flsa-survey

We need to share information on FLSA changes at our institutions: Take the Survey

[click here to complete survey] 

I hear often that folks in student affairs (and education, and social work, and nonprofits…) say “Well, I don’t do this for the money!”

That’s rather a sad reflection of our society, that we accept how society devalues the contributions we make in society. It is a reality, yes. But I think the Obama Administration’s implemented changes to support fair salaries is the perfect time for us to speak more openly.

The U.S. Department of Labor initiated a new rule for the Fair Labor & Standards Act (FLSA) named the “Overtime Final Rule” (OFR) to raise the salary threshold from $23,660 to $47,476 for the exempt employee classification. It was supposed to start today, December 1st. Instead, a federal judge in Texas granted an injunction and the FLSA OFR has been paused. Indeed, with an incoming Trump administration it may end before it began.

Many folks in student affairs, online and offline, have been reporting mixed responses by their institutions. Some are positive, some are neutral, and some are rather unethical.

With that, I ask that full-time professionals in higher education (student affairs and related areas like enrollment management) to take time to complete a survey. All data will be shared in hopes of providing employees with a more full picture of how institutions are responding to FLSA changes and better preparing employees on how to advocate for themselves and others in the workplace.

Please note: There are many optional questions so you can anonymize yourself quite a bit if you worry about a response getting tracked back to you. There are open-ended questions, so it is up to you to on how much detail you want to provide.

[click here to complete survey] 

An overview is provided at the top of the survey; but I have also copied it below:


Higher Education/Student Affairs Report Form for FLSA Changes

Purpose of Survey:
The U.S. Department of Labor initiated a new rule for the Fair Labor & Standards Act (FLSA) named the “Overtime Final Rule” (OFR) to raise the salary threshold from $23,660 to $47,476 for the exempt employee classification. Full-time employees working 40 or more hours per week and paid less than $47,476 would have to be paid overtime or granted comp time. Institutions of higher education have worked over the last few months to either raise salary levels to the new threshold change an employee’s status – often to clock in and out daily.

December 1st was when the new Overtime Final Rule (OFR) was meant to take effect. However, on November 22nd U.S. District Court Judge Amos Mazzant granted an Emergency Motion for Preliminary Injunction and thereby enjoined the Department of Labor from implementing and enforcing the OFR on December 1, 2016.

Institutions of higher education, as well as all businesses, no longer have to implement the OFR – for now. This is a delay and does not equate that OFR will never occur, although there is that possibility with a new administration in January.

Already I have seen student affairs professionals post on Facebook that their institutions are halting the changes – some have chosen to renege on salary changes. There are also many different ways that institutions have chosen to accommodate the OFR – some which benefit both institution and employee or some that benefit only the institution.

Therefore, in the intention of enhancing worker’s rights within the field of higher education and student affairs, I have constructed this survey. Data will be shared publicly. Professionals can utilize the data to better advocate for their needs, resources, and work/life balance.

Survey Respondent Criteria:
1. Work at an institution of higher education in student affairs or related administrative areas (such as enrollment management).
2. Work full-time.

Survey Overview:
1. Purpose: Gather data on FLSA changes in higher education so that employees can share about their respective changes and learn how FLSA changes are being processed at other institutions. Currently, there is no comprehensive collection of data on FLSA changes at universities, so I hope this fills a data gap.This data is intended to help employees advocate for themselves in the workplace. This survey seeks information on the employee and the institution in order to provide fair comparison as needed. Questions can be directed to Niki Messmore at notesbynix@gmail.com

2. Information submitted will be public and unedited. Please anonymize yourself (and there are options to name your institution or just use your institution classification) as we want to minimize backlash that someone could experience. There are many identifying options that you can skip in order to feel more comfortable sharing information.

3. You may add as much personalized information as you like; questions that could more easily identify respondents have been made optional.

Survey Results Publication:
A summary will be posted on my blog, Dances with Dissonance. The raw data will be uploaded onto a public GoogleDoc excel spreadsheet.
———————————————-
Further Readings:
1. I have written about FLSA changes before and include resources at the end of my blog post if you would like to read more about the new overtime rule:

2.  Direct updates on the new FLSA Overtime rule are posted by the Department of Labor
———————————————-
About Me:
My name is Niki Messmore and I am undertaking this survey because I feel strongly that professionals should share openly about salary and benefits in order to better advocate for themselves, others, and their institutions. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Bowling Green State University in 2007 and proceeded to work in both higher education and nonprofits for 5 years. Following this, I earned my master’s degree in Higher Education & Student Affairs from Indiana University in 2014. For the past two years I have worked as the Coordinator for Civic Engagement at an urban 4-year institution in Indiana.
[LinkedIn Profile]

An Open Letter to the Open Letter

I admit I can be a bit sardonic at times, which is where the title of this blog post comes from. I’m not quite a happy or whole person – and never have been –  but I am always trying.

Speaking of trying, I get where Dr. Ann Marie Klotz is coming from with her blog post on Nov 29th titled “An Open Letter to the Student Affairs Professionals Page Members”. I have many critiques of the group and do acknowledge the place is toxic. But as an active participant of the group for around 2 years, I do feel compelled to respond.

First, I acknowledge I am a Moderator for the group. This blog post is from Niki the Human and SA Professional, not Niki the Mod, but I know this may influence the lens in which people read this blog post.

That’s understandable. The world is nuanced and complicated, and we all perceive the world through the lens of our identities and our experiences. I would expect you, Gentle Reader, to read my words through your own lens, which will lead you to likely both agree and disagree on what I write.

Much like when I read Dr. Klotz’s post, I read it recognizing that I was reading the words of someone who has never strongly participated in The Group™ before and, based on her blogs and public talks, I know is someone who was a first generation college student that grew up in poverty in Detroit as a White woman, and now works in upper-administration at a university in New York City and is a speaker and blogger on higher education issues. I know her identity made an impact in how and what she wrote – because our identities & experiences always influence how we write; and I know my identities make an impact in how I interpreted her words.

I appreciate Dr. Klotz and many of her past writings, but am compelled to write a strong critique. I do not judge her as a person (at all! It is important to separate the person from the writing sometimes and I truly have appreciated other works of hers) and I am sure she has good intentions, but I do judge the predominant ideas in her writing.

You may judge my ideas as well. Here they are, addressing the post point-by-point in order to address both what I liked and did not:

“Happy, whole, people. That’s who I want to be around.”
Definitely your preference! I personally enjoy ‘broken people who are trying’. That stems from my identities and personal experience; I am not open to writing publicly about them in detail but the root issue is poverty and the many issues that stem from it. Speaking of, Dr. Klotz’s #ACPA14 Pecha Kucha on her experiences as a first-gen low income student gave me LIFE that year. I just connect better with people who have ‘seen some shit’ as my people would say, than people who “live in little boxes on the hillside”.

“Happy, whole, people are positive.  They work hard on behalf of students.” 
Truly very few humans are happy and whole. Especially in a field like education (and specifically student affairs) where there’s always complaints of work/life balance, low pay, and other grievances. I mean, how is it I have a master’s degree and make around $35,000 annually?

There are many unhappy or sometimes happy and maybe not quite whole people who work hard on behalf of students as well! So, this was a bit offensive to me – even if I get where Dr. Klotz was coming from.

Also – did anyone else read this sentence and immediately think of the film Legally Blond?

legally-blonde-kill-people

“Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands”

“Which is why I simply do not understand what is happening on the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook page. While impressive in members (over 25,000!)…”
Girl, yessss. There are so many people! And that’s what makes The Group™ so dang difficult. Let’s recognize that the happiest country in the world is Denmark – unsurprisingly it is only 5.5 million people, 90% White and 80% Lutheran. There’s little diversity and almost all people have the same majority identities, so no wonder they are so dang happy! (except for the minorities – read up on racism in Denmark, y’all). When you add numbers and diversity, you get multiple experiences and viewpoints, so deciding on “one way of life” is pretty difficult!

“It has become a place for unhappy, broken, people to showcase their brokenness.”
Yeah. I was annoyed before, but this judgmental statement made me clutch my fake pearls from JC Penney. As I said, I embrace my brokenness and my broken people! But this statement is so disconnected from the reality of what goes on in The Group™ that it’s jarring.

I will acknowledge that people are broken and unhappy. And you can definitely see how the unhappiness and hurt shines through in certain posts and comments in The Group™.

But…of course people are unhappy! See, this is why I – as someone who worked in social services before entering grad school for SA – cannot take Student Affairs very seriously when it comes to social justice. YES, there is great SJ work that occurs but then there’s moments like this where I feel there is a disconnect between the SJ values we preach and linking them to action and philosophies – and as we can see from the many positive reactions to Dr. Klotz’s piece, there are many people who either are not viewing the post through a critical lens and/or are unbothered by the silencing tone of the piece.

We live in a system of oppression and everyone has different privileged and marginalized identities (PS: I need people to stop saying they are a “marginalized person” because it just erases their privileged identity(ies) – which almost everyone has one).

It can be difficult to be happy when you are trying to survive in a career (student affairs) and a society (especially the U.S.) that was not.made.for.you. It was made for so few of us. Depending on the identities one holds, it is sometimes just enough to “survive” and hope one day we get to the “thrive” part.

The next time you see someone being bitter in The Group™ please recognize that yes, maybe they are unhappy and broken. Whether it is the “social justice warrior” lambasting someone or the “privileged jerk” who vehemently thinks you are mean for yelling at them – remember that we are all unhappy and broken in different ways and the ways in which we engage on the internet might stem from this brokeneness. Sometimes just recognizing it helps us get a step forward in understanding.

– Also – Let’s acknowledge that Student Affairs regularly emphasizes “authenticity” but I guess only when that person is happy and whole and life is awesome. And…also it seems authenticity is only okay when that person has no mental illness, because let’s be real: saying someone is “broken” is a long held discriminatory way to speak about people with mental illness. Again, I’m sure not the intent, but ‘broken’ was a terrible word choice.

“One criticism I have heard from group members is that more seasoned practitioners don’t often comment or contribute.” 
I totally get this. It is a public Facebook group and the higher your profile is, the more careful you have to be in your wording so you do not risk your job. Screenshots, and all that (which, btw, I disagree with intensely). Y’all have a lot more at risk and usually report up to conservative folks since traditionally old white men tend to be university presidents and chancellors.

Personally, I think that is a nice distinction of #sachat on Twitter – the ability to engage with seasoned professionals.

“It has become a place where people like to attack and judge each other.” 
I agree and disagree.

