I want to apologize to the WisCon 37 co-chairs, Gretchen Treu, Jackie Lee, and Kafryn W. Lieder, and to the WisCon community, both personally and as one of the co-chairs of WisCon 38.
I apologize for not reconsidering allowing Jim Frenkel to attend WisCon 38, after having received Elise Matthesen’s report from the WisCon 37 co-chairs and Lauren Jankowski’s report via email. In retrospect, having specifically solicited our members to make reports when we were ill-equipped to respond to them appropriately was a huge mistake, and I join others in apologizing for it. My hope is that the new Safety procedures, the Member Advocate, and the Harassment Policies Committee will fix this problem for the future.
I also apologize for not working more quickly to establish the Harassment Policies Committee and revise WisCon’s procedures and policies for responding to harassment reports. Because of serious personal health issues, I had to step back from active chairing in the fall and winter, which meant that the Harassment Policies Committee fell through the cracks until April, and that is something I personally regret.
Again, I want to express my apologies both personally and as a WisCon 38 co-chair.
-Joanna Lowenstein, WisCon 38 Co-Chair
Statement from Ariel Franklin-Hudson, WisCon 38/39 Head of Safety
WisCon Safety: Procedures, History, Explanations, and Apologies
I took over as Head of Safety this year. In practice, this position began just in advance of WisCon 38, since WisCon Head of Safety has, until now, been an at-con job only.
During WisCon 37, and for many previous WisCons, WisCon Safety maintained a notebook in which Safety volunteers on duty during the convention recorded incidents as they happened — anything from loose plastic on the 6th floor party hall to a report of harassment. This informal log book was WisCon Safety’s only form of record keeping, and WisCon had no official procedure or system in place to convert those notes into a formal written record. I want to stress that the notes, and the log book for WisCon 37, were never lost or mislaid; but because they are notes only, WisCon does not have a formal written record of Elise Matthesen’s report. Reports made to Safety were transferred through the log book, and orally from Safety volunteer to Head of Safety; in large part, this was because of volunteer informality, and Safety’s traditionally minor role at WisCon, but confidentiality was also an important consideration.
Everyone in WisCon Safety and WisCon leadership from WisCon 37 through WisCon 39 understands that Elise made a formal report; this has never been in doubt. Her report was treated with extreme seriousness at the time, including follow-ups by Co-Chairs with both Elise and with Jim Frenkel. These follow-ups have some email trail, and the WisCon 37 Co-Chairs — Jackie Lee, Kafryn Lieder, and Gretchen Treu — have now created a formal report based on the log book notes, the email trail, and their memories. In addition, the log book notes of Elise’s report from WisCon 37 have now been entered into a formal WisCon Safety Incident Report Form; I initiated these Incident Report Forms for WisCon 38.
When I took over as Head of Safety, one of my first priorities was to immediately create and implement an Incident Report Form, in order to improve the consistency and formality of our records. This form was used by Safety volunteers throughout WisCon 38, and we intend to continue to use it going forward. WisCon’s Application Development team is also currently developing a secure database for all Safety reports — both harassment and otherwise — so that we will have a place to keep our records from year to year, regardless of who takes on the jobs of Safety and Con Chairs in the future, and will be able to improve our institutional memory. I am in the process of collating the at-con reports and the reports that have come in by email since WisCon 38, and will be filing them in the Safety database once it is built.
Lauren Jankowski’s initial report was a casualty of the informal processes we had until now, and the chaos that occurs in the changeover from one WisCon ConCom to the next. WisCon did receive it, and it was reviewed by the Safety Chairs of WisCon 37, who then made a report to the Co-Chairs of WisCon 38; but no one took responsibility for responding to Lauren, or for taking action based on her report. Lauren’s report also came in during a period when WisCon had put out a call for reports without building a clear procedure for receiving, responding to, or recording them. This was a very bad mistake, and I join with others in apologizing for it, and apologizing to Lauren for the fact that her report was, functionally, lost in the system until she brought it to our attention during WisCon 38.
