Insuring a Safe Place to Share Diverse Opinions

This post was written by SAA Council Members Terry Baxter and Lisa Mangiafico.

The Society of American Archivists Council has discussed a code of conduct for meeting and online spaces at its most recent two meetings. The resulting draft is available for comment and comments will still be accepted until June 22, 2014. The intent of the Council is to revise the draft based on member comments, discuss and vote on the revised draft, and, if adopted, have an official code of conduct available by the annual meeting in August.

This is good news. SAA is always looking for ways to reduce barriers to member participation in its community spaces and a code of conduct moves the society in that direction. While a code can’t ensure safe and welcoming environments, it provides a mechanism for dealing with harassing behavior, puts SAA on record as supporting a harassment free community, and encourages SAA members to build a culture of concern for each other.

How this code came to be is also a useful tale and provides a possible map for members to make change in their organization. The first idea for the code came from members Rebecca Goldman and Mark Matienzo. They were concerned with ways to make meetings and online spaces safe for members and conducive to wider participation. They introduced a discussion item in January requesting SAA Council draft a code and solicit member comment.

The response at that meeting was decidedly lukewarm. Several Council members questioned the need for a code — seeing it as a “solution looking for a problem.” Others asked about SAA’s current informal process to handle harassing behavior and legal risk to the Society both with and without a code. There was also concern that a code might inhibit intellectual freedom, which in turn could invite divisive discussion like that surrounding ALA’s code. The issue almost ended right there.

Several Council members offered to work with Mark and Rebecca on bringing a draft code and supporting documentation to the May Council meeting. The resulting research provided both a conceptual basis for the value of a code of conduct as well as the need for a formal documented process to respond to harassing behavior. A second action item was introduced in May. Council members who had earlier been on the fence or opposed expressed their belief that a code was needed and put SAA on the right side of this issue.

SAA Council would love to hear your comments. But they would also like members to push for the change they want to see. Your ideas and passion for a better organization can make a difference. We are all in this endeavor together.

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