The issue with Dr. Klotz’s post is the lack of nuance in discerning the root of the issue in The Group™. Where is it that we see argument? Is something trivial like whether one should order pizza or subs for a program? No, it is almost always rooted in identity and social justice. The “attacks” often stem from someone with a marginalized perspective or speaking for a marginalized group to critique a post or comment that perpetuates oppression. OR, it occurs when a privileged person says something oppressive, someone gently calls them on it, and they react very defensively and go on the attack.

However, I do acknowledge the toxicity of the group and how the responses can be. There’s a lot of anger and most of it is righteous. When someone is triggered emotionally by content because their oppressed identity is targeted, they basically have 3 options: 1. Educate them. 2. Hold them accountable, 3. Ignore it.

The first two options are sometimes done at the same time and can be done in many different tones: mild, irritated, sarcastic, angry, etc. It can be difficult when one feels triggered emotionally to pull a Michelle Obama “when they go low, we go high” and speak all pleasant-like. Sometimes I believe the anger is righteous and the offending party should feel that anger – that is one way of becoming educated that what they did was not okay and they should not do it again.

There are limits, in my perspective, based on the intensity of the incident (from mistake to vicious ignorance to intentional) and the person who committed it (I hold seasoned professionals to a much different standard than grad students, for example).

BUT – overall, the people I see who usually gripe about being ‘attacked’? They are almost always coming from the privileged perspective on the matter.  So by making this statement, I immediately get the sense that Dr. Klotz’s perspective stems from a very white experience as traditionally most of the social justice debates/discussions/fights center around race (not always, but predominantly).

I completely believe The Group™ needs critique, but it needs it through a critical theory lens.

“The large number of members has created a mob-like mentality where people can feel safe to literally say anything (publicly criticizing their boss, institution, etc.) and know that they will be supported by hundreds of people.”     
Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…………Yes AND No.

Anyone who spends time in the group knows that there have been many posts calling out that silly memes and stories get hundreds of posts but when people call out negative things like oppression, there usually is not a large response. I also don’t usually see people criticize their boss and institution that often (although it happens) but that’s their choice – and at the same time they don’t get hundreds of likes/comments.

However! It is possible that Dr. Klotz is here calling out the White, Straight, Cis, Able-Bodied identity groups. After all, so many folks with one or more of these identities have written truly tasteless and horrific things that I am appalled that people approve of it in a field that ‘values’ social justice. As it is completely true that in terms of “silent support” i.e. post and comment “Facebook Likes”, the privileged perspectives tend to get much more of this. Not always of course, as I see our marginalized folks holding it down and supporting each other often – shout out to how amazing many of our Queer, Black, Latinx, AAPI, Indigenous, & Trans colleagues are. And I’m seeing even more colleagues with mental illness and disabilities calling attention to these issues as well.

“I have heard of employers checking that Facebook group before they offer a candidate a position simply to ensure that they aren’t one of the people that have been contributing to this issue of attacking others”
Yep. That’s pretty scary. Again, there’s the whole idea of how are we defining “attacking others”. I think it is code for standing up for oneself and others of marginalized identities.

But again, it could also be referring to all the privileged and oppressive interactions. I mean, do I want to hire someone who openly discriminates?

It is also true that sometimes people on the ‘social justice side’ do take it a step farther than I agree with – but it’s also hard because often it’s in cases where I do not share that marginalized identity so…do I get to call something “too much” when from their perspective, it is deserved?

And also – if you are an employer and you actually don’t consider a candidate because they call out racism, sexism, transphobia, etc in a Facebook group of professionals who interact with students of different identities every day? Please reconsider. Your department could benefit from a strong supporter of marginalized students who are willing to take time to call out discrimination in a public arena.

Nuance. Is. Required.

“Happy, whole, people. That’s who I want to serve students.”
Agree to disagree. Again, this feels like coded language that is biased against oppressed identities, like we must be seen but not heard – like children at a Victorian dinner table.

“I get the most nervous for these aspiring student leaders, the excited undergrads, the NUFP kids, and anyone else who is considering entering our field and sees these posts.” 
Me too! Sure, I had 5 years of professional experience prior to graduate school, but I’ve only been in the field 2.5 years post-master’s…and I cannot believe the amount of prejudice and ignorance that exists in the field. When I applied for graduate school I thought that Student Affairs professionals were highly educated on issues of social justice. And…they are more than some professions (I will give us that). But it has been an exhausting and frustrating experience to see so many SA professionals at all levels make racist, sexist, classist, and other ‘ist’ statements. I have lost a lot of respect for the field. And I know many aspiring SA folks – especially students of color – who see these types of ignorant posts and reconsider their career.

So yes, I am nervous.

“It is our job to role model how to engage in online spaces so that students can learn about respectful dialogue and how to have tough conversations.  Instead, it has often become a place where folks are sharing their pain in destructive ways.”
Yes, I will agree with some of this. ‘Civil dialogue’ is a real concept that one can read about and learn, and it would be great if all members read up on this. There is actually a way to speak about critical topics and disagree.

But of course, this can be difficult in practice. Like last year there was a certain ‘CEO’ who posted many disgusting things before being banned from The Group™ and once posted something quite sexist and would not respond authentically to my critique – this made me so damn angry and had no issue being “a bitch” (because you know people think that when women get angry and disagree) in my next responses.

Was that civil dialogue? Nope. But sometimes you have to cut someone with words in order to carve through the bullshit and get into an authentic space.

“Happy, whole, people. That’s who I want to call on in the middle of a crisis.”
I…still don’t really know what is meant by happy, whole, people.

And in the middle of a crisis I want people who can get shit done – broken people are sometimes the best at this.

“Reclaim the page.”
…from who?

I’m sorry, I know this is meant with likely good intention but it is coming from an upper-level White female administrator who has not really posted a lot about social justice or critical theory and who does not engage in the The Group™. So naturally I have concerns.

As someone commented in the group, this really sounds like Trump’s anthem of “Make America Great Again” (with the resounding question of “great for who?”). I know from Dr. Klotz’s Twitter that she supported Hillary so I’m sure this was not her vision but it is my interpretation – and many others.

Jameelah Jones did a lot of labor in quickly analyzing the types of post in the group and the majority of it is asking for advice, job postings, and stories. It truly seems like the issue people have with the group is social justice conversations, so if you want to “reclaim the page” I can’t help but think this is a bunch of White, Straight, Middle-Class, Christian, Cis, Able-Bodied etc folks coming in to sweep others out.

I imagine this critique may sound harsh because this field does not truly value a critical lens and has a lot of fragility (white or otherwise) around privilege, so just me calling it out as I see it will sound harsh, I am sure.

And yet…I can interpret this statement no other way than to whitewash the group and turn us into robotic versions of ourselves.

“Make it a space for empowerment and grace.” 
I love this statement on its own, but connected to the other statements I am not sure who you want to empower…

However, I do think we could do a better job of giving each other (especially young professionals) some grace on mistakes made.

“Use it as less of a therapy session and more of a place where we can brainstorm how to help our students—and each other—when engaging with the tough work on our college campuses.” 
I am actively disappointed in this statement and frown every time I read it.

First, I’m not sure what “therapy session” means. Is it alluding to the comments where people speak openly about their marginalized identities and advocate for their right to live without oppression? Or does it mean when people complain about having to serve Midnight Breakfast? I have no idea but I assume the former due to the tone of this blog post.

What some people consider “therapy”, others consider “building community”.

“Let’s use this page as a space where victories are shared, staff successes are celebrated and resources are given.” 
I think all this is great! It sounds like a nice message board on a 1995 Geocities page – very basic and dry.

While these are all great to include, this idea excludes having engaging conversations around social justice and other issues. It also excludes the idea that we cannot as workers gather to discuss issues in higher education like low pay, ineffective graduate school programs, bias in the workplace, and others. In this day and age, it is important that we share our struggles so it is no longer ‘me’ but ‘we’. This will help us better advocate for ourselves and one another.

Again, I like the positive aspects but we need to be critical minded professionals as well. I am worried by only emphasizing the positive the end goal of this blog post is to cancel out authentic and challenging conversations among diverse folks.

“In the quest for this group to be inclusive, it has backfired to become divisive (young, edgy, pros vs. old curmudgeons) and let’s live up to the title of the group—Student Affairs Professionals.”
Does what makes the young professionals edgy are their commitment to social justice?

“All professional interaction and engagement with one another.” 
The term “professional” was defined by White, Straight, Cis-Men. It’s an exclusive concept that strips us often of our humanity – especially if you don’t have all those privileged identities. “You Call it Professionalism; I Call it Oppression in a Three-Piece Suit” is a great piece by Carmen Rios on Everyday Feminism that people need to read.

“That being said, “I volunteer as tribute!” to help whoever is interested to give this page a face-lift, a re-do, an upgrade.”
As both a Member and a Moderator, I just want folks to engage in the group critically with an open-mind, and participate as often as they can.

As someone who low-key likes research on these topics, it is very difficult to change the structure of a large and diverse organization (especially in a desensitized virtual space). I am not quite sure how to go about fixing things, but I know no matter what, people will leave. So, it comes down to values and what voices we value when we are upgrading a space.

“There is enough hate, anger, and pain in our country right now.  Let’s compassionately lead our campuses and be kind to each other.”
I wholeheartedly agree. I just think this is a “both/and” situation. We can be compassionate by also recognizing the unhappy and broken pieces within each of us and fighting for all of us.

Conclusion
What does this all boil down to – in my opinion?

Privilege and oppression.

And mostly – White fragility and systemic racism. While not all social justice posts in the group are about race (trans and queer issues are also frequent) it usually does come down to race. Which does lead me to believe that all this hand wringing about the tone of the group and a desire to return to the old model of mostly job postings stems from racism.

Which is honestly just sad. I hope we can be more open-minded, utilize a critical lens, and do better as we move forward.

Finally, let it be known that while Dr. Klotz wrote a rather viral blog post calling attention to issues in the group, she has the privilege of being rather high profile in the SA blogging/social media world. Remember: People of color – especially Black Student Affairs Professionals via #blksapblackout – have been calling out issues for a very long time. Many queer and trans voices as well, and many other marginalized voices. Please recognize this as the discussions about The Group™ continue online and offline.

***

Feedback can be left in the comments or tweet me at @NikiMessmore.

they-didnt-know-we-were-seeds

Facilitating Dialogue: 8 Steps to Supporting People in a Post-Trump Era

Do you understand what this country has done in electing Donald Trump as President of the United States of America?

I do.

Donald Trump employed divisive fear mongering tactics to engage millions of people who are not happy with their lives by scapegoating minorities – women, people of color (especially Black and Latinx folks), people with disabilities, queer folks and trans folks (LGBTQ+), undocumented people, immigrants, Muslims, Jews…the list goes on.

So naturally in the aftermath of the election college students (and many folks overall) are scared for the safety and civil rights.

