Archaeology and Inclusion

“It can be very hard to find what you’re not looking for, even if it happens to be right in front of you.”

Kimberly Flint-Hamilton

I joined the St. Lawrence University community in January, deep in the heart of winter. The temperatures in the North Country, sometimes well-below zero, were a bit of a shock to my system, but the passion of the people and the warmth of my welcome went a long way toward helping me endure the frigid temperatures. For years, as a teacher-scholar, I’ve enjoyed finding links between seemingly disparate ideas and disciplines. When I was an undergraduate, for example, I studied both biology and classics and I went on to finish my Ph.D. in classical archaeology. 

It may seem strange to imagine a tie between archaeology and the work of diversity and inclusion, but the connection is real. You see, in archaeology, when you’re excavating a settlement, you tend to find what you search for. Here’s the corollary though: It can be very hard to find what you’re not looking for, even if it happens to be right in front of you. If you’re a pottery specialist, you can find the tiniest little shard of ceramics, but you might miss bone fragments or even bronze coins. That’s why you need to construct a team. You have specialists who understand how to identify pottery, bones, seeds, wood, architecture, and other types of artifacts. The specialists all have a voice in the planning of the excavation–where you dig, how you record and preserve your finds, how resources are allocated, how the various finds are interrelated, and eventually how you publish everything. If you do these things, and do them well, you have an opportunity to reconstruct the reality of a people who haven’t had a voice for a very long time. The same thing is true for the work of inclusion.

No one person understands all the elements of reality or truth. Each of us has our own perspective, and we see things from our own vantage points. Two people can observe the exact same phenomenon but come up with vastly different, even contradictory interpretations, and they can both be right. A flashing blue light on a police car can be a welcome sign to some law-abiding citizens and a terrifying one to others who are just as law-abiding. Hemlock, the substance used in the death of Socrates, is a lethal poison, but that same toxin can be used as a sedative to help alleviate pain and difficulties breathing. Social media can be an incredible vehicle to connect people all over the world, from all walks of life, but it also can be a potential danger for those who aren’t vigilant. We need multiple perspectives to understand the world more completely. Difference is an essential component of intellectual excellence. But difference without inclusion will not produce the excellence we seek.

Nurturing an inclusive community can be like gardening. As a child, I always enjoyed spending time in my grandmother’s garden. There were rose bushes, lilacs, peonies, marigolds, forsythia bushes, and thick, lush grass. Birds of all varieties flitted about and every spring a few would nest in the trees and bushes. My grandmother knew what each plant needed—the different soils, mulches, and plant foods. She made sure that there were seeds in the bird feeders as well as nectar for the hummingbirds. There was even a space for vegetables—tomatoes, corn, and cantaloupe, her favorites. Some of the resources needed by the garden-dwellers were shared—water, sunlight—while others were more individualized—slightly different types of soil, bird and plant food. Granny took care of the birds and plants in her charge—she watered them, fed them, and made sure they could thrive. And because she took the time to understand and provide what was needed, Granny’s garden was always beautiful and healthy.

Like my grandmother’s garden, the community of St. Lawrence is a beautiful assemblage of people from various races, ethnic groups, religions, sexual orientations and identities, and political affiliations. We come from all over the nation and the world. Some of us come from economic privilege, while others hail from more modest backgrounds. We share a goal—we seek an inspiring and demanding undergraduate education in the liberal arts—and our various origins, outlooks, and perspectives add tremendous value to our educational enterprise.

In the words of the St. Lawrence University Statement on Diversity: “We believe that students, faculty and staff from a variety of backgrounds, experiences, identities, and heritages, when working together, are more likely to produce the leaders our society needs.”

Working together, listening to one another and truly valuing the perspectives of all the members of our community, our students will gain the knowledge, skills, and confidence not only to succeed, but to become leaders in this complex and ever-changing world. Diversity, along with inclusion, will help get them there.

It takes courage, foresight, and intentionality to look beyond what we expect and remain open to difference. Some of the most amazing archaeological finds were discovered by accident–the Roman city of Pompeii, the prehistoric paintings of the Lascaux Cave, the Bronze Age Uluburun shipwreck, and the Xian Terra Cotta Army, to name just a few. Archaeological teams were constructed and experts were commissioned in extensive digs. Our understanding of the ancient world has been greatly enriched by allowing these unexpected treasures to tell their stories.

At St. Lawrence, by engaging the entire community and ensuring that their perspectives are heard and valued, even when—especially when—we hear what we don’t expect, we advance the knowledge-mission of the University, we enrich our educational experiences, and we produce the leaders we need in this complex and ever-changing world. 

Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Kimberly Flint-Hamilton joined St. Lawrence University in January of 2017. Flint-Hamilton will be coordinating and leading the work of the diversity and inclusion plan for the University, maturing strategies along with faculty and staff to increase student retention and success, support faculty development of programs, and advance other recommended actions outlined by the President’s Commission on Diversity.

Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Kimberly Flint-Hamilton