Help is on the way — Arisia Inc. has gained over 50 new corporate members who will be on hand when the convention begins to search for the path to its future at their November 11 meeting. This will include the election of many new officers.
Arisia Inc.’s corporate president was removed after Crystal Huff wrote a post “Why I’m Not At Arisia Anymore: My Rapist is President. Again.” charging the convention with failing to enforce its code of conduct in situations where she had been the victim. Almost the entire remaining Eboard resigned after more people, inspired by Huff’s post, published statements of their own criticizing Arisia’s handling of the incidents they reported. Two of Arisia 2019 GoHs have dropped out, and another author declined an invitation to be a GoH in 2020.
A burn-it-all-to-the-ground sentiment has been voiced by some who see Arisia’s newly-revealed chronic problem with enforcing its code of conduct as deserving the convention equivalent of capital punishment.
At the other end of the spectrum are a large group who still intend to work on holding the con over the January 18-21 weekend as scheduled. That group includes both those who see themselves as working to attain the kind of “safe” con enforcing its code of conduct that there ought to be, and an indeterminate number of others who say there is more to know and that the various CoC outcomes over the years were understandable.
Arisia Inc. has been updating a Google Doc with nominations by candidates for office as they come in. Interestingly, the candidates include two people who submitted resignations from the Eboard, Benjamin Levy and Rick Kovalcik.
From each candidate’s statements come these excerpts about the issues of incident reporting and code of conduct enforcement:
- Nicholas “Phi” Shectman (candidate statement)
I was first elected to the board in 1993 and served on it for 17 of the next 20 years, in every officer position and as convention treasurer and convention chair. In 2013 I chose not to stand for reelection because I was developing patterns in my relationship with the board that were keeping me from being objective. I felt that I would not be able to discharge the board’s then-new obligations to our incident process. Since then I have learned that it was not just me, and that it is easy for well intentioned people to come together into faulty systems which then persist until they are disrupted. I have worked to address negative patterns in myself, and I have been waiting for an opportunity to move forward from them as part of creating a new system. That moment is now.
The new board will need to focus heavily on changes we need to make to our incident process. I don’t pretend to know what all of the problems with our current process are. I see how we have failed in particular with respect to incidents involving our own staff. I see how even the incidents we thought we responded to successfully were not handled as well as we thought, and that in many cases it was only the at con portion of our response that was correct. We will need to make changes, and it seems clear that these will require particular attention to how we address abuse by the people in positions of power in our community. We will need new processes for staff, and we will generally need to separate the post con incident process from the centers of power as we have done at con.
To really address abuse of power, though, I believe that we also need a new process for determining how we staff Arisia, particularly in regards to how we maintain continuity between conventions and enable the organization to take on large, multiyear projects. Currently, our ability to do this too often rests on the personal power of individual volunteers and on an assumption of their entitlement to a position. We need a staffing process that focuses on the work we are trying to accomplish and the environment we are trying to create rather than on any one individual, and which explicitly provides for planned transitions as part of a multiyear process instead of relying on power and entitlement to preserve continuity. In this way we will become less reliant on particular individuals and untie the hands of our incident process. None of this will be easy to accomplish but whether you elect me or not I am looking forward to contributing to this work.
I have served longer on the board than any other person in the history of Arisia. Whether you elect me or not, I look forward to sharing my perspective on the roles I have held and helping any board members who are new to those roles get up to speed.
- Jade Piltser-Cowan (candidate statement)
In terms of creating consent culture, I believe that harassment and sexual assault are more likely to run unchecked when we only believe reports which include witnesses, physical evidence, or misconduct within official convention spaces. The current process is slanted in favor of the accused and doesn’t do enough to protect our community. We need to reform our incident reporting process to be more versatile in responding to reports of sexual assault and other misconduct-in-private to improve safety. I am not seeking to run amok with the ban-hammer at minimal provocation, but I do seek credible investigations and meaningful consequences. I also want to teach younger members of our community what appropriate interpersonal behavior looks like, and what falls into the “not ok” category.
…Our community has a problem around believing survivors, and several people asked me to elaborate on that. Here is a blog post that Andy Piltser-Cowan and I created to address that question: “Believe Survivors” vs.
“Due Process” https://www.andrewcowanlaw.com/believe-survivors-vs-due-process/
- Alan Wexelblat (Wex) (candidate statement)
I support creation of one or more roles to do specific tasks around IRs. First, to report out summary statistics on a regular basis. Second, to track progress so we can concretely measure how timely our responses and actions are. Third, to be a ‘translator’ to ensure that everyone involved in an IR knows their options. These tasks may fall to an existing Board member, or can be delegated; the key is not who does it, but that it be done in a clear, open, and consistent way.
I support the decision to engage with an outside entity to review our policies. I have asked several questions about the scope, timeline, and outcome of this review, as I believe it needs to be thorough and effective, not simply quick.
- Benjamin Levy (candidate-for-reelection statement)
Along with the other members of the previous Eboard, I have resigned because of concerns with how the eboard dealt with some of the Incident Reports (IRs). I am asking for a second chance from the members of the Corporation to serve as Treasurer. I want to make sure there is at least one candidate for the position who understands the complexities of the job of Treasurer.
Working on the Incident Reports is a complicated process. This is of part why Arisia added the three “Member At-Large” positions to the Eboard. I think that at the time that the eboard made the best decisions it could with the information available then. As a member of the Eboard, I apologize for helping to cause the crisis that developed. With the new information that has become available, it is clear things could have been handled differently. It is possible that more members of the Eboard should have recused themselves, but at the time the idea of bringing in others to help deal with IRs when there are a large number of recusals was not in our toolbox. I think that how the Arisia Eboard handles IRs is an evolving process, and I would like work with the Corporation to improve it.