Fox News and other media outlets (and humans I know – SIGH) have made a mockery of how universities have worked to support students after the election results & in general mocked the “whining of liberals”. This is rude and unnecessary – they lack compassion.

This blog post is focused on talking to people one-on-one and in groups who feel upset and fearful by Trump’s victory and his looming presidency.

For those of you working in Higher Education/Student Affairs and wondering how best to support your students, here’s my recommendations. I spent all day Wednesday, November 9th meeting in small groups or facilitating large group discussions with students + colleagues and have engaged in dialogue since then – and I am sure will continue to do so for quite some time. These are my observations and hopefully they are helpful in aiding discussion.

1. Don’t Assume

Remember that long list of demographic groups I listed in the opening statement? Don’t assume people from these groups are against Trump. Out of the people who voted, exit polls say that 52% of White women voted for Trump. About 19% of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Latinx folks voted for Trump. Some (in much smaller numbers) Black folks voted for Trump too. No numbers for other groups, but I am sure some voted for Trump.

Likewise, people who don’t seem at risk for losing their civil liberties and/or the majority of the demographic voted Trump (rural folks, cis-men, straight people, white people), didn’t all vote for Trump and also disapprove of the election outcome.

Therefore, don’t assume anything when discussing the election.

2. Listen

This should go without saying but not necessarily a natural trait for some people. Even if you have the same/similar identities as the person talking, you may not have the same fears/hopes/experiences that they hold. If you hold privilege in an area that they speak of (i.e., a disabled person speaking to a non-disabled person), be very careful of how much “space” you take up. I have seen people with privilege taking up space in these post-election conversation; the more privilege they have the more they tend to talk. This is a time where we need to let marginalized folk say what is on their mind because they may not have other spaces where they can speak about these things. (follow-up with Everyday Feminism Article “The Importance of Listening as a Privileged Person Fighting for Justice” by Jamie Utt)

3. Allow People to Discuss Their Fears

Fear is natural in this situation. This is not a normal election. It has been a long time since a candidate for the top office in a country has been outspoken against multiple minority groups and made heinous statements. This goes not just for Donald Trump and all the slurs and harassing statements he’s made but also for his VP Mike Pence. Throughout his political career, Pence was intensely anti-LGBTQ and pushes for conversion therapy and the right of people to refuse service to queer folks.

International students are afraid their VISAs will be revoked and they’ll have to leave the country before finishing their education. Women and survivors of sexual assault know that Title IX protection is in danger with a president with a long history of sexual harassment and alleged assault. Undocumented Undocumented Undocumented students and recent immigrants fear being deported and/or losing family members to deportation. Black students wonder how much less their lives will matter with a president who has made many racist statements. Muslims fear being placed on a registry. Jewish folks know what a leader with these sorts of attitudes can do and recognize from history & present-day events that they are targets (and have been grieving at synagogues this week). Disabled folks/people with disabilities know their health is at risk with a president who wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act; without their medication they will be in pain and may even die. All these groups of people knew there was discrimination in this country and now know that millions of American citizens voted for a man with racist, sexist, xenophobic, ableist, transphobic, homophobic, Anti-Semitic views….so how honestly can they expect to be safe here?

Not to mention – in the three days since the election over 200 hate crimes and acts of harassment and intimidation have been reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center (very similar to the aftermath of Brexit in the United Kingdom). People of color, LGBTQ folks, and women have been impacted the most – from elementary school children to adults. Bigots have been emboldened by Trump – a bigot who made it to the highest office in the land.

So yes. People’s fears are real. Acknowledge them. Validate them. Let them talk about them.

4. Beware the Oppression Olympics

This has not occurred in any discussions I’ve hosted yet but I have seen a lot of it on social media.

Many groups of people have been targeted by Trump’s rhetoric and his supporters. Many are in fear of his stated policies that will eradicate their civil rights.

Not every group will be equally affected and that should be understood. Intersectionality of identity is critical to understanding how we will be affected. A lower-middle class & disabled cis-white woman in a relationship with a man will experience the Trump Administration differently than a middle-class & able-bodied cis-Latino man married to another cis-man.

It’s like Mad Libs – you can insert all these different identities and the story is the same: the majority of the American populace will be affected. The only demographic unaffected will be those who hold all the majority identities (a very small number of Americans). And of course, then there are the folks who have marginalized identities but still support the Trump Administration and do not expect to be affected.

Either way, cut this shit out – STOP erasing marginalized groups from the conversation on who will feel the impact of the Trump Administration. If it comes up in discussion, guide the conversation out of this loop of Oppression Olympics.

5. Don’t Be Optimistic/Try to Lighten the Mood (Without Reading the Room)

Some people are uncomfortable with conflict, negative energy, and sad/angering news (especially when they feel helpless to change the situation and/or don’t think they can change the situation). Their coping strategy is to “look on the bright side” and may make statements that they hope are meaningful and inspirational but actually are meaningless in practice at that moment. Sometimes, you just have to let people grieve. False platitudes don’t protect someone from being attacked for wearing a hijab, someone losing their Driver’s License when Trump revokes DACA, or when a disabled person’s monthly medication increases from $45 monthly to $1,000.

Of course – it depends on the relationships you have with the person/people talking, number of folks in the room, how the conversation has been going, and so on. This takes some finesse, so please be observant of what that space needs in that time.

6. Bring Hope into the Conversation

I know – I just lectured on how we don’t need to thrust optimism into every conversation.

What I asked my students was: “Do you feel hopeless? Or do you feel hope? And if so, what does hope look like for you?” – or some variation of this.

It’s important to note that not everyone feels hope right now and that’s okay – so bring up that hopelessness is an option. Yes, we want people to move through that feeling to find hope but this is when you need to “ meet students where they are” and just let them be humans for a second.

But this question is critical and should come after everyone has discussed their fears. Hope is instrumental in overcoming whatever policies and laws that may come at us as a nation in Trump’s presidency.

And there is a LOT to give us hope: Many people are beginning to mobilize and vow to do the work to protect the most vulnerable of us. And Tuesday night may have elected someone who openly boasts of harassing women, but also gave us the first Somali Muslim woman in the House, first Latina senator, first openly queer governor (also a woman), and so much more. Overall, many women of color won Congressional seats!

One of my favorite proverbs has been shared by many of my Latinx friends this week and it feels appropriate in this period of fear and hope for the future:

“They tried to bury us; they did not know we were seeds”. (Mexican proverb, attributed to the Zapatistas but it’s hard to find an exact source).

7. Move into an Action-Oriented Phase

A smaller number of the electorate (eligible voters) cast ballots this year than the last two presidential elections. According to Five Thirty Eight about 1.4 million more Americans voted in 2016 than 2012 but the number of eligible voters had grown, diminishing this appearance of victory. Around 45.4% of eligible voters did not show up.

WE NEED TO SHOW UP.

So after discussing fears and then hope – ask folks what changes they will take in their life to become more civically engaged. This includes daily acts of radical self-care and caring for others – and it also includes engaging in community-based organizations. The only way we can progress the civil liberties of this country is to get organized. Have the group discuss ideas and work together to create a list.

Plus – making a plan of action is often helpful when managing fear and anger in the wake of the election.

8. Self Care

Black lesbian womanist writer and activist Audre Lorde (February 18, 1932-November 17, 1992) said “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I recognize this is said from her perspective as a black queer woman and I know this quote recognizes the unique stress experienced by black queer woman. I am not sure if Audre Lorde intended this quote to be colonized by people outside of her identities as she was the daughter of Caribbean immigrants from Barbados and Carriacou who focused on the intersectionality of black women and lesbian identity. However, I will say that Audre Lorde inspires me to care for myself and has inspired many others who do not share her identities.

Therefore, please take care of yourself. You yourself may be experiencing the same/similar fears as your students and here you are listening to them speaking their truths. Even if you hold many privileged identities, you may fear for your students and other people in your life. This can be taxing. Take breaks when you need to, refer students to others when you need to, and do what you need to relax and replenish your soul.

For me, Wednesday night I cuddled with a cat, ate ice cream, and watched one of my favorite light-hearted shows “Jane the Virgin”. It helped – and then a solid 8 hours of sleep helped even further.

The “Other Side”

While this blog post is dedicated to supporting the folks who feel fear in seeing Trump elected by the U.S., I know that many people are happy and many are indifferent. These aren’t necessarily bad people (note: people who are committing hate crimes are bad people imo, but redemption is a possibility) and as a nation we need to work with these folks together. That doesn’t mean you specifically have to, but overall we do as a society. I would never ask someone who feels under attack in this period to work with their oppressors – so if you have privilege in an area, work with the people who hold that same privilege.

Conclusion

Take care of yourselves and each other.

 

The Hamilton Guide to Quality Community Service! (Part I)

Hamilton _titlefor blog post.jpg

I’m a bit late to the party, but in advance of my vacation I downloaded the Hamilton soundtrack from Amazon Prime (yay #Amazon) and have been listening to it nonstop for almost 2 weeks. After presenting at the Indiana Campus Compact Networking meeting, I couldn’t help but take notice of all the different ways we can link the Hamilton musical to service-learning! While my perspective comes from someone who works professionally in higher education service-learning, this can apply to anyone who is planning to volunteer/plan service projects!

The “Hamilton Guide to Quality Community Service” will be a short series of several blog posts. This is the first one. Be sure to check the end for recommended readings based on concepts mentioned!

Let’s get to it:

1. “Talk less, smile more” – from the song “Aaron Burr, Sir”

Concept link: community voice; relationship building

As the nervous and young Alexander Hamilton approaches Aaron Burr to discuss his university education (and “punching the bursar, sir” – something I’m sure we have all imagined as students but really would be uncool in reality because the bursar is just working for their paycheck!). As Hamilton rambles more than Willow in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Burr offers some free advice: “Talk less, smile more”.

Burr’s words have a different intention in the musical, but I urge staff, faculty, and students engaged in service-learning to talk less. Historically, S-L programs tend to focus more-so on the needs of universities rather than communities. We have these ‘educated’ folks who come into communities and tell the community members what they will do ‘for you’.

This is where the value of ‘community voice’ enters the planning process. We must work with community members/organizations to ask what their community needs are, and then establish service projects that fit these needs. For example, if your group wants to do a food drive they must contact a food pantry first to make sure that the pantry wants/needs donations and, if so, what types of donations they need. It wouldn’t be helpful if the students collected 200 cans of green beans when the pantry does not have the space to store these items and/or have zero need for more green beans.

As for the smiling? That’s about being friendly and working to establish + build relationships with community members and organizations. Listen to their stories, learn about the daily lives of the community members, and work to develop an authentic relationship.

