It came to my attention today that the programming for this year's Odyssey Con has a couple of folks who've engaged in antisocial behavior at Wiscon. Specifically Richard Russell and Jim Frenkel.
I've attended Wiscon for years, and have personally experienced and witnessed behavior from both of these men that does not support the ideals to which I hope we all subscribe. Russell has, for years, made explicitly and openly racist remarks during panels he ran. Frenkel has serially harassed multiple women for years and was finally successfully reported for it.
Neither of these men behave in a manner that supports an open convention that welcomes all fans.
To accept them at your convention is a worthy thing to do. They can continue to grow and change and become the better human beings we all hope them to be, in a community where they have not yet acted so poorly. I thank you and your convention for this; everyone deserves a space in which they can try to improve.
But I am concerned about them being on your programming. That seems to indicate a certain level of endorsement of them, and their views, that I find troubling. Particularly when Frenkel is on a panel about how to be an adult, and Russell is on a panel about social justice going too far. I am concerned that they will ... double down, if you will, on their previous positions.
None of us can know the future, of course. And I always hope for the best, from everyone. But I would hate for Odyssey Con to find itself in the midst of another controversy with these men at the center. And I would hate for your guests of honor to develop a poor opinion of Midwest fandom.
And I would hate, above both those things, for your attendees to suffer harassment or worse from panelists you selected, for those attendees to slink away from fandom ashamed and hurt and humiliated, unsure of what they did to draw such negative attention from men Odyssey Con put in positions of power and authority.
I hope, very much, that you have assurances that you can believe from Frenkel and Russell. I hope, very much, that you know, completely, that they will not harass or molest anyone at your convention.
I am concerned. I hope my concerns are groundless.
I wish you all the best,
Sigrid EllisCon com response:
Thank you for your courteously expressed letter of concern.
I have been personally acquainted with both Richard and Jim for many years, and, as program chair, I am 100% certain that they will both conduct themselves in responsible and appropriate fashions. Both Jim and Richard have made valuable contributions to Odyssey Con for years and I expect that they will, given the opportunity, continue to do so for years to come. I believe Odyssey Con has a good record as a friendly and welcoming convention, which we intend to maintain.
Again, thank you for taking the time to write. I particularly appreciate your careful expression of your concerns. I am confident that they will be proven groundless.
More con com response, this time with the actual harassment policy included. Because, you know, you just put the words on paper. They don't mean anything.
Thank you for your concern. We have as a con-com discussed the issue of harassment and have taken careful steps to allow for people who have been harassed to have a safe space to inform the convention staff and procedure in place which includes escalation to an ombudsperson if necessary.
The following is a copy of our harassment policy which is on our website and also in our program book:
It is the intention of Odyssey Con to create a safe, friendly, welcoming environment where fans of science fiction and fantasy can interact with one another in a respectful manner. We will not tolerate harassment of any kind, including but not limited to:
-offensive verbal comments
-physical assault and/or battery
-harassing or non-consensual photography or recording
-sustained disruption of panels, signings, and other events
-inappropriate physical contact
-unwelcome physical attention
in relation to, but not limited to:
-gender and/or gender identity
Our policy applies to everyone at the convention. Exhibitors, Attendees, Speakers, Guests, Professionals, Staff, and Volunteers are all subject to our anti-harassment policy.
"No" means "no." Not "Maybe." Not "Ask me again later." If, when responding to someone, you mean "Not right now" or "Ask me later", please say that. If you ask and don't hear something like that, drop it and move on. If a person engages in harassing behavior, Odyssey Con staff will take prompt action in any form they deem appropriate, including, as warranted, expulsion from this year's con, banning from all future Odyssey Cons, and calling the police.
Keep in mind that you may not know someone, including what might offend them, as well as you think you do, and the possibility that you may be making someone around you uncomfortable or unintentionally giving offense. If you're not sure, ask.
Please be aware of personal space in sitting or speaking with other people. If someone asks you to back up or give them more room, please respect that.
If ANYONE does something that makes you uncomfortable, ask them firmly, but politely, to stop. Be honest and don't try to spare their feelings, but be as civil as possible. They may not realize they are making you uncomfortable. If they persist, please report the incident to the Convention Security staff, who can be recognized by their bright yellow badges. In addition someone can always be found at the Registration Desk during registration hours, or in the Security office marked clearly on the map in your convention program book.
Remember: Cosplay is not consent. If you would like to take a picture with or of another fan, always ask first and respect that person's right to say no. Be respectful, be nice, be cool and be kind to each other.
Our goal is to create a fun, safe, welcoming, event where fans of all kinds can come together and enjoy themselves. As fans ourselves, we understand the importance of creating a safe space for everyone who attends Odyssey Con.
Thank you again for your concern,
Me: note, if you will, the disconnect between above and the decision to put a known serial harasser, one with decades of accumulated bad rep, on your con com as Guest Liaison. Then to put him on programming with a GOH who has already notified you that they have had problems with that person in the past. Never do these things.