More Changes In WisCon Committee Revealed

WisCon’s LiveJournal reported in October that close to a dozen people resigned in the aftermath of the Frenkel harassment ban. No names were publicized, though in addition to Jeanne Gomoll’s resignation, File 770 has learned about changes in status of three other former WisCon chairs. The departure of one of them, Richard S. Russell, was involuntary.

Jim Leinweber is no longer chair of the 2015 WisCon. He reportedly is still a member of the committee and its parent organization SF3. The new chairs are Levi Sable and Mikki Kendall. File 770 has yet to learn the reason for the change.

James Hudson, who chaired or co-chaired WisCon 21 (1997), WisCon 29 (2005) and WisCon 33 (2009), has voluntarily resigned from the WisCon committee and SF3 Board. Hudson told File 770: “My choice. Didn’t agree with some of the directions the committee was going and I was close to retiring anyway.”

Richard S. Russell, one of WisCon’s founders and chair of WisCon 9, was notified on October 24 by SF3 President Jackie Lee that he had been removed from the WisCon committee by the SF3 Board “due to his alienating current and prospective concom members, as well as WisCon as a whole” and for “behavior [that] violates WisCon’s Statement of Principles.”

Russell has worked on all 38 conventions in the series and had expected to continue serving —

WisCon is always a stressful and exhausting experience, but that has been more than offset by the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment I’ve felt after each one. Despite having slowed down somewhat at the age of 70, I was very much looking forward to doing it all again next year for WisCon 39.

Regrettably, however, WisCon has fallen under the control of a bunch of self-appointed commissars of political correctness with a low tolerance for differences of opinion on matters of policy, and they have in fact ousted me from the concom.

Russell’s continuing expression of his views in committee channels about WisCon’s People of Color Safe Space and the Jim Frenkel harassment complaint was an issue, the parties disagreeing how that deserved to be characterized.

Russell sent File 770 a copy of the letter requesting his removal from the committee, which says in part:

We appreciate Richard’s extensive contributions as a volunteer, and we are not currently seeking a ban on his presence at Wiscon. However, we feel that his continued presence on the concom is alienating and damaging to many concom members and potential members, and to Wiscon as a whole.

We believe that Richard’s behavior is not in keeping with WisCon’s Statement of Principles, which the SF3 membership has now affirmed as a policy the SF3 board and WisCon concom members should adhere to.

  • Richard continues to protest the very existence of the established POC Safer Space at WisCon, and continues to insist that his interpretation of what is racist is more important than the lived experiences of people of color. (see addendum for quotes from 2009-present on this subject)
  • Richard’s characterization of the POC Safer Space as “racial segregation” and his refusal to drop the subject despite being told to stop, by fellow members and by several successive sets of chairs, has caused members of the concom to leave, and will continue to cause members of the concom to leave if he remains.
  • Suppressing his comments about the POC Safer Space, as has been done for the last four years, is not an adequate solution. He has threatened to bring up the issue at a concom meeting as recently as Wiscon 38 in 2014, and there is no mechanism to moderate his Basecamp comments.
  • Moderation as currently implemented requires the concom list moderator to be in the exposed, singular position having to decide which of his messages to let through, and to bear the brunt of his reaction. Richard has sent the moderator outraged emails over moderated messages (see addendum).
  • Richard’s trivialization of harassment discussions as “angst and breast-beating” and his characterization of harassers as needing an incentive to not harass people (“Where’s the incentive for anyone to clean up their act* if they’re just going to be discriminated against indefinitely based on a single accusation?”) indicates that his presence on the concom during discussions of harassment will be disruptive and alienating to fellow members.

The request was signed by Juliana Perry, Elliott Mason, Levi Sable, Jess Adams, Gabby Reed, Jackie M., Sandy Olson, Julia Starkey, and Kat Tanaka Okopnik.

Russell’s own take is that he is upholding the Statement of Principles –

I support it enthusiastically and whole-heartedly. My main wish is that the concom as a whole would do likewise, in particular with regard to this provision:

Feminism is part of a larger constellation of movements seeking social, political and economic equality for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, sex, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, creed, ability, status, or belief.

And, more recently, this one:

… we cannot pick and choose which people deserve justice and which issues we are more comfortable with. We are called to be true to our principles, even (and especially) when they are unpopular.

And this one:

Meetings, decision-making processes, program development, and guest of honor choice all reflect a commitment to feminist ideals of equality, respect for everyone’s right to be heard, and the obligation to hold each other accountable for what we say.

The expulsion letter’s first bullet point is a reference to Russell’s protest against the “People of Color Safe Space” established by WisCon several years ago, described by one proponent, N.K. Jemisin, as a place –

away from the main traffic of the con; I’ve found it useful after a panel in which somebody said something highly problematic, to go somewhere and either cool down by myself or rant at other people who understood what I was feeling.

The pithiest of Russell’s comments quoted by the letter (from a 2009 discussion) says:

Any “solution” that involves overt racial segregation is only one among many possible approaches to whatever the problem is. I have never seen a clear statement of the problem for which this “safer space” is supposed to be the solution, let alone any indication that anyone spent any serious amount of time considering alternative approaches.

