Special Collections and Archives’ Responsibility to be Anti-Racist and Anti-Oppressive

Special Collections and Archives (SCA) opposes racism, sexism, classism, colonialism, and all forms of systemic oppression. We acknowledge that Cal Poly is a disproportionately white university, in a predominately white region of California, and this is reflected in our staff and the materials we preserve for research. We condemn any racist materials within our collections and archival descriptions (such as collection guides and descriptions for digitized materials) which may include oppressive language and images but preserve them as a part of the historic record.

Our department includes archivists, student assistants, interns, and volunteers. While we work to hire and retain staff and steward materials that both reflect the diversity of the state of California for which we serve, we also commit to work that carries out our anti-racist and anti-oppressive responsibility.

Together, we are working against white supremacy culture and systemic oppression in all forms, and are taking the following steps to identify and address oppressive language in our archival descriptions and in the collections themselves by:

  • Auditing our descriptions of digitized collections, our collection guides, and other collection descriptions.
  • Updating our collection descriptions in collaboration with our colleagues and the community.
  • Developing our description practices to incorporate community-generated terminology and inclusive description.
  • Contextualizing oppressive text and images found in the historic records in SCA.

We welcome community suggestions, feedback and questions about our approach, using our webform.

This work and future work will be iterative and ongoing. It will be undertaken in collaboration with library colleagues Catherine Trujillo, jaime ding, and Carole Chapman, and Dr. Jane Lehr, faculty in the College of Liberal Arts. Our work is guided by scholars and practitioners in the fields of libraries and archives with a focus on critical race theory and feminist theory in archives, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) authors. We are also guided by the conscious editing work of archivists who have identified oppressive practices and content, and who are making retrospective changes to remediate them. Please see our growing list of works by these authors in the References below.

Jessica Holada
Laura Sorvetti
Zach Vowell

May 2021


Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press, 2020.

Antracoli, Alexis A., Annalise Berdini, Kelly Bolding, Faith Charlton, Amanda Ferrara, Valencia Johnson, and Katy Rawdon. “Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia: Anti-Racist Description Resources.” October 2020. See also the Archives for Black Lives Philadelphia Resources page. Both accessed 28 April 2021

Arnold, Hillel. “Practicing Care: Constructing Social Responsibility Through Feminist Care Ethics.” Archival Values: Essays in Honor of Mark E. Greene. Society of American Archivists, 2019. Accessed 28 April 2021

Berry, Dorothy. “Introduction to Conscious Editing, Part 1 of 3.” Sunshine State Digital Network SSDN YouTube channel. Accessed on 29 April 2021. See also the SSDN Conscious Editing series

Caswell, Michelle, Ricardo Punzalan, and T-Kay Sangwand “Critical Archival Studies:  An Introduction” special issue in Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies. vol. 1, no.2, 2017. DOI:10.24242/jclis.v1i2.50. Accessed 28 April 2021

Caswell, Michelle. “Dusting for Fingerprints: Introducing Feminist Standpoint Appraisal,” in  “Radical Empathy in Archival Practice,” eds. Elvia Arroyo-Ramirez, Jasmine Jones, Shannon O’Neill, and Holly Smith. Special issue, Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 3, no. 1.

Caswell, Michelle. (2016). From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical Empathy in Archives. UCLA.

Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic, ed. Critical Race Theory (3rd edition): An Introduction. New York University Press, 2017. Accessed 28 April 2021

DPLA, “Harmful Language Statement” on the Women’s Suffrage Collection website. Accessed April 29 2021.

Drexel University Archives. “Statement on Harmful Content in Archival Collections.” Accessed 29 April  2021

Hughes-Watkins, Lae’l. “Moving Toward a Reparative Archive: A Roadmap for a Holistic Approach to Disrupting Homogenous Histories in Academic Repositories and Creating Inclusive Spaces for Marginalized Voices.” Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies, vol. 5, article 6, 2018. Accessed 29 April 2021

Lellman, Charlotte G., Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook, Amber LaFountain, and Jessica Sedgwick.  “Guidelines for Inclusive and Conscientious Description.” Center for the History of  Medicine: Policies and Procedures Manual. Harvard Wiki, 2021. Accessed 28 April 2021

Leung, Sofia Y., and Jorge R. López-McKnight. “Dreaming Revolutionary Futures: Critical Race’s Centrality to Ending White Supremacy.” Communications in Information Literacy,  vol. 14, no. 1, 2020, pp. 12-26. University Library Portland State University. Accessed 28 April 2021.

Sutherland, Tonia, and Alyssa Purcell. “A Weapon and a Tool: Decolonizing Description and  Embracing Redescription as Liberatory Archival Praxis.” The International Journal of  Information, Diversity, & Inclusion. vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 60-78.  Accessed 28 April 2021

Tai, Jessica. “Cultural Humility as a Framework for Anti-Oppressive Archival Description,” Radical Empathy in Archival Practice special issue of Journal of Critical  Library and Information Studies, vol. 3, 2020. Accessed 28 April 2021