- The National Trust for Historic Preservation is piloting a program with historically black colleges and universities to diversify the field of preservation while restoring historic sites across the country. According to Monica Rhodes, associate director of the National Trust’s Hands-On Preservation Experience (HOPE) Crew, presently only 8% of the roughly 87,000 listings on the National Register of Historic Places represent the stories of women and people of color she said.
- "As the preservation workforce continues to experience high retirement numbers, the technical skills necessary for the specialized work required to preserve historic resources are more valuable than ever," Rhodes wrote in an email, pointing out the number of opportunities students have to engage in this kind of work is very limited.
- Since 2014, the crew has trained over 1,000 students and completed more than 150 projects of significance to the communities where working is happening. Morgan State University, the first HBCU to participate, has 20 structures eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and was designated one of the Trust's National Treasures — which is working with the school to develop a preservation plan.
Other institutions can learn from national efforts to diversify the preservation workforce as well as the types of sites that are being preserved. Rhodes said, "Preservation efforts have a lot of ground to make up in acknowledging and safeguarding the important sites and stories — even the most controversial and challenging — of historically underrepresented communities."
The same reasoning can be applied to building names and statues and monuments to controversial figures on campus — and even the history of the institutions themselves, as many try to reconcile their founders' complicity in slavery. " As America’s conversation on its growing diversity and complex history continues to evolve, it’s important for the full story of our country and communities to be told," said Rhodes, adding "without documentation and preservation, the diverse legacy of our history is gone."
Often the biggest failure of campuses when it comes to serving non-white students is failing to promote a sense of belonging and provide spaces which affirm the identities of these students on campus. Finding ways to both acknowledge and preserve an institution's history while creating a more inclusive history is critical to improving the climate of higher education as a whole.
And involving students in the process not only helps to ensure all voices are represented, it presents an opportunity for campus leaders to do what they are called to do: Teach students how to deal with things which may be uncomfortable while effecting change and using the opportunity to grow.