How Not To Write a Code of Conduct

CN: Discussion of harassment and hate speech, transphobia, racism.

In previous years, the more feminist factions of the atheist and skeptic movements pushed events to deal with problems of discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in various ways. One of those ways, and perhaps the most successful one, was encouraging events and groups to have an anti-harassment policy or code of conduct that would spell out what types of behavior were acceptable and how unacceptable behavior would be handled. At the same time, science fiction and fantasy conventions, tech conferences, and other events dealt with the same issues and also responded with a push towards robust codes of conduct. As more and more writers, speakers, and leaders refused to speak at events without good codes of conduct, these policies became common, with almost every relevant event having one displayed on their website.

However, having a harassment policy, code of conduct, or other similar document for your event is not enough. It actually has to be a good one, with clear definitions of acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and consequences for those who do not follow it. Those who experience an incident of discrimination, hate speech, sexual harassment, or similar problems need to know how to report these things and how they will be handled. “Don’t be a dick” isn’t sufficient as a definition of what behavior is and is not welcome at your event.

Just one example of a terrible code of conduct came to my attention recently. The event Gateway to Reason will take place in St Louis in late July and does have a code of conduct on their website. While Gateway to Reason is not alone in having a poorly considered conduct policy, theirs is particularly problematic and I’d like to discuss some of the ways it could be improved.
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How Not To Write a Code of Conduct

I’m Speaking at Skepticon 9!

I’m very excited to announce that I am speaking at Skepticon 9 this November! I loved Skepticon last year, and am so thrilled that they asked me to speak this year.

Skepticon is a free skeptical conference in Springfield Missouri. Other awesome speakers this year include Greta Christina and Laura Thomas. I’m excited to hear what they and other speakers have to say, especially since in the past the quality of talks at Skepticon has been very high.

Skepticon is a free event, and depends on donations to keep running. I highly encourage you to donate if you can, to help keep this awesome event going.

I’m Speaking at Skepticon 9!

Where To See Benny!

I’m in the midst of finals right now, so it will be a few more days until I have anything of substance here, but I wanted to let you all know there are some upcoming events you can see me at!

Twisted Tryst is a kinky, sexy, and clothing optional camping events June 9th to the 12th in Indiana. There is a second event in August in Michigan which I highly recommend, but am not 100% confirmed for yet. I will be attending and on staff, but not speaking or teaching this year. We get up to all kinds of shenanigans at camp! This camp is not an overtly social justice space, but there are enclaves of SJ people and radical inclusivity is at the core of Tryst’s mission. It is also definitely not an atheist space (in fact, it’s pretty heavy on spiritual woo) but I’ve always been accepted there as a woo-free atheist anyway. There are still spaces available for more campers and the very NSFW link is here.

Debauchery is a kinky, sexy, and social justice friendly hotel event in North Carolina June 17-19. I previously wrote about this event here. On the 18th I will be presenting a workshop called “Non-Monogamy Without Negotiations.” Getting tickets at this point might be hard, as they’re sold out, but it is sometimes possible to get one transferred if someone else needs to give up their space so email the organizers if you want to attend this. Their text only (no sexy pictures) website is here.

CONvergence is a science fiction/fantasy/geek/skepticism/awesomeness convention on June 30th to July 3rd near Minneapolis Minnesota. I will be on five panels: Science of Sexual Fluidity, Spoilers: A Love-Hate Relationship, Consent Culture in Steven Universe, Ingress Strategy, and Gasoline Is So Last Century. I will also definitely be cosplaying. I love CONvergence and I’m thrilled to return this year.

I hear some sort of rumor about an online OrbitCon coming before my fall classes start… 😉

Finally, I will be attending Skepticon on November 11th to 13th in Springfield Missouri. Skepticon is a free skeptics convention with a heavy social justice bent. I attended last year and wrote about my experience. I’m not speaking or running workshops or anything, I just look forward to seeing awesome people and enjoying being in such a great space again.

That’s it for now! I hope many of you will make it to at least one of these events. If you do, say hi as long as I am wearing no communication badge, or a green one. I really love the communication badge system and some of these events use them, which is fantastic.

Where To See Benny!

Event Websites Need to Have Accessibility Info

I’ve done a few reviews of events now, and I intend to do more in the future. Some have focused specifically on accessibility issues, while others have included them along with other discussions of the events.

On both of the event reviews I have done on The Orbit I noted that the events DID have a harassment policy on those sites, which were easy to find. This is likely because social justice communities have demanded harassment policies for years and many well known people will not speak at events that do not have those polices highly visible on their websites.
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Event Websites Need to Have Accessibility Info

Review of A Celebration of Star Trek at DePaul University

This weekend my spouse and I had the pleasure to attend A Celebration of Star Trek at DePaul University in Chicago. This was a one day free conference, open to the public, and hosted in the downtown (Loop) campus of DePaul, right in the center of Chicago. Specifically, this conference was hosted by the Media and Cinema Studies program at DePaul. DePaul University is the largest Catholic University in the United States.

