Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Why I Am Resigning As Programming Director For Context (UPDATED)

3 comments
EDIT: 27 Dec 2014:

Forget what I said below.  Thanks to Janet Province and Dennis Palmer (in particular), this convention is dead.  You should see these two posts for updates:

http://ideatrash.net/2014/12/context-is-dead-thank-jan-province-and.html

http://ideatrash.net/2014/12/mark-freemans-statement-on-context.html

(end edit)

EDIT: 1 Dec 2014:  


I learned last night the Board met and dissolved itself. The Chairs from last year are taking over and reforming everything. This resolves my concerns.  I'm not certain what, if any, role I will have in the new iteration of Context, but if you're local to the area and want to help out, I'm sure they would appreciate it.



TL;DR: Without myself and a very few others, I do not believe there would have been any public response to the reports of harassment at Context 27.  I do not have faith that the harassment policy will be enforced or that reports of harassment would be treated seriously at Context in the future. I do not realistically have the ability to make that change before Context 28.

Therefore, both out of my ethics and as a signatory to John Scalzi's harassment pledge, I must resign as programming director for Context. Further, I will not be attending Context 28.




This should have been simple.

The first report came to me in a personal e-mail.

She told me about her experience, about one convention volunteer making her feel creeped on to the point that she and her friends avoided a major area of the convention.

She told me that she originally wasn't going to report it at all, but a mutual friend assured her that I would take the report seriously.

Unspoken was the fear: That she would be mocked. That she would be treated like the problem. That nothing would happen, and it would only get worse next time.

Hers was the first report, corroborated by several other congoers. Then came the other reports, other people reporting the same behavior. Reports of the same behavior from prior years. Congoers saying they'd simply learned to avoid parts of the con where this guy worked.

One person posted about their experience with this volunteer publicly. I assure you, that report was the least of them.

But.

The fear from the first report kept popping up. Fear of having their name smeared across the internet. Fear of being ridiculed or mocked. Fear of not being taken seriously, fear of the harassed being seen as the problem instead of the harasser.

I have tried for the last two months to believe that would not have happened.

Instead, I have come to realize that without the actions of a few people, that is exactly what would have happened.

I made a mistake early on in the process; after I had gotten several reports in the first week after the convention, I sent a summary report (without any names) to an e-mail list that I thought just went to the core convention committee and FANACO board. [1] Instead, it went to pretty much everyone who volunteered at the convention. I was wrong, and I should have simply sent it to the Con Chairs.

But that is not why I am resigning.

This should have been simple.

I cannot imagine a more clear-cut and simple harassment case (without video evidence). Multiple reports, with multiple witnesses for each report, over a period of years. Some chose to remain anonymous; most agreed to release their names to the Board.

It should have been simple. Someone does a creepy thing - and does not deny the reports. A consequence is enacted, you move on.

There were a few people who clearly and unambiguously understood that creeping behavior clearly violated the harassment policy, and supported taking action. [2] Several of those people have already resigned or quietly decided to avoid the convention in the future.

The other voices, including members of both the Board and the Convention Committee argued against taking action, reducing actions taken, and not making things public. [3] This cartoon by Jim C. Hines - though not written about this situation - describes it perfectly:



That cartoon is not a comprehensive list of the pushback that occurred.

One ConComm member asserted that no report of harassment could be taken seriously without an uninvolved third party witnessing it. Another stated that unless reports were made at the convention that they couldn't be taken seriously. In e-mail, a board member used sarcasm quotes referring to the "victims" of harassment. A board member mused about undoing the consequences that were decided upon after the meeting had adjourned. Others blamed those reporting harassment, ignored all but the public reports, and advocated that nothing be said or done publicly. Much was made of the feelings of the harasser - who never denied these multiple reports - while the feelings and safety of congoers were ignored.

That is still not a comprehensive list of the pushback that occurred.

As I said at the top, the public response has largely been driven by a few people. [2] I am one of them. At each step, I have been glad to see that my peers and friends saw the initial reaching out to victims, restatement of the harassment policy, and eventual final statement as the correct and necessary steps to deal with a bad situation.

The statement that was posted simply outlines the situation and consequences.

Approval of the statement was repeatedly delayed. Members of the Board refused to sign it. When it was posted - at the direction of the Con Chairs - I was accused of assuming authority and refusing to work through the administrative structure of the convention. That statement had the signature "Convention Committee", and members of the Committee objected to the implication that they agreed to the statement.

This is still not a comprehensive list of the pushback that occurred.

I hate to have to say this.

I cannot stress this enough:  I hate to have to say this. I have been attending and recommending this convention well before assuming any kind of role in the organization of it. And with only this one small exception, Context 27 was pretty freaking awesome.

But.

Without myself and a very few others [2], I do not believe there would have been any public response to the reports of harassment at Context 27.

I posted this on the Context blog as this began unfolding:

I referred to this document during the opening ceremonies, and we as a convention stand behind our Anti-Harassement (or as I call it, Respect) policy.

Please do not hesitate to let me personally know of any problems you have had at this convention.

This policy will be enforced.

-Steven Saus, programming director of Context 27.

I no longer have faith that the policy will be enforced.

I do not have faith that reports of harassment would be treated seriously at Context in the future, and I do not realistically have the ability to make that change before Context 28. [4]

Therefore, both out of my ethics and as a co-signatory to John Scalzi's Convention Harassment pledge, I must resign as programming director for Context. Further, I will not be attending Context 28.


I will hand over whatever files and planning documents that I used for Context 27 to whomever takes on that role.


[edited 29 Nov 0850:  I wrote a reply to some of the comments below (and on social media) in this post here.  I'm probably not going to reply much to comments below.]



[1] FANACO is the organization that officially runs Context; the Board is not the same as the Convention Committee.

[2] I am not naming anyone throughout this document. My intent is to explain my decision, not to personally attack anyone or tell another person's story.

[3] Many of whom used the construction "I don't approve of what happened, but I don't think we should do ...".

[4] I could continue to argue the point, but within the bureaucratic structure that exists, I do not foresee the ability to effect actual change. Further, fighting for that change would detract from my ability to do my actual *job* at the convention.

3 comments :

Marian Allen said...

Thanks for continuing to be the upstanding human being you are.

Ranvaig said...

Steve has chosen to post a rather unsavory report of the conflict within the committee. I am a member of the committee am saying this as my own opinion, and NOT that of the committee, that Steve has misrepresented the issue. Since he has chosen to make this so public, I want to say that he is wrong.

Context has had an antiharassment policy for several years, and has never tolerated harassment and never would, especially not by a staff member.

Please give us time to work through the ramifications of this. We want Context to be an awesome and SAFE convention.

Sharon Palmer

Ranvaig said...

Let me add Steve's own words, from a recent post "My response was not based off what you wrote, but what I thought I heard."

Sharon Palmer