By Nancy Beaumont, SAA Executive Director
Like many professional associations, SAA has a Code of Conduct that applies to all SAA-sponsored events, online spaces, and formal mentoring relationships.
Development of a Code was proposed by SAA members Rebecca Goldman and Mark Matienzo in January 2014. Council members Terry Baxter and Lisa Mangiafico were appointed to work with Goldman, Matienzo, and me to prepare a draft for Council discussion. From the May 2014 discussion document:
“The ability of SAA members to participate fully in the various events and forums that SAA hosts is a key component in the Society’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Members who feel unwelcome, unsafe, constrained, or silenced are not able to participate fully….
“The proposed policy is not intended to solve all problems nor will it guarantee a harassment-free environment…. What it does attempt to do is let our members know that SAA is creating a culture of concern, a place where members can participate freely in professional and social interaction knowing that harassment is not part of that culture and will be opposed by all members of the SAA community….”
Following a member comment period, the Council revised the document to address a major consideration: Who would enforce it? The 477-word Code of Conduct that was approved in July 2014 refers to the Executive Director seven times. The rationale for this decision was simple: The Executive Director, as the chief staff officer, provides continuity over time, has a broad reach to confer with others, and presumably has (i.e., had better have!) the administrative “chops” to be able and willing to enforce the Code: To investigate, determine a course of action, and deliver a direct message to a Code violator.
The Code provides simple instructions for reaching me to report a Code violation—and it provides recourse if my action is deemed inappropriate: “Persons who have been expelled or denied access may appeal to the SAA Executive Committee.”
Beyond my Council-directed assignment, it is critically important to me—professionally and personally—that SAA provides an environment that is welcoming to individuals and that does not “constrain scholarly or professional presentation, discourse, or debate, as long as these exchanges are conducted in a respectful manner.”
In my 15-year tenure with SAA, I have addressed inappropriate behaviors a handful of times. In some cases, the right action was clear:
- When an SAA staff member complained to me about improper comments made to her by an SAA leader, I addressed the complaint directly with the leader and was assured that there would be no further incidents. There weren’t.
- When an anti-transgender and gender nonconforming flyer appeared in our registration area at the 2016 Annual Meeting, I worked with the hotel to review security videotapes and interview hotel staff to try to determine who had committed this despicable act. (Unfortunately we never learned who did it.) The Council took up the issue on site at the conference and soon thereafter issued a powerful statement about the incident.
In other cases—particularly those involving interaction on an SAA discussion list or during a conference session—the appropriate action has been less clear. Why? Because one important purpose of those tools is to provide a place for professional discourse and debate. The challenge comes with determining whether “these exchanges are conducted in a respectful manner.” This can be a gray area, and the process is made more challenging when I’m not told immediately so that I can gather perspectives on site.
At the 2018 Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, an audience member in an education session asked a question that at least several audience members thought was transphobic. I learned of the incident at the Saturday morning Council meeting, when a Council member brought it forward as something that she had heard about from others. SAA President Meredith Evans and I agreed to investigate.
During the following week: I contacted the commenter by phone to discuss the incident and we subsequently had two email exchanges. Meredith spoke with both the session speaker and the commenter. I obtained the audio recording from our provider and Meredith and I listened to the session. We agreed that the commenter had not intended to offend (although we understand that that is often the case!). And we agreed (as did the presenter) that beyond his attention-grabbing language, his question, in context, had merit. According to both, the presenter and commenter had an engaging professional exchange after the session ended.
Going forward, SAA will provide online training for conference speakers and course instructors about a host of issues, including slide design, time management, and how to handle challenging questions or disruptions during a session. The Code of Conduct will be even more visible throughout future conferences and events.
Please read SAA’s Code of Conduct. If you experience or witness harassment in any SAA “space” and would prefer not to address it directly, please take your concerns and complaints not to Twitter, but to me. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 866-722-7858, ext. 12.