2. “Why do you assume that you’re the smartest in your room? Soon that attitude may be your doom” – from the song “Non-Stop”

Concept link: cultural humility, open-mindedness

Before, during, and after a service project there can be an issue of ego on behalf of service participants.

Prior to a service project, students (and staff + faculty!!) may assume they know everything about this issue. This may be because they have obtained an academic education on the topic. For example, if the service project supports an after-school program in a low-income neighborhood, perhaps the student is an education major who knows a good deal about children and education issues. Or a student took a sociology class and believes they understand a lot about poverty. But, academic knowledge is not the same as experiential knowledge. It’s important that students humble themselves before entering service to understand that they still have a lot to learn.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are students who may consider themselves an expert on the social issue(s) of the project because they personally experienced the issue. They certainly have a degree of insight, but must embrace humility as well. For example, as a person who grew up in poverty I once assumed I understood poverty. But the experiences of poverty differ according to region (urban, rural), race and ethnicity, immigrant status, sexuality, disability, and other intersecting identities that complicate the experience of poverty. Even if I, as a rural impoverished person, went to a different part of the country on an alternative break to support people experiencing rural poverty, my experience will never be just like someone else’s experience.

Following the service project, some students may consider themselves “the smartest person in the room” on the topic of the social issue at hand. Yet, they have only gained a brief insight into that one social issue in that one specific community. Coupled with the always complicated issues of social issues, there is always so much more to learn. The self-education of social issues and quality community service is a lifelong process.

Recommended readings:

Cruz, N. I., & Giles, D. E. (2000). Where’s the community in service-learning research. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 7(1), 28-34.

Miron, D., & Moely, B. E. (2006). Community agency voice and benefit in service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 12(2).

Nduna, N. J. (2007). The community voice on service-learning: A good practice guide for higher education. Education as Change, 11(3), 69-78.
Sandy, M., & Holland, B. A. (2006). Different worlds and common ground: Community partner perspectives on campus-community partnerships. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 13(1).

Why Student Affairs Needs to Support FLSA Changes -or- The FLSA Fairy Tale

Image result for once upon a time letter once upon a time there was an entire profession that claimed to value social justice.

The people of this profession also commonly derided their lack of work/life balance. Many years ago, their ancestors received the right of a 40-hour work week, but alas! Their positions required an excess of 40 hours for many of these fine folk, as the task to support students required much time and effort.

They were highly educated but vastly underappreciated in terms of gold coins. Caught in a quandary, their professional values included both doing whatever it took to care for their students but to also value personal well-being.

Woe unto them!

But then one day, a heroic Knight of Dol came unto their leaders and spake unto the leaders of the land: “Ho! Thou hast gone many years of underpaying and overworking these fine citizens! Beginning the 1st of December, thou must pay overtime for all thy workers, unless thee pay $47,476 for a salary!”

Previously the law of the land allowed overtime for only those citizens earning less than $23,660. This was a drastic change and the leaders of the land were outraged!

However…

The professional organizations spake unto their people at sunrise: “Social justice is a value and we desire equity for all”.

Yet at sunset they spake unto the Knight of Dol: “The new law of the land is unfair! For we benefit greatly from working the people in excess of 40 hours without raising their wages. We do not have enough gold coins for this change!”

The Knight of Dol spake unto the leaders of the land: “Hast thou not considered working thy citizens only 40 hours per week? Thou wouldst not have to then pay overtime. Or perhaps thee can pay thy workers $47,476  of gold coins if thee desires long hours?”

The leaders of the land laughed at the concept of such a thing. Their banner was that of a dragon, for they held a fondness for shiny things, which including hoarding gold coins sometimes and other times building shiny new buildings for the gladiators.

The people of the profession were divided. For those in the upper-echelons, they had a self-interest in agreeing with the leaders of the land. Some of them were leaders or very nearly there and had an aversion to budget issues. For them, the spirit of the dragon resided within and they had a fondness for hoarding gold coins from the masses. Others had were hesitant to supervise their entry and mid-level employees as hourly workers. And for others, they sat in seats with plump cushions and had forgotten the hardships of low wages and long hours.

Those paid under the new salary threshold as dictated by the Knight of Dol were divided as well. Some felt a distaste for a seemingly lowered status of ‘hourly employee’ and the idea of hitting thy clock on the way in and thy clock on the way out. Others felt a loss of freedom with this and yearned to maintain the ability to flit around the land as they pleased without tracking thy hours.

And yet others were pleased with the Knight of Dol and their proclamation. The people were highly education, yet worked many hours and recieved fewer gold coins compared to their counterparts in other professions. The values of social justice lit their path; to them the proclamation protected thee rights of workers to be paid fairly.

‘Twas difficult to work long hours and receive a small bag of gold coins in exchange. Many of the people had to battle goblins on the weekends just to earn enough money to provide offerings to the greedy dragon Naavíent who granted gifts to youth in exchange for gold coins and/or first born children over a twenty year period.

Indeed, this latter group was quite puzzled as to why the leaders of the land spake to them at sunrise of their values of equity and spake unto the Knight of Dol at sunset about why it ’twas appropriate to maintain an inequitable system.

***

The Knight of Dol was powerful but the leaders of the land found their own knight to challenge Dol: Knight Walberg of Michigan. Knight Walberg was a lesser knight, whose notoriety grew from his many failed attempts to vanquish the great creature known as Aca (a rather helpful creature who had healing powers, so it is quite good Knight Walberg repeatedly failed). Knight Walberg challenged the Knight of Dol to a duel this week and is utilizing a new weapon he named HR 6094.

Granted, this was not a clever name but rather bulky much like the weapon itself.

The leaders of the land began to dedicate their banners to Knight Walberg of Michigan. He was not the first knight they supported on this matter yet only the most recent.

Alas. The leaders’ choice to rally their banners for the lesser knight included abandoning their espoused values in lieu of favoring gold coins.

The day to the duel between the Knight of Dol and the lesser Knight Walberg draws nearer. While the odds favor the Knight of Dol, the people of the profession now must harbor distrust towards many of the leaders of the land for now they know what lies within thy hearts.

To Be Continued…

***

Author’s Note:

I believe that FLSA will protect worker’s rights and raise the standard of living for people who work in Student Affairs. I am bothered by the the lobbying behind organizations like the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources and the higher level SA professionals who I have read or heard their thoughts on how FLSA will be bad for universities and student affairs.

To learn more about the new FLSA overtime law (as well as what folks think about it):

  1. Why Student Affairs Needs to Support FLSA Overtime Changes (Storify, by me): https://storify.com/NikiMessmore/why-student-affairs-needs-to-support-flsa-overtime
  2. HR 6090: http://edworkforce.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=401057
  3. Colleges Brace for Overtime Overhaul – http://www.wsj.com/articles/colleges-brace-for-overtime-overhaul-1458674488
  4. HE becomes poster child for FLSA concerns: http://www.bna.com/higher-education-becomes-n73014445162/
  5. DOL Overtime ruling: https://www.dol.gov/WHD/overtime/final2016/
  6. DOL guide to HE for FLSA changes: https://www.dol.gov/whd/overtime/final2016/highered-guidance.pdf
  7. ACUHO-I What Campuses Think about FLSA: https://www.naspa.org/images/uploads/main/infographic-campushousing-flsa-link_ACUHOI.PDF
  8. FLSA Overtime Rule Changes: Guide for Student Affairs (NASPA): https://www.naspa.org/rpi/reports/final-overtime-rule-resource-guide-student-affairs
  9. FLSA Overtime Final Rule to Change the Way Student Affairs Operates (NASPA): https://www.naspa.org/about/blog/flsa-overtime-final-rule-to-change-the-way-student-affairs-operates
  10. Strategies for Managing the New FLSA Overtime Rules in Student Affairs: https://olc.naspa.org/catalog/strategies-for-managing-the-new-flsa-overtime-rules-in-student-affairs
  11. Managing FSLA (NAPSA Leadership Exchange): http://www.leadershipexchange-digital.com/lexmail/2016fall?folio=32&pg=34#pg34

 

[marginalized folks are] Always Educators in Student Affairs

The “Student Affairs Professionals” (SAP) Facebook group is a strange little beast. At 21,000+ members, it contains both the best and worst of the profession.

That’s harsh. And…not quite true.

The SAP Facebook group demonstrates the best and worst of the profession. There are incidents where folks share resources and best practices, support one another’s highs and lows…sometimes it is excellent.

Other times? Not so much.This blog post will address one of the “SAP Problematic Concepts” (a term I’ve coined for now to describe the incidents/statements we see regularly) titled “But we’re all educators!!”

But We're All Educators

Discussion of social justice concepts and navigating privileged experiences with the realities of marginalized (in regards to race, the term used often is ‘minoritized’ but I chose /marginalized/ since it is a more commonly understood term) experiences in our society is necessary to advance ourselves professionally and personally. Of course, it can be tricky to have a fruitful discussion online and often with people you’ve never interacted with before – and even likelier it was never face-to-face.

Some argue that it is pointless to have SJ discussions in the SAP group or any other online venue. I disagree, but I do agree that there’s a series of regular incidents that tend to occur with these talks. The primary one? When a person with one or more privileged identities gets frustrated and pushes on someone with one or more marginalized identities to explain that marginalized experience.

Their belief? That the person with the marginalized belief owes it to the person with the privileged identity to “educate them”. Of course the person in question should do it/should want to do it “because we’re all educators” and “we’re all learning”.

eye roll - B Apt 13

That’s not cute. It’s bullying. It’s entitlement. It’s exerting your privileged status on someone. The term “check your privilege” has become trite but for real, you should do just that. It’s a better use of your time then carrying out acts of oppression.

Just because someone works as a student affairs professional, as an educator, does not mean they owe it to all the folks in the world to do unpaid labor to teach 24/7. Not to mention, the more marginalized identities a person holds, the more likely it is that systemic oppression affects them and they are paid less than your average person with a greater number of privileged identities.

When a person spends their work day getting paid to educate, they are also likely doing it outside of work in different sectors. That’s tiring. Folks with marginalized identities – especially people of color – are forced to educate far more often than privileged – especially white – folks.

And let’s name it: I see this SAP Problematic Concept most often when fellow white professionals bully people of color to “educate them” on different social justice perspectives related to race and racism.

Franky, that is bullshit.

If you’ve graduated from a masters’ or doctoral program, go back to your assigned readings.If you didn’t, then the internet and your local library are wonderful resources. Check out some recommended books. Ask other privileged folks to educate you – for you to educate one another. And above all, please use Google (and GoogleScholar). Here, I started you off with a search for “systemic racism in higher education“.

