Looking at Diversity and Inclusion Through a Personal Lens.
March 14th, 2023
March 14th, 2023
BY LILY LAREGINA
As a former Acadia Digital Media Team member, I’ve often described the team’s work as visually documenting and sharing Acadia National Park. This includes showing how the park manages its resources and visitation, and, of course, taking beautiful photographs of visitors out enjoying it.
Through photography and videography, we showcase the efforts to protect and preserve the land and resources that millions care about deeply, which helps bring visitors in
and keeps them coming back.
But I also wanted my work to include a project that focused not just on what people love about Acadia but why, for some, Acadia does not yet feel like a welcoming or accessible destination. Acadia has seen record visitation numbers in the last few years, but there are still people for whom lack of representation, socioeconomic disparities, lack of outdoor experience, and opportunity gaps prevent them from being included in those visits.
As an Asian-American woman, I find myself in the minority in several predominantly white-cisgender-heterosexual-male-dominated spheres that are my career choice (photography) and hobbies (hiking). That is also true of Acadia National Park and Friends of Acadia staffs.
So, in developing and mapping out a project on diversity, I sought to interview other employees of Acadia and its partner organizations who share this minority space and who could advocate for increased diversity. Diversity is a topic with many facets. It seemed like the best way to approach this in a short-term project was to look at how diversity may be increased in the park’s interpretation and education division.
I first interviewed Seikou Sanneh, Acadia’s first Untold Histories Research Assistant, whose research was intended to diversify the historical material referenced by interpretive staff when constructing their public programs. For Sanneh, researching untold histories meant looking into historical accounts of communities, including people in and around Acadia who lacked the wealth, influence, race, and gender-based privileges of Acadia’s well-known figures like Charles Eliot, George Dorr, and John D. Rockefeller Jr.
Nolan Altvater, Curator of Education at the Abbe Museum, was my next interview. Although not directly involved with Acadia National Park’s interpretation programming, as a Passamaquody citizen and education professional, they spoke about what visitors can gain from more exposure to the Wabanaki people’s past and continued relationship with the island, specifically how that relationship has changed with settler colonialism.
Zoë Simarowski, a former Acadia Women in Parks intern and Friends of Acadia Summit Steward and Stewardship Coordinator, spoke about the contributions of women in the founding of Acadia and the timeline of women’s employment in the National Park Service.
Public-facing interpretive rangers Lilly Anderson and Eric Michelena discussed the increased inclusivity they’ve seen in recent years within the park’s interpretive staff and the changes they’ve personally championed. Anderson talked about Acadia’s steps to better support the queer community. She led Acadia’s first year of involvement in Bar Harbor Pride in 2022 and heads the new seasonal staff diversity, equity, and inclusion work group.
Michelena adapted an existing ranger program into a program called “Whose Acadia: Navigating Narratives,” in which he walks visitors through the history of Acadia’s founding, disclosing both the achievements of park founding figures and their involvements in social injustices, fostering conversation and thought about the park’s history and the effect of said history on the present.
"I hope this project is just one piece in the continuous effort to be more inclusive and diverse so that everyone can love and enjoy Acadia as I do."
All five of my interviewees aligned on what would make the biggest difference in improving the park experience for an increasingly diverse visitor population: emphasis on hiring a more diverse park staff. And that the way to do that is to reduce barriers to employment such as affordable housing, transportation, knowledge of the U.S.A. Jobs application system, and to provide more inclusive networking opportunities.
Echoing one of Altvater’s insights on the nature of diversity efforts, my hope is that this project isn’t “just a checkbox” that Friends of Acadia or the National Park Service can tick off on their list of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Rather, I hope this project is just one piece in the continuous effort to be more inclusive and diverse so that everyone can love and enjoy Acadia as I do.
LILY LAREGINA was a member of the Acadia Digital Media Team (2021, 2022). She recently graduated from Penn State University with a degree in photojournalism and now works for the Green Mountain Club as Communications Coordinator.
Video by Lily LaRegina, Acadia Digital Media Team, featuring 2022 park staff