tandw (tandw) wrote,

WisCon 38 Panel: Harassment Policies for Conventions

This was pretty good. Rachel Silber was the moderator; she's in a position of some authority at Arisia [1]. Other members were Jennie Devereaux-Weber (on harassment policy team for WisCon [2]), kalmn (similar position for Minn-STF), and Emily Wagner (from ReaderCon). I didn't take notes, so this is going to be a disjointed collection of mostly poorly-attributed impressions. Further information can be found at #conharrasspolicy or #conharasspolicy (note correct spelling in second hashtag; the initial hashtag was misspelled, but some of us used it anyway). Rachel gave us the URL for her website www.voluntarycomplexity.com, where she'd put some more commentary and links. Kudos, btw, to Rachel for running an excellent panel with a great balance between panelist talking time and audience participation, and not ignoring anyone in the audience when they had questions/comments.

Jennie and Rachel both made the point that their policies were crafted around treating the harassee(s)/witness(es) to harassment well--not only listening when they come forward, but not shaming them if they don't come forward right away, or have to be contacted well after the fact when a witness brings it up. Widespread approval from the audience. Jennie also mentioned that one of the goals for the revised WisCon policy was to make it easier to follow than to not follow [3]. Rigor of policies varied, but everyone was cognizant of how Readercon painted itself into a corner with their pre-issue policy and were trying to build in flexibility and make policies that could actually be followed as written. The Arisia policy was about the squishiest, IIRC. Readercon's was sufficiently rigorous as to be amenable to flowcharting (though with discretion built in at the decision points), and Minicon/Minn-STF's was still in the assembly stages.

To no one's surprise, the issue of pushback came up; all of the panelists talked about getting varying degrees of it (except Jennie, I think). Lots of similar things showed up in all the descriptions of pushback--concern trolling, what about the menz, and the like. Emily talked about the importance of encouraging reporting of minor incidents and impressions, collecting data so that if someone's behavior did eventually cross a line there was enough information to say whether it was a pattern. This eventually got around to how to deal with confidentiality concerns--who on the ConCom should have access to those data? The topic of training people (con members, committee members, other con staff people) on their rights/responsibilities/obligations under the policy had some interesting solutions--apparently, Readercon tapped the local rape crisis center to train the committee and staff, and this worked very well. Emily encouraged other groups to reach out to rape crisis centers in their areas for similar help.

As I said above, there were a fair lot of comments from the audience, including a couple from spouse. One of the last ones was from apostle_of_eris (IIRC), and I'm afraid it was easy to take as being a "what about the menz?" sort of question--about, essentially, how one educates clueless guys about the need for a harassment policy. This is not a bad question, and it even goes to one of the stated panel topics [4]. However, the majority of the panel had been about crafting and implementing good policies, so in context it was one that would have been more appropriate for another discussion. It is also, IMHO, the case that this would have been more of a concern twenty or thirty years ago, before the Internet made it possible to encounter the issue anywhere you look.

That reminds me of another couple of things that came up. Emily mentioned that in some ways having the Internet fall on their heads at Readercon made it easier to do the right thing. The conclusion she drew from the depth and breadth of the reaction to their issue was that there were a lot of people out there who expected better of them. If they didn't care, she reasoned, they wouldn't react so vociferously. And once she'd set aside the immediate defensive reaction, she was motivated by the reaction to do better. By contrast, Jennie brought up a situation a few years ago involving WisCon, in which the committee (for reasons which seemed good at the time, but...) kept quiet while they worked on a resolution. As we all know, not saying anything doesn't work to stop speculation, and the last audience commenter recommended some sort of statement along the lines of, "We're working on this. We are listening to what you have to say, but cannot comment right now."

In short, good panel. Would attend again.

[1] Not the con chair; that person was in the audience.

[2] You'd think that WisCon wouldn't need to work on theirs, but they didn't see it that way. To their credit.

[3] This fits well with something we try to do at work with our safety policies; it should be as easy as possible to do the right thing.

[4] "...how to help convince a reluctant convention to put one in place...."[5]

[5] Besides, of course, the threat of being unable to get scalzi or jimhines, or a host of others whose names escape me at the moment, to come to your convention.
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