This is how it’s done.

The science fiction fandom portion of the blogosphere has been in tumult for the past couple of weeks over an event that occurred at Readercon, a Boston-area science fiction convention. Essentially what happened was that a woman was publicly and repeatedly harassed at the con by a man who is very active in fandom. When she reported it to the con, instead of permanently banning him in accordance with their stated policy (and as they had done in response to a separate incident a few years earlier), they banned him for two years, because he said he was very sorry.

Cue fannish uproar.

Now here is the good part of the story: The Readercon concom (convention committee) has reversed the board’s decision, applied the permanent ban, and has issued a comprehensive apology to everyone involved, and outlined a series of specific steps they will take in the future as part of their commitment to keeping Readercon a safer space. Also, the entire board has resigned.

Really, go read the apology. It is excellent. The concom accepts full responsibility even though the initial decision was made not by the concom as a whole but only by the five-member board of directors. They acknowledge that anti-harassment policies must be implemented in a way that corrects for the “interconnectedness that often leads to these cases being judged by friends and colleagues of one or both parties.” They acknowledge that the incident did not affect only the harasser, harassee, and witnesses, and not only those who might wonder about their own safety at future cons, but that it also caused great distress to those who are part of the Readercon community, are invested in it, and care about it. They offer refunds to anyone who had already paid to attend next year’s con but no longer wants to attend because of this incident.

And then there’s this (emphases mine):

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 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.

Now that’s what I call servant leadership.

Would that our bishops would do likewise.

Gracious God, we pray for your holy catholic church.
Fill it with your truth;
Keep it in your peace.
Where it is corrupt, reform it.
Where it is in error, correct it.
Where it is right, defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, reunite it;
for the sake of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

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6 Responses to This is how it’s done.

  1. Katherine says:

    Wow. You are exactly right–this is how it’s done. The puts every faux-apology and displacement of responsibility I’ve seen (from multiple people/groups in authority over many organizations/institutions) to shame.

  2. Andrew says:

    As soon as I saw the post’s title, I knew this was what it would be about – this is the example that should be used as a template whenever apology is needed

  3. Thanks for all the comments! “Wow” was my first reaction, too, Katherine. And I agree with you, Andy, that this could and should be used as a template. It’s become so unusual to see anybody in authority ever willingly take on matching responsibility that this really stands out. Serious kudos to the Readercon Concom.

  4. Andrew says:

    I recently saw another positive example of how to deal with a problem; this is a statement by the head of Australia’s military in response to a recent crisis

    • Yes, that was really excellent. I especially appreciated the blunt articulation that “These are our values: if you don’t like them, get out” by a person in authority.

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