Category Archives: Official Announcements

A message from WisCon’s member advocate

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.

–Debbie Notkin

Statement on Harassment

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 (antiabuse@wiscon.net). The safety chair is Ariel Franklin-Hudson (safety@wiscon.net). The convention chair for WisCon 39 is Jim Leinweber (chair@wiscon.net). Reports, questions, and comments can be sent to Ariel and Debbie through the safety@wiscon.net email address.

Jim Frenkel at WisCon 38

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 safety@wiscon.net if you have concerns about harassment or other matters at WisCon38.

Take Back the SciFi: WisCon’s response

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 program@wiscon.net.