On Arisia, Pt. 2

Rather than attempting to round up all the links myself, I recommend you read File 770’s posts on the topic, particularly “Arisia Announces Rosenberg Out” and “Arisia Bans Rosenberg, Authorizes Membership Refunds.”

The good news: Rosenberg has resigned. (With absolutely no recognition that he’s done anything wrong, much less apology for same, but I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise on that front.) Subsequent to that, the board has banned him. Also, Arisia is suspending their usual policy of not refunding memberships, so that people who want to back away from the trainwreck this year can do so without having to worry about that sunk cost.

The bad news: Not yet convinced that anything material is going to change.

See, here’s the other totally unsurprising thing: after Crystal posted about her experiences, I saw numerous other people coming forward and saying, yeah, I had X problem at Arisia, and the response I got from staff wasn’t good. Complaints that took months upon months to be addressed, unsatisfactory action (often consisting of “well, just stay away from him and that should solve the problem”), or even complaints being dropped entirely, vanishing into the void. I’m not going to try to link to them all, especially since I’m not certain that all the people making those comments want them blasted all over the internet, but this one is detailed, public, and tagged #MeToo, so I feel perfectly comfortable sharing that as a data point. There are others, linked in the File 770 posts, describing other kinds of incidents, but Maura Taylor’s is the most similar to Crystal’s.

I said this in my original post, and I said it on Twitter, and now I’ll say it again. Rosenberg is only part of the problem. The rest of the problem is Arisia itself — its executive board, its process for handling harassment complaints, its wholesale failure to walk the walk when it comes to enforcing its own code of conduct. Its repeated tendency to protect Arisia staffers when complaints are brought against them, because those people matter to them. (And when it comes to a confrontation between two staffers? They choose the one at fault.)

So Rosenberg is gone. But if you were wondering whether I think Arisia has fixed the underlying problem, the answer is a resounding no.

Their first announcement said “we are going to acknowledge and apologize for our failures,” but they haven’t yet. The closest they come to apologizing to Crystal for what they did to her is to say that they failed her by disclosing her name publicly and that they apologized for it at the time. What about all the ways in which they gaslit her, the times they made promises and then broke them, the ways they closed ranks to protect her rapist even in the face of countless pieces of public evidence that he was stalking and harassing her? And that’s just Crystal’s experiences; it doesn’t touch on all the other people who have been through similar trials. The failures the Arisia announcement lists are woefully abridged. And they can pledge all they like to do better in the future . . . but so far it isn’t at all clear that they truly understand everything they did wrong in the first place. Until that part gets settled, how can anyone really believe they’ll improve?

Now, I will also note that they seem to not be done yet. I’m willing to grant that they may still do more, and better. But let’s be clear on what “better” means, and not let one resignation/ban and some refunded memberships obscure the work that still needs to be done. Sonya Taaffe’s message to Arisia compares this to the Readercon incident some years back, with good justification. I don’t think anything less than the eventual Readercon response — the resignation and replacement of the entire board, alongside an overhaul of their incident response approach — is going to suffice here. Right now various lower-level staffers have been resigning in droves, but the real problem lies with the Arisia board, which has for years been enabling and protecting not just one offender, but several. They have thoroughly demonstrated that their guests and attendees cannot trust them. Arisia needs fresh leadership, not tainted with the sins of the past. It needs a renewal.

For the sake of all the attendees who have long-standing loyalty to Arisia, I hope that happens. But whether the board will do it . . . we’ll have to wait and see.

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