Readercon 24

Public Statement By the Readercon Convention Committee

August 5, 2012

In regard to the harassment complaint brought by Genevieve Valentine against René Walling for his actions at Readercon 23, with additional relevant information provided by Kate Kligman, and the Readercon board's decision to restrict Mr. Walling from membership for two years, in contravention of Readercon's stated policy that harassment at Readercon will be met with a lifetime ban:

We, the Readercon convention committee (concom), unreservedly offer the following apologies and statements to the individual people who have been hurt by Readercon's actions, to the larger Readercon community, and to everyone who has been distressed by the Readercon board's decision and its implications, especially in the context of recent discussions about the toxicity of harassment and the need for event organizers to create safer spaces. While the original complaint and decision were handled by the Readercon board rather than the concom, we take full responsibility for correcting the board's errors, providing redress to those who have been harmed, and taking active steps to make Readercon safer and more comfortable.

Where this document says "we," it refers to and speaks for the entire concom.

Apologies

To Genevieve Valentine and Kate Kligman

We apologize first and foremost to Genevieve Valentine and to Kate Kligman for not taking appropriate action based on their reports of being harassed by René Walling. Our policy clearly states that harassers will have their memberships permanently revoked; we did not adhere to this policy, despite undisputed evidence of harassment. The board failed in its responsibilities to prioritize the safety of our attendees, promote a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere at the convention, follow our policy, and uphold Readercon's reputation as a place where reports of harassment will be handled appropriately. Our actions showed disrespect for Ms. Valentine and Ms. Kligman's painful experiences of harassment and their bravery in speaking up. We offer our heartfelt apology for failing to justify the trust they placed in us and for compounding their distress.

To the Readercon community

We apologize to the larger Readercon community for failing to follow our own rules and failing to make Readercon a place that both is safe and feels safe. The conversation about the value of zero-tolerance policies and lifetime bans is ongoing, but the issue of the moment is this: Readercon's program participants, attendees, and volunteers came together with the understanding that a particular policy was in place, and that Readercon's concom and board would not hesitate to implement it; and yet, when a complaint was made, we failed to address it appropriately and in accordance with our own rules.

We especially regret the perception that our process was biased in favor of a confirmed harasser. It is our responsibility to implement our anti-harassment policy in a way that corrects for the societal power imbalances that are often present between harassers and their targets, and for the fannish interconnectedness that often leads to these cases being judged by friends and colleagues of one or both parties. We failed in that responsibility.

Finally, by damaging the convention's reputation as a safe haven where harassment is aggressively discouraged and appropriately dealt with when it happens, we have upset many people who care about the convention and undermined our efforts to make the convention more inclusive and diverse. Women, members of minority groups, and younger people are often especially vulnerable to harassment, and many have been understandably put off by the perception that harassment is tolerated at our convention; we cannot claim to be welcoming them while creating an environment in which they feel unsafe.

We offer our heartfelt apology to everyone in our community who trusted us and has been hurt by our breach of trust; to everyone who once felt safe at Readercon and no longer does; to those who have linked Readercon's reputation with their own and now feel tarnished by association, especially our past guests of honor and anyone who has officially or informally promoted the convention; and to those who love Readercon and are heartbroken to see its leaders acting contrary to the convention's best interests.

To everyone affected by our actions

Last but certainly not least, we apologize for contributing to a cultural environment where harassment is common, reporting harassment is difficult, and reports are often dismissed. We should have appropriately addressed the incident at hand and done our part to fix the culture that made such an incident possible. Instead, we became part of the problem. We offer our heartfelt apology to everyone who feels less safe because of our lax treatment of an undoubted offender.

Statement of Actions Taken

Reversal of the board's decision

The concom has voted to overturn the board's decision in the matter of harassment committed by René Walling, and to permanently ban him from attending or participating in Readercon in any way. He may not purchase or otherwise acquire a membership; he may not participate in the program; he may not be or work for a dealer in the bookroom; he may not join any Readercon committee; he may not volunteer. We have informed Mr. Walling of this ban and he has not contested it.

Board resignations

All five members of the board have resigned. A special meeting of the corporation is being scheduled to address the election of a new board pro tem until our regular elections in January.

