Harassment at Context

Several people have emailed me about reports of harassment at Context this year, which resulted in an individual being banned from the convention for five years. Here’s my roundup of links about what happened. (Please let me know if I’ve missed anything.)

  • March 30, 2015: Passing along the following announcement.

    • The Fanaco Board regrets to announce that Context 28 has been canceled.  Refund checks to anyone who preregistered were mailed on March 29.  Thank you for your support.

      If you have any questions, please contact:
      PO Box 163391
      Columbus OH 43216

  • September 30, 2014: Jonathan Maberry is one hoopy frood. Context is pretty cool too. Andi Brunett-Libecap describes her encounter with a consuite voluneer as part of her (overall very positive) roundup of the convention. In a follow-up post, she talks about feeling conflicted, noting, “He didn’t seem BAD so much as STUPID. There’s a difference, and the difference is important to me.”
    • In the comments to Brunett-Libecap’s second post, Context’s workshop director Lucy Snyder clarifies that, “Yours wasn’t the only complaint about his behavior that was received by the convention … The other piece of this, which maybe isn’t clear: [he] was a convention staff member working in the con suite and not just a regular attendee. Context holds convention staff to a higher standard of behavior … But even if he hadn’t been staff, his behavior was unacceptable.”
  • October 28: Two More Con Code of Conduct Complaints Go Public. File 770 reports that a consuite volunteer named Jeffrey Tolliver was banned from Context following multiple complaints about this individual’s conduct. Includes a quote from Tolliver, saying, “I owe deep apologies to you, your friend and all the attendees of Context 27. If stupidity was contagious I would have infected more people that the Plague.”
  • November 16: Statement Regarding Complaints Of Harassment At Context 27. Context posts an official statement on their Tumblr page.
    • “[T]here have been complaints regarding multiple incidents involving a ConCom member/volunteer. These incidents have been reported both in the current year and incidents have come to light regarding past years … We had corroborating reports of the incident(s) in question, and have received information that the person in question did not dispute the incident.”
  • November 28: Why I Am Resigning As Programming Director For Context. Steven Saus resigns, saying, “Without myself and a very few others, I do not believe there would have been any public response to the reports of harassment at Context 27.  I do not have faith that the harassment policy will be enforced or that reports of harassment would be treated seriously at Context in the future. I do not realistically have the ability to make that change before Context 28.”
    • Sharon Palmer, who oversaw the Context Consuite, says in the comments, “I am a member of the committee am saying this as my own opinion, and NOT that of the committee, that Steve has misrepresented the issue. Since he has chosen to make this so public, I want to say that he is wrong.  Context has had an antiharassment policy for several years, and has never tolerated harassment and never would, especially not by a staff member.  Please give us time to work through the ramifications of this. We want Context to be an awesome and SAFE convention.”
  • November 28: Lucy A. Snyder resigns as workshop director of Context. “Steven M Saus announced earlier today that he is resigning as programming director for Context Convention; I am also resigning as writing workshops director, for many of the same reasons.”
  • November 29: A few notes replying to some replies about my leaving Context. A follow-up post from Steven Saus.
    • Sharon Palmer comments that, “Steve made many missteps handling it, and acted as if any disagreement to the way STEVE DID THINGS, was support for the harasser. In Steve’s own words to me ‘My response was not based off what you wrote, but what I thought I heard.'”
    • Palmer also states, “A staff person in the Con Suite talked to people who didn’t want to be talked to. He made bad jokes and showed people the chainmail he was working on. Which happened to be a chainmail bikini. He made people uncomfortable. He was guilty of being OLD. His wife was also in the Con Suite through most of the weekend. I was head of the Con Suite. No one said anything during the con. I wish they had, so I could have stopped it. We banned the guy for FIVE YEARS for an unacceptable level of social cluelessness. I really don’t see how this is a betrayal of our gender. Steve and Lucy said ‘handle it our way or we quit’. And we did. They quit anyway in a way that seems designed to destroy the convention.”
  • November 29: Jason Sanford, a frequent author guest at Context, posts about the situation on Facebook and his blog.
    • Jerry Robinette, of the convention’s publicity division, comments, “has anybody mentioned that the only ‘investigation’ was done by [Snyder] and Saus: that the ConComm and board never had an opportunity to hear from the ops person who had a run-in with the blogger that started all of this? And that you (Snyder) and Saus are now attempting to bully your way into complete control of a convention which has been a valuable revenue stream for you and your husband?”
  • November 29: Why I won’t be returning to the Context SF convention, by Context volunteer Sarah Hans.
    • “[Steve] received several reports of harassment committed by the same individual. At least one report claimed the harassment spanned years. At least one woman was uncomfortable going into the consuite at Context 27 because that was the harasser’s hangout; at least one other said she would not be returning because the harassment was so troubling to her.”
    • “I was singled out with Lucy and Steve for a bullying email from a member of concomm who disagreed with us on one occasion; on another, I was singled out alone by one of the convention chairs for verbal abuse when I admitted that I no longer felt safe attending Context if the harassment policy was not going to be enforced … I was told that my opinion didn’t matter because I didn’t do enough work for Context 27. The words ‘how dare you’ were actually used.”
  • November 29: Resignations From Context Committee Over Harassment Policy Enforcement, from File 770.
  • November 29: Michelle Dupler, Context volunteer, steps down.
    • “As someone watching this more or less from the outside, and with no emotional investment in the issue, I do not believe that Steve has misrepresented the discussion, or at least the portions that I personally witnessed on the concom email list. His account, and Lucy’s, have mirrored my own perception.”
  • November 30: Steven Saus Comments on Resignation, also at File 770.
    • “Convention goers need to know that if they report harassment that it will be taken seriously. They should not have to guess which members of the convention staff will ensure their report is taken seriously… or which members of convention staff will dismiss their concerns. Convention goers need to be able to trust ALL of the convention staff to do the right thing, regardless of personal feelings.”
  • December 1: A Short (but significant) Update About Context, from Steven Saus.
    • “I learned late last night that the board met and dissolved itself.  The convention is starting over, with last year’s Con Chairs (who were not part of the resistance I experienced) starting over … This change resolves the concerns that led to my resignation.
  • December 1: Sharon Palmer Posts an Apology on the Context Facebook Group page.
    • “I want to apologize for my part in this. I do not want to be part of a convention where harassment is accepted. It is traumatic and emotional when the harasser is a friend and colleague. I want to apologize to the people who were hurt by Jeff’s behavior. It never should have happened. When it happened, it should have been stopped.”
  • December 6: Official Statement Regarding the Dissolution of Fanaco’s Board of Directors.
    • “This new Board will be immediately tasked with creating new by-laws and other policies, including an anti-harassment policy that is clear and enforceable.”
  • December 27: Mark Freeman’s Statement on Context, as posted on Steven Saus’ blog.
    • “…on the day of the scheduled meeting, [Jan] had a lawyer send a rather over-the-top email to me saying that she would not sign the form and threatening me with police action if I went to her house, among other things. The new Board is, of course, now walking away.”
  • December 27: CONTEXT is Dead, from Steven Saus.
    • “When the president of the new Board, Mark Freeman, arranged to meet with Jan Province to get her to sign the paperwork to change the agent of record … he recieved a threatening e-mail from a lawyer claiming that contacting her in any way would be considered “harassment” and that there would be no new board. At which point, all the new people who wanted to be part of the new board, who wanted to see Context survive and thrive, realized that they couldn’t fight a (frivolous) lawsuit and simultaneously prepare a convention.”