Systemic Racism in Higher Ed-let me google that for you

And don’t forget – when you have a privilege identity it is your responsibility to call in your peers when they are saying something problematic. Race, mental health, gender identity, sexuality, first language…there are a lot of identities and experiences to learn about. We’re always going make mistakes and learn new things. Help one another out with that. Do it online and offline (as I’m sure this attitude is common in the ‘real world’ as well).

Bystander intervention is a cool thing. It’s unfair to let folks with marginalized identities fend off pushy entitled privileged folks.Let’s support each other in doing better. Which sometimes means tough love, and that’s okay.

***

Those are my thoughts. It’s been a while since I’ve written a critical blog post but I just can’t take seeing these patterns over and over. I took a long break (with only minimal check-ins) from student affairs’ social media spaces for the specific reason of how draining and demoralizing they can be. There’s some good stuff, for sure! But there’s also a lot of folks with advanced degrees who need to engage better with their peers and learn how to Google.

 

 

 

Niki’s Guide to Indy: Dining at #NASPA16

Hello folks! I’m excited for my first ever NASPA Conference (after 3 years, I had to miss ACPA this year due to alternative break conflicts) and I’m thrilled that it’s in Indianapolis! After working in NW Ohio for five years, I moved to Indiana almost four years ago for my graduate program and have been working in Indianapolis since June 2014. It’s a great city and I’d love to share some local tips!

Today’s focus: Food! At preferably inexpensive and local restaurants! Or if it requires two money signs ($$) or more, I’ll recommend your mid-level/SSAO-type mentor take you here! (and if you, Gentle Reader, are a mid-level/SSAO-type and are looking to feed mentor a nice new-ish #SApro, please say hello!).

new girl - eating - winston

As a Yelp Elite I’m quite the foodie and love to give my opinion!🙂 The list will be ordered from closet to the Convention Center (100 S. Capital St) to farthest; it will likely be raining during most of #NASPA *womp*womp* Note that distances is in minutes walked; I use this term because I can’t think of a better term although I know not all folks are able to walk/walk at the speed GoogleMaps uses, and may move across distances in other ways.

Downtown Restaurants (Less than 1 Mile from Convention/20 minutes walking/traveling via sidewalk)

  • Giorgio’s Pizza: Dudes. You have to go here. Only 11 minute walk and it’s right off of Monument Circle (aka the most beautiful part of downtown Indy), it’s been open for 26 years, and more than likely Giorgio is working (and singing in Italian). Get slices of pizza (try the stuffed pizza!), the AMAZING MARINA SAUCE, and get a cannoli. Then, if it’s not raining, I want you to walk the two minutes to the Monument and (if you’re able) go up the steps, sit down, snack, and revel in the city sights around you.
  • Ali Baba’s Cafe: First, the food is GOOD and inexpensive. Second, go here because during a #BlackLivesMatter march (in the wake of Ferguson) from Monument Circle to the Capital, the employees cheered on the protesters, Now my friend and I always hit them up when we’re around. #solidarity #solidaritywithhummus #butforrealyouneedtogetthishummus
  • Indianapolis City Market: Walk north 15 minutes to Market/Deleware to find a larger building with at least two dozen different shops inside. A meal is generally around $10; less if you are just getting a couple items. There’s Three Carrots for my veg friends, Spice Box if you want some quick Indian, and many other places. See a map of shops on their website.
  • Subito: A 12-minute walk NE is a fairly new sub/soup spot open 10am-3pm. Already pretty popular. There are $8 sandwiches and fairly cheap add-ons like soup and salad on the menu.
  • Pearings Cafe & Frozen Yogurt: One of my favorite places! At only 8 minutes away, this is a great destination for froyo, CREPES, and tasty paninis. Most of the paninis use meat from a local place and they are only $6 – a bit small but tend to make for happy tummies. There’s also ice water set up by the door if you need many refills from all the walking! The froyo is expensive, but what do you expect downtown and across from the mall?
  • BARcelona: Are you feelin’ fancy? This Spanish restaurant is two money signs ($$) and 16-minutes away, but can be a fun adventure with friends (small plates = try all the things). Check out the drink specials, eat some of the goat cheese in marina, and pretend you’re an SSAO for a day!
  • Bangkok Restaurant & Jazz Bar: Same with BARcelona – GREAT food but two money signs ($$). Perfect place for your mid-level/SSAO mentor to take you! Plus, jazz! Only a 17-minute walk!
  • The center city mall is also nearby and a swell of chain and local restaurants. There are plenty of options – the ones above are just some of my favs!

Mass Ave Restaurants (1-1.8 miles away/20-38 minutes away) – check out one of Indy’s popular cultural districts! This is where the Indy Pride Parade starts every year and after RFRA the businesses all had rainbow flags in their windows. It’s a bit bougie (all two money signs here, folks) and definitely is popular with the ‘young professional/hipster crowd that loves pay $10 for trendy tacos’ crowd. If that’s you, woohoo! If not, (like me!) there are lots of other cool spots.

  • Forty-Five Degrees: Do you love half-off sushi? Come here anytime on Sundays! Or, no matter what day you come, the sushi is good, the drinks are strong, and their salad dressing is thebomb.com
  • Bazbeaux Pizza: First, it sounds like a French word (even tho it’s not) so you could eat here to quell the jealousy in your heart from folks kicking it at #ACPA16 in Montreal. Second, the pizza is really, really good. Don’t get a boring pizza (like pepperoni – simple pies aren’t great here). I recommend the Mediterranean. It’s so good your tastebuds will do a dance of joy.
  • Sub-Zero Ice Cream: Do you like ice cream, SCIENCE, and an ability to have dairy-free ice cream treats? This place has all of that! Pick your ingredients and they Hogwarts it together to make your own specialized ice cream. And by Hogwarts, I mean liquid nitrogen. #science
  • AVOID: Bakersfield (‘street tacos’) and The Eagle (‘soul food/southern’). I’m not a fan of any places own by White mini-restaurant moguls who use the recipes of other cultures to make a profit (#somanymoneysigns), especially when we already got kickass latino (so.many.places!) and soul food (Kountry Kitchen!!) restaurants.
  • DO: Visit non-food places like Global Gifts (fair trade from around the world!), Silver in the City (always vote the #1 local shop!), the Small Mall, Midland Arts & Antiques Market (I bought a gavel there once. Just because), Indy Reads Bookstore (it’s a nonprofit and funds literacy programs!), and many other local shops!

Interested in a long walk and/or driving to a destination?

  • Panorama Grill: Want some awesome Dominican food? Or maybe middle eastern food? Have both! Only 1.3 miles away (26 minute walk) and right across the street from our amazing central library is this food fusion place. I wasn’t a huge fan of the hummus but the DR food is on point. The mofongo provides a party in my mouth!
  • Kountry Kitchen Soulfood Place: PRESIDENT OBAMA WAS HERE. And for $10 you can eat your little heart out on the finest fried chicken in the city + sweet tea, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, etc. Go here. You will thank me. It is only 3 miles away  on 19th/N College- 9 minute drive or 51 minute walk (actually – you might want the walk leading up to this meal!)
  • Mama Irma’s: Either a 15-minute bike ride or fairly quick drive to Fountain Square, and you can eat some AMAZING PERUVIAN FOOD. Plus owner Hilda Cano is always around and so friendly. If you’re in this area, walk around to the many other restaurants, bars, and shops, including some of my faves: comics and geekery at Hero House Comics (this is where my paychecks go!), play board games at Game Paradise, coffee and art at Funkyard, and so much more!!
  • You have to drive 20 minutes to the International Market District aka Lafayette Square area. Ethiopian, Cuban, Afro-Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Peruvian,Chinese, Greek, Vietnamese, etc. Check out the website or scan the Yelp results for this area.

Like what you read? Have a suggestion? Tweet me at @NikiMessmore! I may write up a few more recommendation lists (coffee, drinks, breakfast, outdoors, etc), so surely feel free to propose a topic.

Hope to see you at #NASPA16!

***

For more guides on Indy, check out these NASPA-related blogs + Indy resources

How “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel turned into the “Bill Willingham Show” ( Part 1/3)

How “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel turned into the “Bill Willingham Show”
A Full Report on the Less Than Friendly Side of GenCon 2015
By Niki Messmore, M.S. Higher Education & Student Affairs

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

You know what’s the perfect way to moderate a “writing women friendly comics” panel? To have a man interrupt every woman that speaks and then center the conversation on himself.

At least, that’s how the “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at GenCon 2015 happened, with moderator Bill Willingham (writer and artist).

I know that if he is reading this, Bill Willingham may bristle at this introduction. He stated to The Mary Sue in an interview earlier this year that he bristles when conversations start off in an accusatory tone. Yet considering how he began Thursday’s panel, I think he can take it.

This is a report detailing the “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at GenCon, hosted by the Writer’s Symposium, and resulting in quite a bit of press. I attended the panel, took detailed notes, spoke to both Bill Willingham and Marc Tassin (head of Gen Con’s Writer Symposium), and conversed with folks on Twitter.

Oh yeah – and I’m also the woman who called out to Bill Willingham at the panel, interrupting him and pointing out his consistent interrupting.

GenCon 2015: "Writing Women Friendly Comics" panel

GenCon 2015: “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel. L-R: Willingham, Ha, Pete, Zub, Roberson, Dawson

INTRODUCTION
This following report will cover the panel, provide background information on his this panel happened, Twitter talk, and will include some commentary. I hope to provide an account of what occurred with integrity, since there are quite a few folks who don’t believe the article The Mary Sue (TMS) published on Friday: “[UPDATED] Dissenting Opinions May Occur: Some Thoughts on Yesterday’s Troubling “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel”. I warn you, my report is over 6,000 words so I’ve broken it up into several posts (links will be included). But I didn’t want to leave anything out. If you like, I worked everything into headings by topic so if you are skimming you have an easier time of it.

If you have any questions about who I am, why I’m writing this, and why you can trust my word, see the FAQs.

Disclaimer: “Quotation marks” = direct quote. Ellipses (…) mean I couldn’t write fast enough to capture everything and I’ll put the quote in context. Since I was taking notes, I was not able to notate everything that was said but I do stand behind what I captured. Placing something in [brackets] means I, as the writer, add in context to the quote. As much as necessary I include hyperlinks to back up my references and give the reader the option to do further research. When there is a large amount of dialogue, I’ll write it out in a more-so script format that journalistic/research piece because this is a blog and already this report is long enough. Finally, I separate my commentary from the account to provide the reader with an breakdown of all the going-ons; it gets sassier as the report continues.

