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Creating Inclusive Conferences

Kate Flewelling, Chair, Relevant Issues SectionCode_of_Conduct.jpg

Perhaps you saw it by the registration area at MLA ’15 in Austin—a tall pillar announcing MLA’s conference code of conduct. You may have missed it or glanced at it but were unsure of its significance. This year, our hope is that all participants at Mosaic ’16 in Toronto, attendees, vendors, and speakers included, know about the code and how to get assistance if they feel it has been violated.

What is a conference code of conduct? MLA’s code is a commitment to be a “harassment-free environment for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, physical appearance, ethnicity, religion or other group identity.” It is not intended to stifle professional disagreement or limit the fun of social events. The code prohibits any behavior that involves sexual harassment, harassment “based on race, religion, language, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, appearance, or other group status” and threatening of speakers or other attendees.

The Code of Conduct was the result of a grassroots effort led by the Relevant Issues Section. At the section’s 2014 business meeting, Chair-Elect Rachel Walden introduced the idea to members. Later that summer, Rachel and I led a #medlibs Twitter chat on conference codes of conduct. Current Association President Michelle Kraft and President-Elect Teresa Knott attended that chat, and the Board enacted a Code of Conduct in time for MLA ’15.

In order for the Code of Conduct to be effective, attendees must be aware of its existence. I encourage all attendees to read the code, which is available on the Mosaic ’16 website. Speakers, especially, are encouraged to frame discussions in the most inclusive possible language. At the meeting, we all must speak up if we witness or a victim of harassment or intimidation. Reports of such actions can be made to the Conference Manager in the Registration office or to MLA staff. Ultimately, the goal is create a welcoming, collegial environment for networking, fun, and the sharing of ideas.

1 Comment

Code in Context

February 4, 2016 05:23 PM by T Scott Plutchak, AHIP, FMLA

The adoption of the Code is an important step forward and one that I fully support.  The principles that it embodies are well stated and clear.

My question is to what extent the process of addressing complaints has been thoroughly worked out and to what extent MLA or conference staff have been given training in adjudicating complaints.  "Harassment" can be a very tricky thing to determine.  Language or behavior thaat offends one person may be viewed as quite innocuous by someone else.  An explicitly racist or sexist joke from a plenary speaker may be easy to identify and address.  It can be much more difficult to figure out what to do if someone complains that they overheard a rude joke or observed overly flirtatious behavior by someone when that remark or that behavior was not directed at them.  I very much want us to have the clear statement that the Code provides, and I want attendees to feel confident that their concerns will be appropriately addressed if they witness behavior that contravenes the Code.  I do not want MLA or Conference staff to find themselves hastily coming up with a response to a complaint because adequate thought and training wasn't put into anticipating how such incidents should be addressed.

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