News that Romance Writers of America suspended Courtney Milan from membership and imposed on her a lifetime ban from leadership as the result of two ethics complaints has triggered protest resignations by numerous RWA directors and local leaders, the departure of two responsible officers, and the creation of a petition to remove the incoming president-elect, Damon Suede.
Doubt has been raised that RWA officers adhered to the rules for handling ethics complaints in Milan’s case. The questions were serious enough that leadership was forced to respond, and on December 24 Carol Ritter, RWA’s Deputy Executive Director, informed Milan they had found a “gap between policy and process” and rescinded the penalties – “pending a legal opinion.”
Saying that they were going to get a legal opinion meant this was neither a genuine reversal nor an apology — was, in fact, nothing more than an attempt to pump the brakes on a runaway car.
One surprising revelation has been that the people who issued the Ethics Committee Report weren’t the members empaneled as the RWA Ethics Committee. Milan had, until a few months ago, chaired that committee and according to (now former) Ethics Committee member Ruby Lang, “RWA did have to get new committee members who weren’t appointed to the ethics committee under Courtney in order to avoid conflict of interest, however, the way they went about this and the way they presented the findings leave a lot to be desired.”
Not only were they bypassed, the original ethics committee members were not even informed that RWA officers had created a separate panel just to handle the Milan case. The upshot is that RWA’s entire original Ethics Committee reportedly has resigned – with announcements on Twitter by former members Ruby Lang, Mia Sosa, and Dee Davis.
The result has been a widespread loss of faith and confidence in the organization, symbolized by additional resignations among the RWA’s dozen Directors-at-Large, including Chanta Rand, someone who had voted against accepting the Ethics Committee report.
Adrienne Mishel wrote about the directors’ resignation in a thread that starts here.
Milan has pointed out some of the defects in the complaint process that was used. Thread starts here.
Some of the early reactions on Twitter included —
As the conversation developed there were more expansive comments, like these —
- Felicia Grossman
- Alexa J. Day
- Brina Starler, in a thread that starts here.
- Alexis Daria
The dustup attracted the attention of mainstream media. The New York Post’s article quoted extensively from Twitter —
Writer Hillary Monahan summed up the debacle: “Chinese American author critiques white woman’s portrayal of Chinese Americans, white woman calls her a neo-nazi for it, RWA backs white woman and censures author, -BACKLASH-, RWA rescinds censure, everyone eats a giant holiday meal, RWA roils in own vomit. Missing anything?”
A rare voice speaking in favor of the RWA’s actions is Mad Genius Club’s Amanda S. Green (“RWA and Courtney Milan, Pt. 2”):
Here’s the thing. She [Milan] might have done all this with the best of intentions. But she did them in the wrong way. She should have known it would blow up. She reasonably should have foreseen complaints being filed. Most of all, she should have thought long and hard before hitting the post button with accusations phrased in such a way any reasonable person would know they would bring derision on the person they were aimed at.
I applaud RWA for taking the allegations seriously and not sweeping them under the rug. That’s certainly more than SFWA did when certain members (including past and future officers) attacked members of the Sad Puppies and did their best to ruin careers….
Meanwhile, the Milan controversy has drawn attention to corollary issues about other marginalized groups. Thread starts here.
CIMRWA, the Cultural, Interracial, and Multicultural Special Interest Chapter of RWA, has condemned the Milan proceeding and called for RWA’s top leadership to resign. Thread starts here.
A letter signed by 28 RWA members, many of them officers of local organizations, also calls for top officers to resign.
…This board and the staff of RWA misused the policies and procedures of this organization to punish a woman of color who has done nothing but stand up for those that RWA has historically kept out and mistreated. The handling of this situation is shameful.
In October, for the first time, RWA had a board that was a majority of people of color that we felt represented our membership. This leadership has failed them so completely that after barely two months they have lost all faith in the organization and been forced to resign.
The president, the president-elect, and the executive director of RWA need to take responsibility for what has happened and step down. It is unfair to ask local chapter leaders to represent an organization that conducts itself in this way. All of us feel personally failed by all of you.
two one of the targeted officers have vacated their position s. The RWA webpage has been updated, with Carolyn Jewel removed as the President together with Executive Director Carol Ritter. [Ritter’s information appears on the RWA Staff page.]
Also, “A Message to RWA Members” has been posted as a response to the crisis. The message concludes –
…It was never the intent of the Board to suggest that members cannot and should not discuss, call out, or criticize instances of racism or other forms of discrimination. Indeed, we have tried to provide opportunities for members to do just that, and again, we apologize that we have caused members to think otherwise. Many of you have asked about the procedure surrounding the handling of the complaints against Courtney Milan. A second statement will follow with more information.
As it stands now, the organization is at a turning point.
We have lost the trust of our membership and the romance community and we must find a way to rebuild that. It’s going to be a hard road, maybe one of the most difficult we’ve traveled since our inception. We know it’s a lot to ask, and that not everyone will travel this road with us–for that we are sad, and we are sorry, and we understand. We hope that you will be able to join us on this journey again one day, and for those of you who continue with us, we hope that we may prove worthy of your loyalty.
We are also in the position of having to fill open leadership roles. President Carolyn Jewel, as well as Board Members Denny S. Bryce, Pintip Dunn, Seressia Glass, Tracey Livesay, Adrienne Mishel, Priscilla Oliveras, Erica Ridley, and Farrah Rochon have resigned their positions. To them, and to the committee leaders who have resigned, we offer our sincere gratitude for your service to the organization. President Damon Suede and the remaining board will be looking for a strong, diverse group of new leaders who have the ability to think strategically and believe in the mission of the organization.
It’s going to be really difficult in the coming years to restore the trust we have lost, but we’re going to work hard to match our words with our actions as we focus on the mission of the organization–to promote the professional and common business interests of romance writers. We will strive to uphold the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion in all that we do….
However, Courtney Milan says President Damon Suede should go, too. Thread starts here.
And Alyssa Cole alleges Suede has a conflict of interest about an issue where writers have tried to enlist RWA’s help.
A petition was launched today to recall and remove President/President Elect – Damon Suede
Milan encourages eligible RWA members to participate in the recall.
Some who tweeted about quitting answered that they were going to try and stay in RWA long enough to vote for the recall.
[Update 12/27/19: Corrected to show that Carol Ritter is still listed by the RWA webpage as being on staff.]