Because of the existence of formal Safety Incident Report Forms, the new position of Member Advocate (which is formally a 12-month position), and the progress on the database, we believe these problems will not reoccur.
Rose Lemberg’s harassment report had a different failure pattern, which is also attributable to the gap in responsibility between conventions, and is WisCon’s fault. As I note here, we believe that problem has been addressed for the future, and the incident itself is being addressed as described in the Member Advocate public statement on the WisCon website.
None of this is intended to be an excuse — there is no excuse for these mistakes, oversights, and failures. The only things we — and I — know how to do, however, are to fix the problems going forward, and be as honest and candid as possible with the WisCon membership, and with everyone who files a report. I am happy to answer questions, and to provide further detail where I can. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; I may not be able to answer immediately, but I will answer.
WisCon 38/39 Head of Safety
Statement from Monica Youngman & Victor Raymond, Safety Co-Chairs for WisCon 37
To Elise, Lauren, and Rose and to the WisCon membership,
As the Safety Co-Chairs for WisCon37 we would like to apology for not having taken steps before and after WisCon 37 to set up a formal system to collect and maintain reports and act upon them between conventions. In retrospect such a system would have significantly aided WisCon in properly dealing with issues of harassment. It is important to us that WisCon be a safe, secure and welcoming environment, which is why it is so important for this system to be created for the convention committee to do its work effectively. We are firmly behind and support the efforts of the current Safety and Member Advocate to devise such a system; we believe this is a necessary element to support membership safety before, during, and after the convention. For our part in not having devised that system earlier we apologize.
Monica Youngman & Victor Raymond
As the newly appointed (last month) member advocate for WisCon, I am charged with, among other things, appointing subcommittees where necessary to deal with reported incidents of harassment. The subcommittees make a policy decision, which the chair (now Jim Leinweber, the upcoming chair of WisCon 39) then carries out. If consequences are imposed on a member, that member has the right to appeal to the board of SF3, WisCon’s governing body.
It is WisCon’s general intention not to publicize specific incidents of harassment but to deal with them privately; however, one incident from WisCon 36 and a group of incidents reported during and after WisCon 37 have been publicly discussed (and sometimes linked) on the Internet, and revisited frequently since WisCon 38 last month, so we would like to update our members on progress with those incidents.
The subcommittee considering the incidents involving Jim Frenkel is working now. As the first such subcommittee, its members have decided that we have to address not only policy but also process. We are moving efficiently and continuously, but we may take some time to come to a conclusion; figuring out due process is necessarily slow and careful.
I am also in the process of convening a subcommittee to address the issues raised by Rose Lemberg about FJ Bergmann, and vice versa. That subcommittee (which will have few, if any, overlapping members) will begin its work when the Jim Frenkel subcommittee is done, so that it can take advantage of the process decisions made by the Jim Frenkel subcommittee.
I am very aware that many people would like decisions and announcements _now_ and I am sorry that we cannot provide them. But I also believe this slower approach will serve WisCon, and the greater community, better in the long run. I thank you for your patience, and I also thank you for your passion, which helps keep us moving and reminds us of why we do this work.
