Notes on Harassment Policies, 1/20/14
Convene magazine is the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association, i.e., the people who actually organize and run conventions, and its December 2013 issue had a long piece on why harassment policies are a good and intelligent thing to have (pdf link). I’m quoted in it quite a bit, but the article also features quotes and comments for several professional convention runners, as well as lawyers, discussing liability, setting and managing expectations, and what conventions and conferences can do and can’t do with regard to attendee behavior. For the folks who are interested in this particular topic, it’s well worth the read.
(As noted above, the link is to a pdf of the magazine, and note that the article is bisected by an insert on another topic entirely; just keep turning pages.)
Among other things, the article answers, rather more comprehensively than I could, this hand-wringer from Michael Kelley in Publishers Weekly, concerning the ALA posting a statement of appropriate conduct for attendees of its conferences, starting with Kelley’s sensationally leading opening sentence and going on from there.
I will say, as someone who was ultimately responsible for a small convention for three years (and who was incredibly fortunate to have seasoned convention runners at the tiller to ensure things ran smoothly as possible), that when I see people thumping about on how harassment policies are a threat to free speech, I see them as naïve at best and disingenuous at worst. Leaving aside (yet again) that conferences and conventions are almost always private events by private companies in private spaces, and that each of these private entities is able to set its own policies and expectations, in the best traditions of free enterprise, the sort of person who conflates “free speech” issues with a convention or conference rightly deciding to set attendee expectations as regards reasonable behavior and limiting its own legal liability should an attendee decide to do something stupid, is someone whose understanding of any of those concepts is simplistic or at the very least blinkered to the point of uselessness.
Tangentially related to all this is the ruckus that went down this weekend regard in the Chi-Fi Convention, in which the organizers cancelled the event, claiming the hotel was unwelcoming and that it disapproved of the convention’s harassment policy. The hotel replied rather strongly to the assertion, flatly calling the claims “false”; subsequent investigation suggests that at the very least lots of details were elided, regarding Chi-Fi’s initial statement.
There’s a lot I don’t know about the details of the Chi-Fi ruckus, so I’m going to offer what follows here as a general comment, not tied to any specific convention or hotel, regarding harassment policies. And it is:
If a convention wants to have a harassment policy and the hotel hosting it disapproves of the convention having such a policy, it’s possible that the hotel is staffed by assholes. However, if a convention decides to publicly and falsely (or at least so incompletely as to effectively falsely) claim that a hotel did not support its desire to have a harassment policy as a way to deflect attention from the convention’s other organizational issues, then it’s not the hotel staff who are being assholes.
A harassment policy should not be used as a shield to deflect attention or legitimate questions with regard to the organization of a convention. Aside from any other problematic issue with such a maneuver, doing so has the potential to make it harder for other conventions who wish to implement harassment policies to do so, or for other conventions to work with hotels at all — now hosting hotels may be concerned that such a policy might be used as cudgel, i.e., “if we don’t get our way, we’ll use the harassment policy to drop the Internet on your head.” The short-term (and very temporary) ass-covering for one convention has long-term implications for every other convention.
So let’s hope that never actually happens.