UH Hilo anthropology students learn about women in museum management

At a symposium with an expert panel held in early March, anthropology students also gave presentations on the status of women in museums in Hawai‘i, Oceania, and the USA. Among their findings: representation of women in museums is increasing, but their pay still lags behind men.

By Leah Sherwood.

Three women, from left, Nicole Garcia, Momi Naughton, Celia Bardwell-Jones
From left, Nicole Garcia, Momi Naughton, and Celia Bardwell-Jones. The three scholars spoke to anthropology students at a Women and Museums seminar held at UH Hilo, March 11.

Last month, before the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo canceled the remaining Women’s History Month events due to the coronavirus, a symposium was held on the topic of “Women and Museums.”

Tarisi Vunidilo
Tarisi Vunidilo

The event, which included lunch for all attendees, was organized and run by students in an anthropology class on museology (ANTH 470) taught by Assistant Professor Tarisi Vunidilo.

“The theme was a celebration of women’s achievements in the field of museums,” says Vunidilo. “We wanted to raise awareness of women in museums, raise awareness of women in anthropology, and raise awareness of women’s achievements in general.”

The event featured three keynote speakers: Momi Naughton, formerly of the Bishop Museum and currently Heritage Center Coordinator at the North Hawai‘i Education and Research Center in Honokaʻa; Nicole Garcia, a graduate student in the UH Hilo anthropology department and a colleague of Naughton’s at the Heritage Center; and Celia Bardwell-Jones, associate professor of philosophy and chair of gender and women’s studies at UH Hilo.

In Bardwell-Jones’s talk, “Curating Colonialism: Epistemic Resistance and Repatriating Knowledge in the British Museum and Cañada de La Virgen in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico,” she discussed her recent trip to Mexico as part of her ongoing research project on museum ethics. In particular, she spoke about how colonial objects are curated in museums for public presentation.

“I wanted to give Tarisi’s students a broader, global perspective on the ethical dimensions of the work that they see themselves doing in the future,” she says.

Student presentations

In addition to the speakers’ keynote addresses, the students from Vunidilo’s museology class gave region-based presentations on the status of women in museums in Hawai‘i, Oceania, and the USA. The presentations included information on regional trends in the representation and pay of women in different roles, such as curators and directors. The students found that representation of women in museums is increasing, but that their pay still lags behind men.

Vunidilo says she is proud of her students for organizing the symposium by themselves and for their public speaking.

“Some of them are naturally shy and fearful of public speaking so for them it was a baptism by fire,” says Vunidilo. “I really pushed them out of their comfort zone and some of them told me later that they needed that.”

Collaborative effort

Vunidilo is grateful for the cooperation between the anthropology, philosophy, and gender and women’s studies departments in putting together the event.

“That’s why I love this university, the professors don’t work in silos,” she says. “They work across departments and across disciplines and this symposium was a really good example of that.”

The event was funded by grants from the College of Arts and Sciences and by the Gender and Women’s Studies Program at UH Hilo.


Story by Leah Sherwood, a graduate student in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program at UH Hilo. She received her bachelor of science in biology and bachelor of arts in English from Boise State University.

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