Commitment to future actions

The concom has voted to take positive, concrete actions toward increasing safety and a supportive atmosphere at Readercon. In specific, we commit to taking the following actions by January 31, 2013:

  • Convening a safety committee of concom members, Readercon regulars, and others who are known for their advocacy against harassment, and who will advise the concom on revising our anti-harassment policy and other anti-harassment and pro-safety actions. The initial members of this committee will be announced by September 30, 2012. (If you are interested in joining the safety committee or any other Readercon committee, see below.)
  • Updating our anti-harassment policy to better reflect the reality of how harassment happens at conventions.
  • Updating our protocols for handling reports of harassment, including guidelines for avoiding perceived or actual conflicts of interest, increased transparency of process (while protecting anonymity of complainants and shielding other non-public data), and creating specific procedures to handle reports made while harassment is ongoing and reports made after the fact.
  • Updating our code of conduct to encourage behavior that contributes to a safe and comfortable atmosphere, and to clearly describe the types of behaviors that are not welcome at Readercon.
  • Working with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center to train concom members and volunteers in swift, appropriate reactions to observed or reported harassment.
  • Developing extensive anti-harassment and pro-safety programming for future Readercons.

And we commit to taking the following actions at Readercon 24:

  • Putting up very visible posters, distributing flyers or business cards, and/or adding language to the program guide informing attendees that harassing behavior is not permitted at Readercon and providing ways to report harassment during and after the convention.
  • Increasing our promotion of the Back Up Project, including funding the creation and distribution of ribbons and stickers.

We welcome suggestions for other anti-harassment and pro-safety steps we can take. Please send your ideas to safety@readercon.org and the conchair and the program chair will compile them and present them to the safety committee once it has been formed. The duty of stopping harassment falls first and foremost on harassers and then on those with influence on harassers (their friends and others they respect, and people in positions of authority), so suggestions should be aimed at educating potential harassers, fostering an environment that discourages harassment, and making it safer and easier for people to report harassment. Please don't send suggestions for how people can avoid being harassed or learn to cope with harassment.

Offer of refunds

While it is usually Readercon's policy not to issue refunds for purchased memberships, we will provide a full refund to anyone who purchased a membership for Readercon 24 and now feels that Readercon is not a convention they feel comfortable attending. Refund requests may be sent to registration@readercon.org between now and October 31, 2012. We are always glad to facilitate the transfer or donation of paid memberships; send inquiries to that address.

Invitation to join our committees

We invite anyone who is interested in joining the concom, the safety committee, and/or the program committee to write to info@readercon.org; we will inform you as soon as we have decided on a date, time, and place for a meeting where new members will be brought onto these committees. You do not need to be in the Boston area to be on any Readercon committee, and anyone unable to attend the meeting in person may attend via Skype. Being on a committee involves a lot of hard work, but it's a powerful way to help Readercon become a better convention.

Statement of Responsibility and Intent

As the people who make Readercon happen, we take full responsibility for developing and implementing policies that reduce the incidence of harassment at Readercon and increase the safe reporting and appropriate handling of incidents that do occur. It is probably impossible to create a 100% safe and harassment-free convention, but that doesn't mean we should stop striving toward that goal. We recognize that this is not an easy, simple, or quick process, and we pledge to keep working on this in the months and years to come.

In addition, we wish to make it clear that we do not in any way view anyone as having wronged us by publicly calling out our failures and flaws. The program participants who have criticized us remain on our invitation list, and everyone else who has criticized us is more than welcome to attend future Readercons. We welcome scrutiny of our continued efforts to make Readercon a safer and better convention, and will increase our accountability with greater transparency and documentation of our processes and actions.

Thank You

Thank you to everyone who holds us to a higher standard, keeps us accountable, and does not flinch away from telling us when we are in error. We appreciate that many people have taken pains to distinguish between criticizing our actions and criticizing the convention as a whole, and we have been heartened by your messages of support for our efforts to correct our mistakes and do better in the future. Above all, we are thrilled to be part of a community that takes harassment seriously and speaks out so loudly against it. We will do our very best to exceed your expectations and build a convention you can be truly glad to attend and recommend.

Sincerely,

Crystal Huff, chair of Readercon
Rose Fox, program chair of Readercon
and the Readercon convention committee