- Kris Pelletier (candidate statement)
I am proud of the strides we have made in the at-con processes around incident response – a process that has now been used at several other conventions – while understanding that it still has room for improvement. I also understand that no matter how good our at-con process is, if it is not backed by a similarly robust post-con process at the Eboard level then Arisia is not living up to its promise of providing a safe and inclusive con experience. Whether or not I am elected, I look forward to contributing to
the improvement of our incident response policies across the board.
- Wesley Toma-Lee (Statik) (candidate statement)
A agree with what others have said about there needing to be more diversity on the board. I am not the ideal candidate for diversity, as I am a cis gay white male. I do, however, think there needs to be an option when it comes to the board, and we should not be stuck with an unopposed position. At least not at this time.
I will happily step aside for a POC, or someone who is non-binary. Please ask me any questions you may have. I can’t promise to have all good answers, or all the right answers, but I can promise to do what I feel is right for the community.
- Mieke Citroen (candidate statement)
Q: Would you, if elected, voluntarily recuse yourself from
decision-making on IRs. Please share your reasoning.
A: Yes. Though I feel well prepared for the duties of clerk, I do not for making decisions on IRs. Gathering information, absolutely yes, but decision making no.
- Sol Houser (candidate statement)
I hope to bring a fresh perspective to the board as a new member. I’ve been reading all of the documents available on the website and am confident that I can come up to speed quite quickly.
- Rick Kovalcik (candidate-for-reelection statement)
As you probably know, I resigned along with the other re-elected
members of the Eboard in order to allow new elections…
I believe the Arisia Eboard, myself included, made the best decision it thought it could with the information available and POLICIES in place at the time. However, it is clear the Arisia policies need to change and it is a shame this had to happen for Arisia to realize that.
I apologize for what we did. We made mistakes. I’m sorry many people got hurt. At the very least I should have recused myself from being involved the vote pertaining to the incident report about Noel Rosenberg. There are many other ways the situation could have been handled which would have been better than the way it was handled. Some of them have been suggested on email or Facebook, and I have been considering those. But, this note isn’t the time to go into solutions or changes. The time for that is after discussion with the greater Arisia Community which probably continues well after Arisia gets a professional outside review of its policies and procedures. There probably will be multiple rounds of changes – the Disciplinary Process is an evolving thing.
…I’ve talked about the Disciplinary Process a bit above. I’ve cared about it from the beginning. Back in 2013, I was one of the people who first proposed the Disciplinary Process and got it implemented. Over the last couple of years I have been one of the people pushing to get IRs resolved and making sure they don’t fall through the cracks or linger. The Disciplinary Process and the procedures around it have evolved and improved over time. It is time for it change some more. Clearly we need to be better about recusals. Since October 25th, as we have opened or reopened over a dozen new Incident Reports, the Eboard has paid a lot more attention to recusals and, as of this writing, almost every voting Eboard member has recused themselves from one or more of the IRs for being too close to a Subject or Focus. I have been one of the people pushing for that. A number of other ideas for improving the Disciplinary Process have been kicked around the Corp email list. I firmly agree that getting an outside group to look at our policies and procedures is an important early step. We are all going to need to think about this and make well thought out, not reactionary, changes.
- Andrew Piltser-Cowan (candidate statement)
The incident-report handling issue was what drew me into this race, and in answer to a standing question on this list, I would not be at all inclined to recuse myself from IRs in general (I would recuse myself from any specific IR in which I had a conflict of interest or in which I felt my judgment was clouded or could reasonably be perceived as clouded by personal relationships). The question has been raised as to whether board members, as a general class, possess relevant skills to handle IRs. I have been a
practicing attorney for ten years with the majority of my practice consisting of criminal, restraining order, and victim’s rights work. In September of this year I won a case in the Massachusetts Appeals Court that expanded the definition of “involuntar[y] sexual relations” in our restraining order law, and established for the first time that a restraining order may be granted for continuing an act after the other party has withdrawn consent.
I have also been involved in these matters outside the public courts: I am a co-author of Cornell University’s Code of Conduct, have represented students before the disciplinary authorities of Cornell, Westfield State, and BU. I advised a local community theater nonprofit on establishing a CORI policy in 2016, and I have been involved in non-profit governance issues of various stripes on and off since high school. I drafted the current bylaws of the National Lawyers’ Guild, Massachusetts Chapter. As perhaps the least sexy of the clerk’s responsibilities, I already deal with the Secretary of the
Commonwealth’s office on a frequent basis in my professional capacity, so maintaining
the Corporation’s records there would not be heavy lifting for me.
- Gail Terman (candidate statement)
I want to listen to people’s concerns and entertain all possible solutions to the set of problems facing us. I want to make Arisia feel safe for people. Part of the way I want to accomplish this by making sure that the Incident Reporting policy is well documented and publicly available (which it now mostly seems to be, in the last week), and that disclosures about the conduct of any staff members is made in a timely manner. I want to open all our policies to public feedback, so that we can get a diversity of opinions and ideas. I want to continue the third party audit promised by the eboard.
Another problem looming over tomorrow’s meeting is the strike against Arisia’s hotel. Many conrunners say they won’t cross a picket line. Imagine a con being in doubt about the loss of its venue this close to the event. Arisia 2019 chair and Eboard member Daniel Eareckson said in an update on November 8: “There has been some talk about the options this convention has regarding the strike at the Westin. Some of these strikes have been settled in other cities, but not yet in Boston. In the event it does continue much longer, the con staff, the Eboard and corporation are all discussing options and plans and are actively exploring options including moving to a new hotel.”
Update 11/10/2018: Changed “entirely new slate of officers” to “many” per correction in comment.