Context’s current harassment policy is here.

It sounds like the Fanaco Board, which oversees Context, is still meeting and discussing everything that’s happened.

I don’t know the details. I became aware of this through email and the public posts and statements I’ve linked here. From that public information, it seems clear that:

      1. There were multiple complaints of harassment against a Context volunteer.
      2. This volunteer has not disputed the complaints, and has apologized.
      3. After contentious discussion, it was decided to ban this individual from Context for a minimum of five years.
      4. Multiple individuals who were directly involved feel that others on the concomm and/or board didn’t take the complaints seriously enough.
      5. Nobody can agree on how to spell concom/concomm.

I don’t know enough to second-guess the convention’s decision. I’m troubled by suggestions that banning this individual for five years was punishment for “being old” or “social cluelessness.” (And I said as much to Palmer.) These are excuses that have been used far too often as a way to minimize or excuse harassment. A single incident might be attributed to social clumsiness, but intentions don’t necessarily change the outcome, and it’s clear that there were multiple complaints here.

The convention investigated, met, and announced their decision about a month and a half after the convention. I know how hard it is to schedule meetings, get everyone caught up, and come to any sort of consensus or agreement. Considering that some of this information didn’t come to light until after the con, that actually seems reasonably quick and efficient for an organization.

Making the behind-the-scenes struggles and frustration public is going to hurt the convention. I highly doubt it’s a step that was taken lightly. I don’t know if it was the right step in this case. I do know that there has been pressure in the past, and in the present, to keep things like harassment quiet to protect reputations. And I know that silencing has allowed abuse and harassment to continue.

Palmer asked for time to work through this, and said they want to make Context an awesome and safe convention. I very much hope that this is what ends up happening. Public scrutiny will likely make that job more difficult; it will also increase the pressure to follow through and live up to the standards in the convention’s harassment policy.

Finally, the idea that Lucy Snyder is trying to get control of a “valuable revenue stream” gets a huge side-eye from me. As an author, I know how much I tend to sell at a convention, and even my best cons have been anything but lucrative. I don’t know that I’ve ever met an author who saw conventions as a significant money-maker. I certainly don’t see how volunteering hundreds of hours to help put a convention together leads to Massive Author Profits. (If anyone knows that secret, please fill me in!)

One last request. Please don’t use this as an excuse to click through and attack/criticize/harass others on their respective sites. I was torn about linking and naming names, but decided to do so for completeness and accuracy. But one thing I do know is that this has been difficult and stressful for all involved.

I’ll be updating this post with additional links and info as they come in.