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Jun 19 2013

You Agree to Help Create a Space

It’s time for a bit of good news.

Several months ago, I wrote about an organization in crisis that isn’t part of the skeptical or secular movements. Readercon had a crisis of management over the treatment of a serial sexual harasser that led to general uproar in the F&SF community and eventually to board resignations. The new board then committed to creating a new set of policies and procedures for their event.

A little over a week ago, the team responsible released their new code of conduct, policies and procedures documents. I kind of love them. This is my very favorite part, right up front in the code of conduct:

By attending Readercon in any capacity, you agree to help create a space that is and feels as safe as possible by respecting other people’s physical and social boundaries.

It really encapsulates the whole of what these policies should be. Yes, I’ve seen organizations say similar things, but not quite so concisely. (Score one for organizing around literacy.)

Conventions and conferences are social spaces created by bringing a group of people with a common interest together around that interest. Organizers play a critical role in facilitating the creation of that space, but there’s only so much they can do. Once they’ve brought all the elements together, it’s up to everyone participating to make the “magic” happen. Everyone, even that introvert in the corner managing to keep their social anxiety to a workable level, plays a part in what happens after that.

This code of conduct explicitly reminds us of that. In fact, it makes positive participation a condition of any participation.

It also leaves no room for the rules lawyers, the people playing “I’m not touching you.” There are negative admonitions in the code of conduct, but there are two broad, positive statements as well:

When sharing space with other people, engage in active demonstrations of respect and empathy.

When interacting with other people, engage in active demonstrations of respect and empathy.

Examples are given, but they are clearly that–examples. They can’t be and aren’t meant to be exhaustive. The rules, such as they are, are “Be good to each other.” That doesn’t leave a lot of room for being just as bad to someone as you think the con will let you get away with.

There are a couple other parts of the new documents I particularly like. Part of what led to the problems last year was that Readercon had an all-or-nothing policy. It was a “zero tolerance” policy that equated not tolerating harassment with banning a harasser for life. This year’s policies have a lot more room to scale the con’s response to the actions in question.

Readercon will always prioritize the safety of all our attendees over a single person’s desire to attend or participate in Readercon. To this end, Readercon reserves the right to:

  • request that someone who is causing problems change their behavior.
  • revoke access to some or all convention spaces.
  • revoke convention membership.
  • involve hotel security.
  • via hotel security, involve local law enforcement.
  • deny membership for a period of one or more years, or permanently.
  • choose not to take action

This kind of leeway encourages people to report  problematic behavior without having to feel that they are personally kicking someone out of the convention for life–and without shouldering all the blame from others. It encourages dealing with low-level anti-social behavior before it reaches crisis level. Doing both of those also creates a system in which it is easier to differentiate one-time gaffes from predatory behavior. With more reporting and tracking of borderline behavior, repeat offenders’ behavior will become obvious.

There is also a section of the policies that allows for some information sharing outside the convention:

We will not respond to general requests for a list of all parties whose memberships have been revoked or denied. However, if anyone inquires as to whether a particular person’s membership has been revoked or denied, Readercon will provide that information. We will not keep any kind of list or database of such requests, or consider a membership status request tantamount to a report.

I know information sharing has been a bone of contention in our community, but I think it’s handled very well here. It’s limited to those parties whose behavior has been extreme enough for Readercon to take drastic action, and it requires a query specific to an individual. That allows both individuals who have had a bad experience with an attendee and other conventions that are weighing behavior at their own events to inquire and receive limited information that will allow them to make decisions about their own behavior. It seems to me like an excellent compromise between the interests of everyone involved.

The procedures document is detailed enough to be a little daunting, but once you get into the details, it’s a lot more reassuring. All those details are aimed at making sure everyone in a situation is heard and doesn’t feel ganged up upon.

Finally, and importantly, these are all “living” documents. They can be changed by the safety committee in response to feedback on how they work in practice.

I see lots to love in Readercon’s documents and nothing that raises serious concerns. How about you?

By the way, these documents were released after the close of preregistration for the convention. Because of last year’s controversy, registration numbers are likely down this year. However, registration at the door is only an extra $10 over the pre-reg prices. If you’re an F&SF reader looking for a convention that takes their attendees’ needs and comfort seriously, consider going to Readercon. Besides, Maureen McHugh and Patricia McKillip are guests of honor. How cool is that?

7 comments

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  1. 1
    Nentuaby

    It’s a shame (for me) that’s an East Coast con, or I’d totally be there.

  2. 2
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    That is an appealing document, and definitely makes the con more attractive. If I weren’t so bone-poor, I’d be seriously considering going. Thanks for telling us about this. :)

  3. 3
    Crystal Huff

    Thank you for the kind words! We of course solicit feedback of any flavor, but to hear that you think we are doing well is very good news. :)

    Thank you for noticing why we provided examples, and that they weren’t intended to be comprehensive. We know we can’t predict all possible situations. Thanks in particular for noting the underlying “treat each other well” message we are very consciously trying to have imbued upon every decision. Glad to hear it came across!

    (Small notes: The safety docs were released before our online registration closed, but we haven’t had much feedback since their publication, so that’s why some may have thought they weren’t out beforehand. Thank you for noting that people can still register for the con at the door; definitely still true! We also take donations via Paypal, although we are not yet done applying for 501(c)3 status, so donations are not tax-deductible at this time.)

  4. 4
    carlie

    That is so wonderful. I hope that other conventions take note and do something similar.

  5. 5
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    Now that’s showing the SF world (and hopefully some other worlds) how it’s done. And very well done indeed.

  6. 6
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    This sounds like a really good policy: Strict in what is expected, nuanced and flexible in what is done.

    +++

    It encourages dealing with low-level anti-social behavior before it reaches crisis level.

    It’s one of those things the “call the cops or nothing happened” crowd simply doesn’t get (and which shows that they plain and simple lack understanding):
    At the point it warrants to call the cops (or that they would do anything about it, because everybody who has ever dealt with such issues knows that those things are not the same.) it’s way too late. At that point things have already escalated, damage has occurred and everything becomes very unpleasant for everybody.
    Duh, I’m in teacher training. One thing they hammer into our heads is that we need to intervene early. Once our personal treshold is reached, it’s way too late

  7. 7
    thecynicalromantic

    I’m really glad to hear about these. I’m not much of a congoer, but Readercon is right in my area and it sounded so much like the sort of thing I’d be interested in, so when some members of my writing group suggested going together I decided I should probably check it out… but I remembered the blowup from last year and was still feeling sort of wary. But it looks like they really are taking safety and harassment quite seriously, so now I’m very excited to be going.

  1. 8
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