the chair of the Media Relations Committee of the Society for American Archaeology. And essentially since I started, I have been frustrated by the general intransigence of the organization and their reticence to change, particularly on the part of the SAA staff.
So when the SAA failed to immediately respond on Thursday, April 11, to Facebook and Twitter reports that an archaeologist whose Title IX case was adjudicated against him had registered for the annual conference, I was not surprised because they are wildly out of touch with social media.
However, over the next two days, SAA staff and others who spoke for the organization refused to eject the archaeologist in spite of the exhortations of survivors and their university chancellor, and instead decided to clam up and refuse to engage with the issue in any venue.
Media coverage is so far light (KTVA and The Scientist), but it's only a matter of time until outlets like Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle report on the events of this week just as they did for racist incidents at the Society for Classical Studies conference in January.
The last few days have been like watching a public relations train wreck in real time. Since I wasn't in attendance at the SAA conference this year, I did my best to amplify voices of outrage through Twitter and Facebook. But even had I been in Albuquerque, I do not believe that SAA staff would have heeded my advice to issue a response as quickly as possible.
After reading hundreds of tweets from survivors who are sharing their stories, archaeologists who were in attendance at the SAAs, and academics in other fields who were horrified at seeing this unfold, I made the decision to resign as chair of the Media Relations Committee. The text of my letter follows.
DATE: April 14, 2019
TO: Oona Schmid, SAA Exec Director; Dr. Joe Watkins, SAA President; Amy Rutledge, SAA Media Relations; Members of the SAA Board of Directors
Dear Oona, Joe, Amy, and the SAA Board of Directors,
I am writing to resign my position as Chair of the Media Relations Committee in light of the events at this year’s Society for American Archaeology conference in Albuquerque.
In 2017, I accepted the position of Chair of this committee with the hope that I would be able to assist SAA in advancing its public face, particularly through creating a database of experts willing to talk to the media, formulating infographics on topics such as NAGPRA and the accidental discovery of bones, and assisting with the organization’s expressed desire to be more active on social media.
While my committee has worked to create text for an infographic, an idea that was approved by Amy, our other suggestions have not received a positive response. For example, I was told that an expert database would potentially open SAA up to legal issues. And although Kate Ellenberger of the committee drafted a 3-page document on social media ‘best practices’ leading up to the annual conference, which I passed along to Amy along with the offer of committee help in tweeting sessions and manning the organization’s social media, she and I received no positive response to that either.
Given the SAA’s lack of interest over the past two years in using the expertise that my committee and I bring to the practices of social media and media relations, I was unsurprised that SAA was caught off-guard by the registration of Dr. David Yesner, whose case has been widely circulated by archaeologists on both Facebook and Twitter for more than a month now. Yesner was a known threat with sanctions in place from his former employer, the University of Alaska Anchorage. While the SAA could not have known that he would register on-site, the response from SAA staff and other leadership when the issue was first raised both in person and on Twitter on Thursday, April 11, by journalist Michael Balter has been nothing short of appalling.
Whether or not Balter’s forceful speech constituted harassment of a staff member or an attendee, he was doing so at the behest of survivors who felt ignored by the SAA leadership and unsafe in their attendance, a fact that one of the survivors shared with me on Friday following her meeting with, in her words, “the press person and secretary.” As a result of SAA’s inaction in revoking Yesner’s registration, three survivors left the SAA conference early and were also forced to out themselves on social media to counter the SAA’s disingenuous and dangerous statement that the SAA has a Code of Conduct “designed to make the meeting a safe space for all attendees.”
In joining the SAA as a committee chair two years ago, I had hoped to use my formidable social media presence and name recognition to help the organization build up its relationship with members and the public. I quickly learned, however, that the SAA has a major intra-organization communication problem, which spills over into failures of communication with membership and other stakeholders. Following my resignation, I plan to use my expertise to amplify the voices of people who have felt sidelined by the SAA and to encourage the SAA staff and Board to effect real, important change on this front.
All survivors, but especially those with the courage to take on a Title IX case against a well-known senior male archaeologist, warrant our utmost respect. The three junior female scholars who filed official reports with Amy and Oona and then went public on social media are now afraid that they have jeopardized their future in this field. They deserve our collective assistance in helping them move on and up in their careers. Please listen to their stories and take immediate, corrective action.
I truly hope that SAA will learn from its membership’s and public’s vociferous reaction to this situation, but I am no longer interested in giving my time and effort to an organization that has such clear contempt for the most important cultural movement of this generation.
Kristina Killgrove, PhD, RPA
I do not plan to renew my SAA dues in the coming year. However, I also recognize that many scholars are not in the same position to boycott the SAA as I am, particularly junior colleagues who may rely on the conference for presenting their work and networking to advance their careers. If there are any scholars who were counting on the SAAs to get in touch with me for bioarchaeology or media reasons, please feel free to contact me!
Finally, if you are in a position to let the SAA know what you think about their handling of this issue, please consider writing them an email or signing this open letter, written by Danielle Bradford (@anthroqveer on Twitter), which currently has more than 1,100 signatures.
While I'll miss the SAA conference, I have had far better experiences as a member and committee chair with the Archaeological Institute of America and with the American Association of Physical [Biological] Anthropologists, the latter of which I'm a lifetime member. I plan to donate my time and energy to these organizations going forward.
Linking here to some comments by folks directly affected by the SAA's lack of action. This one is from UAA anthropology faculty member Gerad Smith: