“Half-Sick of Shadows”: WisCon

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.

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June 24, 2014

There is absolutely no excuse for this level of organizational failure. None.

WisCon must do better.

It should not be on the people making reports of harassment to make sure their complaints are acted on in a timely and appropriate manner. It is on the organizations to which we have all given our trust to do this as a matter of course.

To delay action and to misplace key documents is unfair to all parties.

I  wonder how many other complaints have been misplaced or not acted upon over the years.  We have two three documented instances. How many more?

WisCon’s been on my list of conventions to go to someday for many years.

It’s not on that list any longer. Not until I see that they’ve addressed and changed this aspect of their culture. Silence and excuses and hoping things will blow over are no longer an options.

We must shine a light in the dark corners of our community. We must.

ETA: to change the number of lost or misplaced incident reports to three. My apologies to Lauren Jankowski.

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  1. Paul (@princejvstin)

    We MUST do better. This is not only unprofessional, but actively harmful.

  2. Laughingrat

    I’m getting secondhand embarrassment for WisCon just reading about that. So disappointing. I’d always gotten the impression that they were the best of the best when it came to social justice issues.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      @Laughingrat: That’s the certainly the impression they prefer people have of them.

  3. Tracy

    I would like to hear what procedures other cons have put in place to avoid this type of situation.

  4. Joyce Reynolds-Ward

    Sadly, I have too many years of experience with “progressive” political activists to feel surprised by all this with Wiscon. It is not an unusual phenomenon; however, how such situations are handled can make a significant difference between people who just talk and people who walk the talk. I’ve not been wildly impressed over the past few years by Wiscon because I’ve gotten a certain vibe that suggests there’s more talking than walking.

  5. Veronica Schanoes

    They lost not one but two complaints? That’s absurd.

  6. Tavella

    Not quite at the “enemy action” stage, but getting there.

  7. Tracy

    @Natalie Luhrs: that’s not quite what I meant; I was unclear. I am wondering how cons whose large con committees change from year to year handle the handoff of these important things so that nothing is lost between committees.

    I am also wondering about how the makeup of the con committee affects long-term solutions to problems… seems like the turnover of personnel would make for a lot of thrashing around with policies.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      @Tracy: Ah! Sorry for misunderstanding. I know that’s a challenge with Worldcons, where each year it’s a new legal entity but in the case of cons that are held in the same place year after year, there should be a parent legal entity that is the repository for this institutional memory. In the case of WisCon, that’s SF3. If you look at their about page, the same names keep showing up. I really don’t think that’s a significant barrier for any convention to surmount except possibly for ones that move each year and which are legally distinct entities (WorldCon, WFC).

  8. Xopher Halftongue

    WisCon’s statement on these matters. Note the full apology-apology, featuring an acknowledgement of wrong behavior in the past, steps taken to reduce harm from that wrongness, steps to be taken to prevent any such thing from happening in the future. Not only do the current Safety Chairs apologize, the WisCon37 Safety Chairs apologize for dropping the ball back then.

    In short, they now have a formal report form; they now have a way of storing these reports electronically; there’s a new year-round position of Member Advocate to handle such matters; they admit it was all their fault and apologize to everyone involved and the community in general.


    Which is good, I agree. But does not explain why Frenkel was allowed back into Wiscon even though the entire SF/F/Geek blogosphere knew he’d harassed Elise. That’s not just dropping the ball, that’s coating your hands with frictionless grease.

  10. Xopher Halftongue

    @ULTRAGOTHA: Some years ago, a friend of mine said “we all know what to do when someone says certain rude things at a party. But what do you do when someone starts peeing in the living room? It’s so outrageous that you take some time to figure out what to do.”

    I think there were at least two different things going on there. One is that no one expected him to have the unmitigated gall to show up. The other is that (and this is another FAIL on the part of the WisCon process) many people had the mistaken impression that Elise didn’t want him banned, or at least that she was OK with the decision not to formally ban him. I’m not on the committee and don’t have access to confidential material (and I haven’t asked Elise), but IIUC the truth was closer to “do what you feel you have to.”

    I was working Registration when he arrived. He was asked to wait, and two Safety people took him aside and talked to him for a few minutes. I did not hear the conversation.


    And yet he was allowed to volunteer in the Con Suite. Rose’s harasser was working registration. There might not have been written records passed along; but even *I* knew about those harassment incidents, and I’ve never even been to Wiscon.

    Part of me half expects them to ask Harlan Ellison to present an award to Connie Willis, it’s that mind boggling. o_O

    Also, thanks Natalie! (sub comment 😉

  12. Xopher Halftongue

    When I spoke of the “real apology apology,” I was referring to the part written by Ariel Franklin-Hudson. It goes into detail about what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how they’re trying to fix it.

    The other part, while not quite a standard-issue “we’re sorry if you were offended” non-apology, is much more limited in scope. “One [can] almost see the drawn line,” as Mary Renault once put it.


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