SYNOPSIS
In case you don’t want the detailed notes, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Bill Willingham (comic writer and artist) worked with the Writer’s Symposium at Gen Con to establish a comic writing track, and he organized a panel called “Writing Women-Friendly Comics”
  2. The description for the panel gets published in May. It is written in such a way that it’s clear that males are the intended audience for the panel. When women are described akin to aliens (what comics do they like and it is even possible to please them?) and the text reads “Are you damned no matter what you do? Is it a good idea to try to write to a specific readership?”, well that is clearly not the way you would write if you expected women to attend. Following it up with a snippy “Note that this isn’t a Women in Comics panel. Dissenting opinions may occur” meant Willingham was immediately on the defensive and this women-friendly panel ain’t sounding friendly to women.
  3. Also in May, it is revealed that all the panelists are male. The Mary Sue runs an article and folks are rightfully outraged. Women creators volunteer as tribute and the panel is integrated.
  4. The panel occurs at Gen Con. The panelists are lovely but Bill Willingham as moderator has a clear agenda. He does not want to acknowledge that identity makes an impact when telling a story and he consistently interrupts women on the panel and in the audience.
  5. I called him out towards the end, interrupting him from the crowd. Another woman did as well. Bill is very displeased and doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong.
  6. The next day I speak to Bill. He’s “said all that needs to be said” yesterday and doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. He follows up a day or so later tweeting his official response on the panel, and it’s a YouTube video of dancing baby girls.
  7. I also spoke the organizer of the Writer’s Symposium to express my concern and learn how this oversight happened. It was a great conversation and this report will go further into it.
  8. I and other folks who were there tweeted about it; Gail Simone and others picked up on it (a Storify of tweets I sampled can be found here; quite a bit of outrage). The Mary Sue wrote a follow-up and quoted attendees along with reactions from the two women panelists. At least one bookstore, Tubby & Coo’s in New Orleans, have boycotted Fables due to Willingham’s mad mod skills (mad, as in not cool but he literally made folks mad).

BACKGROUND – BEFORE GENCON
On July 23, 2015, The Mary Sue (TMS) broke the story that GenCon (North America’s largest gaming convention) would be hosting a panel titled “Writing Women Friendly Comics” and that the panel was all men. This was to be hosted by the “Writer’s Symposium” (WS), which is a speculative fiction writing conferences in its 21st year and sponsors over 140 hours of programming at GenCon. They have different tracks and this year was the first “coming writing track”.

Considering that The Mary Sue and others had written articles on Denver Comic Con’s “Women in Comics” panel with all men in May 2015, the all-male panel was certainly a *headdesk* moment. However, that same day, Marc Tassin (the one-person show of WS), stated that TMS’s article had multiple women reach out to him to be on the panel. Hooray!

NEXT – Part 2

PS: I know this is a fairly long blog series, so please just listen to Marko from Saga (Vaughn/Staples – aka they created one of the greatest series of all time)

saga please keep reading

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

#BillFriendlyComics – Panel Transcript with notes (2/3)

Part 2/3 covering “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at 2015 Gen Con, with moderator Bill Willingham.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

THE PANEL
Featured on the panel were (in order of seating, L-R):
Bill Willingham (Fables), moderator and organizer
Gene Ha (Top Ten), panelist
Alina Pete (Weregeek), panelist
Jim Zub (Samurai Jack), panelist
Chris Roberson (iZombie), panelist
Delilah S. Dawson (Monkeybrain Comics, Hit), panelist

Identity, especially when speaking on identity issues, matters. Identity influences our experiences and perspectives. Therefore, based on self-identifying statements, bios, and observations (forgive me if I am incorrect and notify me to make corrections), the panel consisted of three White males, one Asian American man and son of Korean immigrants, one multiracial woman of Native American and White descent, and one White woman. No identifying information on sexuality, gender identity, disability, or class were provided.

WRITING WOMEN FRIENDLY COMICS – THE PANEL HAPPENS!
I arrived to the panel apprehensive but in good spirits. I chatted with some other women in line and found out that most of us had heard of the panel thanks to The Mary Sue (TMS). In fact, according to Tassin, that article increased registration for the Writer’s Symposium (WS). While I was indeed apprehensive due to how the panel was originally set-up, I felt hopeful since WS had accepted new women panelists so openly.

It starts.

The first thing that moderator Bill Willingham said?

“This is NOT a women in comics panel…A certain rabble-rousing website [The Mary Sue] with no journalistic integrity whatsoever tried to redefine this as a women in comics panel…”

I was taken aback. What a sharp-tongued remark. This was certainly not a friendly way to begin a panel discussing women friendly comics. It’s even more surprising because although TMS compared this panel to Denver Comic Con’s “Women in Comics” panel they never called it that. Also ironic is Willingham provided an interview to TMS just a few months ago. I suppose TMS had integrity when they were giving positive publicity.

The rest of the panelists introduced themselves. Zub even said “when I heard there were not going to be any women on this panel I wanted to say ‘let’s not have it” and he was glad that there were now women panelists.

After introductions, Willingham followed up with stating that “I wrote this without trying to appeal to any audience…” and that he was here because he’s “been accused” of writing women friendly comics; providing rationale for his presence. He asked panelists if they try to appeal to different audiences in their work.

Roberson stated “Was iZombie designed to be women friendly? I kind of had an agenda. I’m quietly an angry progressive. I was intentional in constructing a cast that was representational of America…It was a little intentional…there are no straight white men [in my story].” He spoke a bit more on that.

Willingham moved from that question to addressing the audience. He asked for three women of what makes women friendly comics. Woohoo! What a kickass way to start things off! Women in the audience responded that they like comics where the woman has agency, where she’s not just a sidekick, and more.

Willingham followed up with audience members, seeking to figure out what exactly makes a comic woman friendly. He stated that he wanted “to construct the panel because that was the topic at the time, which is women friendly comics…”

Zub added how there are similar problems with kid’s books as well, and gave the example of how boys are taught not to empathize with female protagonists and that this carries on in their readings.

Wllingham: “…so are the rules [to writing women friendly comics]”?”

Zub: “I don’t think there should be rules. We shouldn’t pander – just not sexualize people [and do stereotypes].”

Willingham followed up by asking Delilah S. Dawson what was women friendly for her. She spoke of loving Wonder Woman as a kid and later as an adult walking into a comic store. She described her experience of scanning the comic book covers and how the featured women were over-sexualized. “Spiderwoman not for me…Wonder Woman not for me…and then I saw Saga with a woman breast feeding and said THATS FOR ME!” Essentially, the way that women in comics were over-sexualized was a major turn-off.

Willingham pushed back at Dawson, interrupting and saying “Are you representative of all women?”

Dawson seemed a bit surprised at that comment and stated “No! I said it was right for me.”

Then Willingham says that “yes, that’s [women] a broad demographic”

…and then Willingham added an anecdote of how a couple women enjoyed more of his erotica work; presumably working to argue that over-sexualized female characters can be appreciated by women.

Commentary: BILL. REALLY? So he speaks over a woman’s experience of disliking how so many comic characters are over-sexualized by throwing out a minor anecdote of how some women actually like that sort of thing. This is a covert act of sexism, to discount a marginalized perspective by overshadowing it with an anecdote of how ‘but actually you’re wrong.” Bill, if you wanted a panel on “Writing Women Friendly Comics” maybe you shouldn’t, ya know, actually discount what the women on your panel say and actually, ya know, LISTEN TO THEM.

Thank goodness for Roberson, who continued the panel stating “…this is why it goes back to the representation thing. I am a straight white middle-class man. I want to make the writing representative of the world but I don’t want to speak for other people.”

Commentary: This is a GREAT RESPONSE! Nice male allying action, Chris Roberson.

Willingham doesn’t get it. “Why can’t you speak for people?”

Ha jumps in, providing an example of the film “City of God” which is an Indian film and takes place in India. It was well-received in India but American audiences became too conscious of it and didn’t like the negative portrayals of India. In an attempt to support India, they denounced the film and encouraged people not to see it. Meanwhile, Indians in India were confused and wanted overseas audiences to watch the film and support its revenue. Ha explains that this is an example of why you cannot speak for other people – you don’t actually understand what they want or need.

Zub adds on. “You have to be careful, not to speak for other people…” His Japanese comic “Wayward” takes place in Japan. They work to maintain social consciousness of their story. Zub’s co-writer is raising a family there and they have a scholar to read over and give feedback. Zub states “there is value that we can tell a good character story” and describes how Japan has embraced the book – “and it’s not like they don’t have comic books.”

But “…we used to treasure outside views”, responds Willingham.

Alina Pete speaks up and comments on Warpath, Marvel’s Native American hero, and his very stereotypical outfit. She adds that “if you’re part of an underrepresented group you feel happy to at least be included, even if it is done poorly” and discusses the concept of appropriation (see: cultural appropriation). She states that appropriation is “bad”.

“Why?” Willingham is curious why appropriation is bad.

Pete gives the example of a writing about a Lithuanian ditch digger. She could write about a character who is a Lithuanian ditch digger, but she doesn’t know that experience. It’s very likely that a real Lithuanian ditch digger would read it and say ‘that’s not my experience’ and a slim chance that they would think it’s like their experience. That is why appropriation is bad (and speaks to the other panelists describing why you can’t try to speak for other people).

Willingham cuts in again, asking if people knew who wrote “Arabian Nights”. The panelists respond it was a French guy and Willingham is gleeful and says yes, a French guy. He describes how great the story is and that we have this story because of an outside voice.

Commentary: Bill incorporates white supremacy here – as in, he is working to uphold white voices above people of color by using this example to allow for white voices to tell the stories of people of color. Check your facts, Bill. Arabian Nights was NOT WRITTEN BY A FRENCH AUTHOR. It was translated by Antoine Galland into French from Syrian and other texts. Galland is not a trustworthy translator, as he added several tales not included in the original text and his Arabian Nights includes negative portrayals of Arab society and Africans that colored the lens through which Europe saw the people of these lands. So quite honestly, this is actually a great example of why people should not write about the experiences of people/societies with different identities without a great deal of research (if they write it at all) because it perpetuates systemic oppression. Great job, Bill!

However, then the BEST PART OF THE ENTIRE PANEL HAPPENED.

#LikeABoss

#LikeABoss (ps: so sorry I have an iPhone 4 and the photo is fuzzy!)

Willingham finished up his lecture with “Is appropriation bad? I bristle at that.” He goes on to say that if it was bad, “the sin of bad writing” will make sure it is not successful, evoking a capitalist argument.

Dawson jumped in. “…I don’t want to be that person but that’s because you’re a white dude! You have privilege.”

Commentary: Yesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. The entire audience responded with enthusiasm – up to this point there were many frustrated and angry faces.

Sputtering, Willingham responds. “I don’t think being a white dude is a crime!”

Dawson: “I don’t think so either – I married one!”

Commentary: Omg yesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss

Willingham: And I don’t think it’s [being a white male] a disqualification!