The last bullet point in the expulsion letter objects to a comment he made in an online discussion about WisCon’s reconsideration of the terms of the Frenkel ban (earlier in 2014):

I preface this statement with an acknowledgement that I am far from impartial on the matter of how WisCon should treat Jim Frenkel, because Jim has been a personal friend of mine for 30+ years. I babysat his kids, attended Josh’s bar mitzvah, worked with him on opening-ceremonies skits for Odyssey Con, traded books with him, served with him on panels at cons, used him as entree to conversations with Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin, and so on. He is a frequent guest at my house and I at his.

So take whatever I have to say with the appropriate number of grains of salt.

And what I have to say is this: The guy already lost his job over this incident. How many sticks do we have to beat him with before he’s sufficiently bloody to satisfy everybody?

Where’s the incentive for anyone to clean up their act* [*even assuming Jim’s act needed to be cleaned up, which is by no means a certainty] if they’re just going to be discriminated against indefinitely based on a single accusation?

Earlier in this thread, somebody said “The matter was dealt with at the time, and now the case is closed.” IMHO, that’s the way it should stay. Let’s move on.

Russell further complains that when he was removed from the committee by decision of the SF3 executive board they “did not even do me the courtesy of notifying me that they were contemplating this action, let alone soliciting my reaction to it.” Undeniably that would have made it a more transparent process, however, there appears to be nothing in SF3’s Bylaws requiring notice.

60 thoughts on “More Changes In WisCon Committee Revealed

  1. Lol. So by me pointing out that you are a racist, it justifies all your comments and actions even if they are exclusionary of my race.

    Interesting way to twist things up and try to shift blame from yourself.

  2. Trent: The entirety of what I know about you comes from the several comments you’ve left here, which don’t create an impression that you ordinarily spend much time figuring out ways to alleviate racism. What’s your solution, instead of just throwing rocks at theirs?

    Anyway, I’ve read enough of “You are!” “No, YOU are!” Let it suffice that you (Trent) don’t like the safe space solution.

    I’m going to turn off comments in about 20 minutes but when I come back this afternoon I will turn them back on.

  3. Trent, I gave up when they said that being colorblind was racist. MLK is rolling in his grave at that one. You remember MLK? He dreamed of the day when men would be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. That is what I — and the fen I have met — do. And apparently, that makes us racist.

  4. Mike,
    I’ve been told before and I believe that arguing with people who are set in their beliefs is futile. You will never convince them, however you might convince people who are not decided on the issue. So I’m hanging my hat up on this one, I said my piece. Malcolm will always seek entitlements that he perceives as being owed to him because of a physical characteristic. I hope that other people can see that if you cater to one group but not all groups, you are discriminating. Equality, no matter your color or gender is the only way to not be discriminatory. But hold on equality doesn’t mean because I have something you get it too. It means everyone gets equal chance of earning the same things.

    You asked if I had a constructive suggestion, I don’t. However further up the comments Drew suggested setting aside an area like the POC safe spot but instead of it be a safe place for one group or another, let it be a safe place for everyone who enters. Post ground rules at the entrance. If you break a ground rule, you are out. Heavily monitor the area to ensure compliance and in this manner no matter your race, gender, religion, or any other distinguishing factor, you are safe to cool off politely discuss issue with others of your choosing, and relax free of any harassment.


  5. Normally I wouldn’t respond, but “Malcolm will always seek entitlements that he perceives as being owed to him because of a physical characteristic.” struck me as a really personal and undeserved dig. I’m actually aware of the privilege I have and availing myself of, on top of that, special protections due to my race has always struck me personally as not something I like or want to do.

    However, I do believe it’s my duty as a PoC, as a member of various minority and marginalized groups to leverage the privileges I have to better my friends’ and allies’ situations. That’s the principle on which I argue my points. Because I believe we all should be here to better the world and to make things that are unfair as fair as we can get them.

  6. My suggestion would be to let Wiscon, and any other convention, practice their policies for a little while to see how it works out. If it does, great. If it doesn’t, then they can always revisit the issue later for adjustments. Sometimes there bigger and better goals to focus our energy on. This is just a case of semantics and one I don’t see worth pursuing at the moment. And I’m usually big on semantics.

  7. Wiscon’s “safer space” for persons of color is a bit of a misnomer, as it’s not about actual safety really. It’s not as if there’s a specific “safer space” for gays and lesbians at Wiscon, because it’s about the *politics* of _color_ and how that plays out in the science fiction and fantasy genre and at Wiscon itself. It had it’s genesis in Wiscon panels back in the early 2000s that discussed cultural appropriation by whites of other cultures that weren’t doing it right, which subsequently grew into broader issues of how fans and writers of color were treated by fannish culture. By Wiscon 33 in 2009 (and after the fallout from RaceFail09) it was decided to have a “safer space” for writers and fans of color to go and blow off steam after a problematic panel, or compare notes about matters related to race without the general presence of white writers and fans, who are the majority of Wiscon members. In some ways I can understand the existence of this space, but not because it was really needed – after all, there’s always been “the bar” for those wanting to let their hair down in preferred company. It was more a symbolic move to show that Wiscon was taking complaints by fans and writers of color seriously, and give them a special space of their own to converse, vent, network, etc. So it’s more about empowerment than safety, IMO. I can’t say how well that’s worked at Wiscon myself, but at least it’s served as something to help reassure fans and writers of color that they are valued at Wiscon, and that’s perhaps is as good a reason as any to have it.

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