The WisCon Committee is aware of the substantial online discussion of past reported harassment incidents at WisCon, and how they were handled. We know that we have failed very significantly in how we followed up on a couple of incident reports from WisCon 36 and WisCon 37. We could talk about how these reports fell through the cracks, and why we are dissatisfied with penalties in situations where penalties were imposed, but we would rather simply apologize to the people involved, and the entire membership. Every harassment report made should be responded to quickly, clearly, and with prompt follow-up actions. After the WisCon 37 problems we began building systems that we believe will improve this in the future, but we cannot change the past. Changes prior to the recently concluded Wiscon 38 included establishing a member advocate position as an ongoing liaison for the reporters, making the safety chair a year-round function to avoid losing track of reports which arrive just after a con during the transition to new chairs and a new committee, and setting up a standing harassment policy subcommittee to improve both our published policies and our internal procedures. For WisCon 38 there was a new first responder’s guide which we distributed to all committee members and the entire at-con safety team. Prior to WisCon 39 we expect to radically improve our ability to impose meaningful penalties. Until we can consult an attorney, we are not going to make public comments on particular people or incidents. We are in the process of arranging that consultation now. We will say, however, that when additional information comes to light about an accused harasser, that information is essential in making appropriate clear decisions for following years. We are collecting information (and responding to reporters promptly) so that we can make better decisions going forward. WisCon’s Harassment Policy Committee is a large and geographically disparate group, and there are limits to how fast it can act. Please have patience with this protracted process, and know that we take your concerns seriously and are working hard on these problems. The member advocate for 2014-2015 is Debbie Notkin (email@example.com). The safety chair is Ariel Franklin-Hudson (firstname.lastname@example.org). The convention chair for WisCon 39 is Jim Leinweber (email@example.com). Reports, questions, and comments can be sent to Ariel and Debbie through the firstname.lastname@example.org email address.
The ConCom is aware of concerns about Jim Frenkel’s presence this year. We very much regret that members were made to feel unsafe. We take the concerns of our community very seriously, are reviewing the matter, and will make a detailed statement soon. The ConCom volunteers live and work in many different time zones, and some are still in transit. We are working to respond to concerns ASAP. Please email email@example.com if you have concerns about harassment or other matters at WisCon38.
Reports have been trickling in of some potential food poisoning cases, if you think you got a foodborne illness over the weekend please call the Madison Health Department at 608-266-4821. More details on reporting here: http://www.publichealthmdc.com/environmental/food/foodborneIllness/facts.cfm
SF3 is Wiscon’s parent organization. This year’s annual SF3 meeting will happen on Sunday, October 14th, 11:30am, Concourse Hotel.
Find more information about the meeting, including the agenda, at SF3’s website.
Please note: we are looking for candidates to run for the position of Recording Secretary!
WisCon is pleased to announce that Andrea Hairston and Debbie Notkin will be the guests of honor for WisCon36.
WisCon members who attended a WisCon 33 panel entitled “Take Back the SciFi,” have expressed serious concerns about the panel’s focus and moderation. They have raised important questions about comments and decisions the moderator made in guiding the conversation and accepting questions during the discussion of personal experiences.
The panel was intended to focus on the use of rape and sexual assault in science fiction writing and the influence of rape culture in the genre. The panel was described as “Sexual assault and rape frequently get used as symbolic plot devices with no consideration about the realities of how these events effect survivors and the people around them and the larger social realities of this epidemic. Sometimes these stories get told well but often they perpetuate social myths and stereotypes that normalize predatory behavior and make survivors complicit. How do authors work to create a culture where stories that perpetuate rape myths are not acceptable? Examples?”
However, as can happen in programming on topics such as this, the discussion shifted to personal experiences of rape and sexual assault. Unfortunately, the panel also became a place in which male survivors, their families, and friends felt marginalized and re-traumatized.
We are very sorry that this occurred. As organizers of a feminist convention, we understand that rape knows no gender.
We thank the panelists and attendees who have expressed their concerns. WisCon’s Convention Committee (ConCom) will continue to discuss these concerns and to respond to people who contact us directly. Also, ConCom members have spoken with the moderator, who may choose to respond individually. Moderators, like all program participants, are volunteers who express interest in a panel. Although we believe the moderator had no intent to harm, we know that harm occurred and we take that harm seriously. In response to member suggestions, this programming item will be offered again at WisCon 34 in a facilitated discussion format to encourage audience participation.
We understand that panelists and attendees will continue to engage in dialogue about this panel, and we welcome any additional suggestions that arise from these discussions. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.