Willimgham then gave an example of a white dude anthropologist who learned Mayan things or something. To be honest, he rambled. The audience was mostly full of confused faces. Essentially he was comparing a white male anthropologist and a young Mayan girl, the former speaks English and the latter does not. If the white male anthropologist writes a book on it, that makes him an authority because the girl can’t write on it.  Willingham said “And we have someone who can’t really speak to it, who is the authoritarian here?”

Commentary: The Mayan girl. Duh. An outsider can never truly know the experience of a situation if they cannot, have not experienced it. Bill is really on some white supremacist bullshit if he thinks that a white man can write better on an indigenous society than the indigenous people themselves.

Zub spoke next to the concept of listening to other voices outside one’s identity. He said his wife really helped him grow to understand women’s issues and experiences. “My wife has been giving me insight…she says ‘please give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.’ I look at her and think god dammit, you’re so right. I do feel with a story I can write well but I take care so I don’t assume my opinion takes precedent.”

Commentary:  PRAISE BE TO JIM ZUB’S WIFE! “Please give me the confidence of a mediocre white man”, indeed! Perhaps after this panel it should be changed to “Please give me the confidence of Bill Willingham”. And way to go, Jim, listening to women’s opinions and taking it to heart!

“I don’t like the generalization!” Willingham is unhappy with Zub’s comment. Things are feeling tenser by the minute, with each interruption and denial of experiences and perspectives that Willingham delivers.

Pete responds to Willingham by sharing her story. Pete: “I am half native and my sister is fully. We have different experiences due to color. I walk into a store [and everything’s fine]…and she gets security on her.” Pete goes on to describe how people of color can’t talk back to authority, mentions police brutality, and other examples.

Commentary: All the love to Alina Pete for further introducing intersectionality to the conversation and sharing her experiences! I was very impressed that she spoke on Native American issues and also issues faced by other racial minority groups. It is important that this happens, for too often discussions on women usually equate to leaving all other marginalized identities out of the scenario. Again, this is why representation matters. A person with a multiracial background can speak to their experience and are also more likely to talk about race issues than a white person (note: this is a burden an unfair to them at the same time to always have to be the person to bring race up).

Then, the most “what the fuck” comment occurs:

Willingham: But “the most homogenous white group is the Appalachian and why aren’t they running the place?”

Bill, stop. This is getting embarrassing.

Commentary: What Willingham attempts to argue here is that the people of Appalachia are all white (which actually isn’t completely true) and are also in extreme poverty. So, he’s arguing that if white people are so supreme, then why are white people in Appalachia without power? Oh Bill.  This is almost a comical lack of critical thinking. There’s this thing called intersectionality, as in a human being has many intersecting identities. Race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status – these and more all affect how human beings move through the world. White people can totally have white privilege and experience discrimination due to poverty or other issues. People who perpetuate white supremacy enjoy using the people of Appalachia as a strawman argument against the concept of white privilege. But again, here is Bill trying to speak for a group that he’s not a member of – the people of Appalachia are not asking to be your strawman argument, Bill.

Anyways, that Appalachia comment got the audience very riled up – there were annoyed murmurs and rustles as folks turned in the seat to see how others were reacting. A half-dozen audience members raise their hands in the air.

Roberson speaks up, describing him as progressive, anti-racist, and more. He said “and while I am not overtly sexist I did realize I wrote male protagonists with last name and women always first name [i.e., more respect is given to males and women are treated as ‘girls’]….And I found I would do it in comic panels…” Roberson worked to share the concept that privilege limits our lens and a person can perpetuate sexism without consciously realizing it.  He stated, amidst his explanation of his privilege, “I am the product of a sexist society.”

Commentary: Um hai Chris Roberson, many shiny gold ally stars for you. That is a TERRIFIC RESPONSE! It’s wonderful when men help to explain the concept of male privilege and sexism to other men, as people with privilege statistically listen better when other privileged folks discuss oppression. Yes, we are ALL products of a sexist society. When we recognize that, we gain awareness and we can work on taking sexist actions and language out of our day-to-day lives and work towards making society less sexist.

Now Willingham takes questions.

There were many hands up and Willingham selects a younger white male audience member standing in the back. There are murmurs of dissent – after this people were rather outraged that the first person Willingham allows questions at a “writing women friendly comics” panel is a white male. LoLz.

The audience member defers; he clearly didn’t think he had it right. Willingham responds that overall he was there first. As an observer at the panel, I’m honestly not quite sure but I do think it speaks something that the audience member recognized that perhaps he was not actually the first one to raise his hand. Who knows.

This audience member? Amazing.

He states that he identifies as a person who is disabled and that he is on the autism spectrum, among other things. He stated “historically the disabled community has not been able to speak for themselves…and I think that speaks to how communities – disabled, women, black, [etc] and how we feel. We’ve seen it done over and over how it’s done in a paternalistic way.” The audience member really is trying to support this idea that people with privilege need to question whether they are the best ones to write stories involving marginalized groups. Fantastic! Issues of disability and ableism are far too often overlooked in discussions on media representation.

Zub follows up with “there are so few times to tell these stories” and we don’t give them to the communities to tell them. He provides an example of when he was asked to pitch a black superhero (he wouldn’t say who) writing project and didn’t understand why he was asked and questioned the publisher.

Willingham: “Should we get the best female that’s available or just any female…?” He’s clearly struggling with the idea that identity plays a role in who and how stories are written. In fact, the whole panel feels, at this point, like it is meant to personally educate Willingham on how to write women friendly comics.

Ha talks about writing a story on two white sisters and how he did his due diligence by talking to the daughters of friends to try to get into the mindset.

Commentary: It is awesome that the panelists are trying to educate Willingham on these issues. It just sucks that this panel Willingham created is so self-serving, as he agitates the audience.

Now Willingham asks for a second audience question. He calls on a woman in a white necklace.

Audience member: “Going back to misappropriation, I too am in a tribe and am light skinned. Their experiences are far different…” She speaks about how her grandmother worked to ‘pass’ as light-skinned and Bill interrupts her.

Willingham: “I know there have been blacks trying to pass as white did that happen to Native Americans too?”

Commentary: Bill, it’s GREAT that you want to know that. Really. But there’s this thing called Google. This woman of color is not here to educate you.

Audience member responds to his question and continues. “We have a lot of white people who follow our tribes and exotify us—”

Willingham: “sure, saying they are 1/32…”

Commentary: At this point, pretty much everyone in the audience wanted Bill to shut up. A moderator is meant to moderate the panelists and ask questions, not talk over 50% of the time, interrupt the panelists (definitely the women; the men as well but not as much) and the women audience members. A moderator is not meant to ask questions and then answer all of them too. SIGH.

Audience member discusses all the “wise Indian” articles and memes that go around the internet and how they were written by white women trying to win contests in Reader’s Digest.

Pete talks, seconding this concept.

Audience member: “…there’s a lot of disingenuous when white people write our stories…I’m fine with white people writing Native American stories if they reach out to the tribe…”

Willingham: “There’s not a thing I disagree with that…” and then he goes on to talk about a story he wrote; something about a Chinese person.

Commentary: Honestly I and the rest of the audience were confused. I could not keep track of Bill’s anecdote. I really feel like he just was trying to give examples of how he as a white male could write any type of story and it would work, and he almost came off as desperate to gain approval for this. Like he wanted the rest of us to be “Why, of course, Bill! You can write anything! You’re so great! It’s totally not racist or sexist, the things you do!” Give me the confidence of a mediocre white man, indeed!

Audience member talks about how people can do research.

Willingham: “…that’s what they did, was read..”

Pete: “Wouldn’t it be better if they read that up and then fostered that author?”

Commentary: Yesssssssssssssssssssss Alina Pete! That’s the big problem in media. Privileged identities think they can play Pokemon and “Catch ‘em All!”, i.e. catch all these exotic and different experiences and then write about them – and PROFIT FROM THEM. Our society would be much better if we strove for authenticity and supported people with marginalized identities on how to foster their talent so they can tell their own stories, instead of someone with no personal understanding distorting experiences in their work.

Willingham: “No other person would have written that story.”

What Willingham said is an incorrect answer. Not "lying" perchance, but I bet Saga's Lying Cat would have something to say...

What Willingham said is an incorrect answer. Not “lying” perchance, but I bet Saga’s Lying Cat would have something to say…

Commentary: At this point, Willingham is truly pushing an agenda that promotes privilege. He desperately wants to prove that his methods are excellent and require no questioning. It’s quite sexist and racist of Willingham to presume that no other person could have written that story. Having a white penis doesn’t make you God, Bill. You can’t tell all the stories. You have a limited perspective as a white cis male human in a society that values white people, men, and cisgender folks above others. And that’s okay. We all have perspectives that are limited to our experiences and identities. Just stop trying to appropriate the stories and experiences of other people without critical thought.

Wllingham approved the third and final question. He selected the woman behind me who I had been chatting with in line.

The third audience member follow’s up on Willingham’s previous question earlier in the panel of whether it was better to hire good female writers or just any female writer. There is a lot of sexism within that question/statement that Willingham stated (the notion that only a few good female writers exist when it’s more likely that Willingham’s lens is sexist and he doesn’t give credit to many people outside his perspective), and while she doesn’t explicitly say that, she does elaborate that in this day and age there are plenty of women writers.

Willingam interrupts. Again.

I SPEAK UP. I had been growing incensed at Willingham’s behavior this entire panel.

I called out “Could you please let her speak? You keep interrupting the women on the panel and in the audience!”

Willingham looks flabbergasted. Hard to say why. Perhaps it was because I was interrupting him, or questioning his authority, or honestly surprising him because he didn’t realize his behavior this panel was awful. Or maybe a mix of all of this.

Willingham: “I respectfully disagree.”

He goes on to argue against my assertion and then just looks at me (I sat third row, on the end, almost directly in front of him) and goes “Really?” with a squint and scrunched-up face. I respond affirmatively. Willingham just looks angry. I’m not quite sure what else he said but Gene Ha began to talk.

However, as Ha begins to speak, Willingham interrupts him.

The audience is quite unhappy.

A woman in the second row on the opposite side of me shouts to point out that Willingham keeps “interrupting women, and now minorities!” In my account on The Mary Sue, I mistakenly identified her as a woman of color, but I realize I was looking at the woman sitting near her (hard to see from my perspective. This woman has identified herself on Twitter and in The Mary Sue comments as Jamie Isfeld (@jamieisfeld), a writer for Winnipeg is Nerdy.

Willingham’s ‘aghast’ face is quite comical when you realize the irony of him hating to be interrupted.

Ha continues what he was trying to talk about – that one needs to talk to the women in the communities to gain insight.

