Wiscon: Kicking People Out, A How-To Guide

This was a panel on Sunday at 10:00 in the morning. The panel description in the guide reads as follows:

“Often efforts to make spaces welcoming are confounded by an unwillingness to expel people who are already there. We’ll discuss the issues involved in creating communities that are less alienating. How do we in fandom balance a desire not to explicitly exclude with the need to prevent implicit inclusion? How do we handle the backlash from explicit exclusion? What role do allies play in establishing and enforcing policies? How are opportunities for education balanced against the exhaustive requirement of providing that education? How do issues of age and ageism complicate these questions? And how do we actually say ‘you aren’t welcome back’?”

I went to the panel hoping for strategies and tactics to actually DO this — to exclude people who make spaces unsafe. Unfortunately, I don’t think ANYONE has a really good idea how to do this. Much of the panel was spent asserting that, yes, people in fandom do bad things and, yes, we need to get rid of them so that they do not hurt others.

The panel very FIRMLY avowed that it is not the recipient-of-unwanted-action’s job to educate creeps. It also asserted that not every organization wants to provide education, either.

But what to DO about creeps? For a few moments the suggestion was floated, I’m not sure by who, that a secret list be complied and passed around from convention to convention. A list of creeps. A number of people were vocally opposed to this, and pointed out a few problems. I personally think it’s a terrible idea, and I hope no-one takes it seriously.

The gist was, dealing with unpleasant people we all know who are entrenched in our community is HARD, and no-one really has the answers.

The suggestion that I took away from the panel as very, very useful, however, was for conventions to separate the reporting arm from the investigatory and enforcing arms.

The bar to reporting harassment should be very, very low. A person should feel comfortable reporting harassment that may not be actively damaging or threatening, but may be uncomfortable and creepy and inappropriate. When reporting, the person making the report should not feel that their own action, character, and integrity are under review. The person receiving the report should be sympathetic.

The reports then go to the investigative arm of the organization. This arm decides what to pursue, and makes recommendations to the enforcing arm. HERE is where we need impartiality and skepticism. HERE is the proper place for “do they have a grudge” and “did anyone see the events”.

The enforcing arm can then look at the recommendations and decide whether a person needs education, a stern-but-friendly word of advice, an official warning from the convention, a ban, a life ban, or what-have-you.

This sort of system would be able to also catch some of that long-term sort of Missing Step creepiness — the kind we warn new folks about, but the person in question has never done anything “bad enough”. Right now, reporting something means you KNOW you will be dragged into some sort of investigation, and it may not remain private. But if you can report trivial things and know that someone else will decide whether it needs investigation, that makes it easy.

And if the same person is reported seventeen times over five years by six different people for “minor” things and “being creepy,” then the enforcing arm can have a word with that individual and tell them that a pattern of behavior has been noted. We’re watching you, bucko.


One Response

  1. I missed this panel so I’m very pleased to see your write up! The low bar to reporting and understanding that you can report “generally feeling creeped” is basically exactly what the new Readercon CoC and policies strive for, and I think it went pretty well and mostly worked the way we hoped it would. Thanks Sigrid!

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