The event itself included a full day of speakers and panels, as well as lots of showings of episodes from the various Trek shows. There were also several vendors, a silent auction that benefited ChimpHaven, and a book sale at the Barnes and Noble store within the same building. I attended one Klingon history lecture, two panels, and two show screenings. I would have stayed longer, but I wasn’t feeling well and had to head home early.
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Review of A Celebration of Star Trek at DePaul University

Review of Freethought Festival

CN: Very mild mentions of ableism, trans erasure, alcohol.

I attended Freethought Festival in Madison Wisconsin this past weekend. This was the 5th time the students at University of Wisconsin have hosted this event, and I have attended all of them largely because it’s free and in my home town. Three Orbit bloggers, Heina, Greta, and Alix, have spoken at this event over the years.

Freethought Festival (FTF) is definitely a mainstream Atheist event. The keynote speaker this year was James Randi, though I missed his talk because I needed to leave town. Despite being a student-run event, the audience isn’t very diverse, with a high percentage of older white men. The speakers were 69% male, 85% white this year, though this has varied in years past with a more gender balanced group of speakers in 2015 and 2013. It does not put itself forward as a social justice event, but has featured talks with distinctly justice oriented themes, such as Alix’s talk on diversity in the atheist community in 2012 and Desiree Schell’s talk on the links between unions and freethought in 2013.

In the 5 years I have attended FTF I have not attended every talk or every social event, but I have attended some portion of all 5 events. I have seen some really fascinating talks, and a few boring ones. I have heard some things I disagreed with from the stage, but that is to be expected, and nothing really stands out to me as shockingly offensive in my memory.

The event is FREE! This is a major bonus for those, like me, who have little funds to attend atheist conventions. If you can get there, you can attend. The event itself is free, and located in an area with reasonably inexpensive food, including grocery stores and fast food nearby (there are great restaurants too). Those who live in Madison can get there easily, but those from outside the area may struggle to find highly affordable accommodations in the downtown area. There is a hostel in the area though, which may be the cheapest option for visitors. It’s a short bus or medium length walk from campus.

The spaces used by this event have been increasingly attractive and comfortable over the past few years. It began in a lecture hall in the old uncomfortable Humanities Building, and has moved to more and more comfortable spaces over time. The most recent space was a big ballroom in a brand new building, with neat textured wood walls and a generally clean and well-made feel. It definitely feels different than the old lecture hall and the audio-visual tech has improved dramatically over the years.

FTF has a harassment policy on their website, which is easily found on the “Event Information” page. The policy is a pretty standard boilerplate policy, without any glaring problems. In my experience the wording of a harassment policy isn’t as important as how it is enforced, and I am not aware of any problems with enforcement at this particular event. In fact, since I am not involved in the running of this event, I’m unaware of any reported incidents of harassment so it is possible that there have not been any reasons for enforcement at this time. I did NOT see any paperwork on the harassment policy at the event itself, including on the registration desk, but I didn’t go looking for it either. One way this event could improve is by making the policy (or a short version of it) visible at the event itself.

The website and physical location had absolutely no recognition that I could find of the existence of disabled attendees. While the building it was held in this year and the past few years have complied with ADA requirements (unlike the first year), there was no seating set aside for people using mobility devices, no ASL interpretation or transcription, no discussion of accessibility issues on the website or paperwork at registration. This is a major area that FTF could improve. It is incredibly inexpensive to include accessibility information on the website and to set aside reserved mobility seating at the event. While including interpreters and similar accommodations can be expensive, I think it’s worth it to make an event accessible to more attendees.

From a neuroaccessibility perspective I didn’t find this event to be as comfortable as I found Skepticon this past year. That event actively works to recognize that their attendees have varied physical needs and have been at the forefront of accessible events even while still charging nothing to attend. At FTF I brought my own fidgets and found that the volume was very comfortable for me (maybe too quiet for others) but it didn’t feel like a space that was actively trying to be inclusive of everyone.

The building FTF was held in this year, as well as the one with the social events, did not have a gender neutral bathroom, or at least not one that was easy to find. If there is one available, this should be indicated to attendees with signs or something similar. The absence of neutral bathrooms, and no commentary about it, indicates that the event organizers may be unaware that this is an important issue. Gender non-binary attendees and trans attendees who desire neutral bathrooms should have a safe place to use, and if none is available the event should work to remedy this situation and acknowledge the problem publicly.

The social events for FTF are a major area in which they could improve. People are encouraged to socialize at the Union South, a student union several blocks walk from the main event. The Union itself is pretty cool, but the rooms these events have been in for the past 2 years are frankly boring and uncomfortable. This year there was definitely not enough space for the number of people who wanted to socialize due to the building code restrictions, which meant people spilled out into the halls. The social culture revolves around beer and talking very loudly in rooms that echo. Not great. Even worse, you have to go down a flight of stairs and across the lower level into a SUPER loud bar area to order beer or appetizers, then bring them back up to the socializing area. I’m sure alternatives must exist for this set-up, perhaps in any one of the many near-campus restaurants or coffee shops nearby. In fact, an alcohol-free social event in a nearby coffee shop would be ideal. I like drinking, but this is a student run event that should include the underage students they want to reach, and the social events should reflect that.

I’m going to keep attending Freethought Festival in future years, because they continue to bring in speakers I am interested in seeing and it’s easy for me to go to a free event in my home town. I’d love to see the improvements in accessibility and social events that could lead to this being a much more accepting and fun event to attend.

Review of Freethought Festival