Willingham still isn’t buying it. He challenges Ha’s ideas by saying …” but what if I really wanted you but nope, you’re not qualified” due to Ha’s identity, and giving an example of writing about a military experience.

Ha has a really beautiful moment where he discusses how he could interview someone at a deep level to try to gain all the insight he could on how to write a character from a different background, or that person with the insight could write the story themselves.

Willingham provides another example – this time it was on a WWII Ice Carrier and what if he found it, does he just get someone else to write about it?

Reactions in the room...

Reactions in the room…

Reactions in the room...

Reactions in the room…

Reactions in the room...

Reactions in the room…

Commentary: Willingham is like a pitbull, clinging relentlessly to his tired ideals. Except, pitbulls are cuddly and not sexist or racist.

Ha responds but I honestly tune out at this time. Willingham is just desperately seeking a stamp of approval to do whatever he wants.

All of a sudden, time is up. Willingham ends the panel. The audience grumbles. Roberson quickly shouts out tips for writing and Pete informs the audience to forget publishers and the option to self-publish exists.

The panel didn’t go as expected, but the rest of the panelists: you were wonderful, and thank you.

deadpool awesome

~FIN~

NEXT – Part 3

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

#BillFriendlyComics: Follow-up (3/3)

Part 3/3 covering “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at 2015 Gen Con, with moderator Bill Willingham.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

FOLLOW-UP
I tweeted about my experience the following morning (Friday) and began working on this blog post. I gave a quote to The Mary Sue, but I was not comfortable with writing a report documenting this panel without first speaking to Willingham or The Writer’s Symposium. I saw via a quick internet search that the former has previous documented issues with women and minorities via his comics and public talks. Clearly Willingham’s past issues haven’t affected his popularity. It’s likely that this report won’t do that either. However, if I am going to publicly decry someone on the internet, I like to provide an opportunity for meaningful dialogue first. My ultimate goal is to work towards ending sexism, and I have a better chance of doing that if I dialogue first with the people responsible for creating a sexist environment.

bill willingham

FOLLOW-UP WITH BILL WILLINGHAM
I attended another “Writer’s Symposium” panel on comic writing with Willingham moderating. It was remarkable how much more subdued he was, although he still took up most of the air time. Bill, you just need to stop moderating. You’re not very good at it – you enjoy giving your own opinion too much.

I waited to speak to Willingham after the panel, even giving him directions to the restaurant that Zub was telling him about; they were going to have dinner that night.

I greeted Willingham (I was the last person waiting at that point; his assistant was the only other person there) and asked if he wanted to have a dialogue on what happened at the panel yesterday.

“I think I said all that needs to be said.”

I try to talk to him, because it was a pretty dismissive response that he gave me.

Willingham speaks a bit more about the panel.

“…That thing about me interrupting people was hogwash!”

I allow myself a small smile. The day before I was dressed in regular clothes. Today I was dressed in a cloak and fortune telling outfit. I guess he didn’t recognize me?

“That was me, actually.”

He pauses (surprise!), and then proceeds to say “Do you get how moderating works? You have to interrupt people to make sure they don’t dialogue too long.”

“Yes, but you really weren’t letting people talk.” I decline to ask Willingham if he actually understands how moderating works, because observation shows he clearly doesn’t. I also think about the linguistic research that shows how men perceive women to speak more often than they actually do and how men are prone to interrupt women in order to demonstrate power and status (read up on it: source1, source2, source3…).

Willingham responds by saying he really didn’t interrupt or talk that much.

“I kept track of how much you spoke”; I took careful notes.

This conversation is going nowhere. He doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. Ah, to have the confidence of a mediocre white man

I don’t know how to end this experience. But I hold out hope. “Okay, well I just wanted to offer the chance to talk.”

“I think I said all that needs to be said.”

Yep, you sure did. You sure did.

We parted ways. Hey, at least I tried.

genconWS

 

 

 

FOLLOW-UP WITH MARC TASSIN, ORGANIZER OF GENCON’S WRITER SYMPOSIUM
The day of the panel (Thursday) I had tweeted to GenCon’s Writer Symposium (WS) with a question on if I could arrange to talk to Bill Willingham. Tassin responded and gave a contact email so I could share my concerns with him. I emailed Friday morning and then Friday afternoon, after I spoke to Willingham, I approached Marc at the WS tables.

He greeted me warmly and invited to me sit with him at the back of the open author’s room to speak privately. I appreciate him doing this – critique is not easy to swallow and as a man, I wonder if he was worried at me being an angry or hysterical woman. Of course, I was apprehensive about meeting him as well – how could I be sure he, as a man who was in charge of putting Willingham on that stage, support my concerns and work to make sure they don’t happen again?

We had a promising forty-five minute talk. Here are some take-aways, separated by subject for the folks who don’t have time to read this incredibly long report and just need to scan:

Who is Marc Tassin? What is the Writer’s Symposium?
Tassin is a one-person show. This was his 4th year organizing GenCon’s The Writer’s Symposum.

Why is GenCon even hosting a comic writing track? That’s for Comic Con!
Tassin is a fan of comics but his realm is fiction writing, as that’s what WS is really geared towards. Somehow he got connected to Bill Willingham, who agreed to be on a WS panel. Willingham was enthused about a comic writing track and agreed to plan it. Tassin took the opportunity of Willingham’s perceived expertise (I say perceived because while he’s a popular comic creator he was not an expert on the panel we are discussing). Essentially, it was delegated to Willingham. However, Tassin said “the buck stops with me” and takes full responsibility as the person in charge for what happened.

Why a “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel? And why no women??
If you read the beginning of my account of the panel, you saw that Willingham wanted to do the topic because women in comics was a trending item at the time. Tassin spoke to me about how he envisions the diversity of WS to grow every year so it becomes a richer experience as it provides many different perspectives.

Tassin wrote about the process for selection panelists on his website addressing the all-male panel. Essentially, they had about 50/50 invites to male and female creators. The men who received the invitations responded affirmatively but the women did not. I addressed the issue that only four women were invited and one can’t only ask the busiest women in comics. Tassin stated that since the male panelists had Eisner awards, he wanted all the panelists to be at that level in their career, speaking to experience of how difficult it can be to be relatively inexperienced on a panel compared to the other panelists.

In regards to the confusion that Gail Simone expressed on Twitter, Tassin stated that it was a third party who asked her at a convention and she stated that she couldn’t do the panel.

Tassin decided not to cancel the panel when there were no women because he thought the topic was important and hoped if there was audience participation it could work.

From how I see it, Willingham asked people he knew well (thanks to Twitter and in person, I’ve seen him engage with at least 2 of the male panelists in a friendly manner) and that’s probably why those folks said “yes”. I’m going out on a limb and thinking that perhaps Willingham doesn’t know many female creators and if so, it’s not a friendly relationship. If you only extend invitations to your friends, you’re only going to get a group of people you know – and since humans generally interact with people that have similar identities, that’s why there is not a lot of diversity on panels organized like this.

For the record, Tassin stated that he tried to get the word out and ask people for suggestions so he can invite people who he is unfamiliar with, so please send WS many suggestions for the future.

ANALYSIS OF THE PANEL
This panel really didn’t stand a chance. The contributions of the panelists were amazing and beautiful, but Willingham was the wrong person for the job. Although he is praised for writing women, he has a poor history of interacting with them at cons – and frankly, Fables has quite a bit of critique for its portrayals of women as well.

Then there’s the panel itself. It’s described as:
–    Short Description: What is a comic for women? Is it a good idea to try to write to a specific readership? Is it even possible? Explore this topic with our distinguished guests.

–    Long Description: Writing women friendly comics has gathered a a lot of attention in comics these days, and it’s become a source of much debate and controversy. What is a comic for women? Are you damned no matter what you do? Is it a good idea to try to write to a specific readership? Is it even possible? Note that this isn’t a Women in Comics panel. Dissenting opinions may occur.

Straight off the bat, this description is NOT friendly. It’s written to a male audience – take note at how it speaks of women like they are aliens. Clearly, Willingham’s audience that he had in mind were male aspiring comic creators; hammering down the irony of the description wondering if something should be geared towards a specific audience. Then the “Are you damned no matter what you do?” signifies that the hackles are already raised on the part of the organizer – it indicates frustration and bitterness at the idea that women just can’t accept what they have and move on.

The fuel behind “this isn’t a women in comics” panel is laughable. If you are discussing women friendly comics then you ARE discussing women in comics. Comics that are friendly to women feature well-written women characters and one typically finds that women writers and artists do a great job at capturing female characters. The attempt to separate themselves from the scandal at Denver Comic Con is misguided.

Finally – dissenting opinions may occur? Yup, this panel sounds hella friendly to all the ladiez.

SO WHAT NOW?
GenCon’s Writer’s Symposium
I feel confident after my discussion with Marc Tassin, the organizer behind GenCon’s The Writer’s Symposium, that he took my concerns seriously. We spoke about how to work to improve the process of finding creators and I believe that next year will be better. I recommend that everyone who wants a diverse line-up at future events email Contact@genconwriters.com with suggestions. Tassin is a one-person show and we can never expect one person to find a way to create something that speaks to everyone. GS needs support by having recommendations sent their way. I hope that Tassin works to find an advisory team who can provide solid council and ideas, as ‘many hands make light work’.

Bill Willingham
Considering that Willingham’s “official response” to all of this was to call it “hysteria” on Twitter and show a picture of twin baby girls giggling and dancing, I don’t think he gives a damn about our opinions.

So, I encourage you to make him give a damn.

  1. Tweet him using #BillFriendlyComics (since that panel was really just about comics that were friendly to him)
  2. Email the coordinators for any convention that invites him to speak and request that they not provide Willingham yet another forum to espouse views that discredit women and other minorities.
  3. And money talks. I don’t want to advocate for a boycott of his products (for complicated reasons that can be read in the FAQs) but I do advise that you recognize your options.
  4. Tell the folks running conventions to invite folks from diverse backgrounds onto their panels – even if (and especially!) if the panel is not about a specific identity/diversity talk! There are folks who are putting together lists to make your search easier! Check out Comic Book Women, the Cartoonist of Color database, or Prism Comic’s database of LGBTQ+ creators!🙂

QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, AND CONCERNS

Feel free to leave them in the comments. Don’t be surprised if I take 2 weeks to respond, as my schedule is intense this month. Please be respectful. Any rudeness, threats, or more will result in a screenshot, deletion, and (depending on the severity), reported to the FBI’s local office. Please don’t be a dick, and remember that I am an actual human being. It seems when women talk about sexism on the internet, people think it’s cool to forget what it means to be human and engage in greater savagery than beasts. So be cool, folks.

Also, see FAQs for further wonderings about who I am and why I wrote this.

deadpool cool story bro

Thanks, Wade…

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[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]