#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]

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.

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!



#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


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]

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

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.





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.

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.

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! 🙂


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…


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

#BillFriendlyComics: FAQs for the “Writing Women-Friendly Comics” Critique

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

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


Why are you writing this?
It’s exhausting to deal with an endless array of discrimination, from low-level microaggressions to harassment to laws and policies meant to exclude your identity, and more. I only have to deal with some types of discrimination because although I have marginalized identities that consistently face oppression in society, I also have privileges identities as well (woohoo, the complexities of intersectionality). Note: if you want to learn more about these terms, here are good links:

I am writing this because I am angry that marginalized voices are left out of conversations in pop culture – women, people of color, people with disabilities, LGB people, trans* individuals, veterans, low-income folks, and more. There have been quite a few foolish events (like the all-male ‘women in comics’ panel) and we honestly just need to stop this bullshit.

This “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel happened and a popular creator (Bill Willingham) turned it into a destructive mess. I am writing this report to provide evidence that a) it happened, so that b) it will hopefully not happen again. WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS.

But I LOVE Fables! And/or other Bill Willingham works!
*hands you a tissue and drink of choice* I know. It sucks when someone we really appreciative, perhaps even someone who has inspired us or who’s work helped us get through a difficult time, does something shitty and shows that they do not possess the awareness to be considerate of other people on a micro and macro scale. Don’t feel bad. We all have our “problematic favs”, aka things/people we love even when those things/people contribute to systemic oppression. I love Marvel movies so much even though they only perpetuate this idea that white cis able-bodied men are worth being heroes.

Should you stop supporting Bill Willingham’s work? That’s your call. At the end of the day, purchasing someone’s products is a stamp of approval for their work and their behavior. But on the other end, Bill isn’t the only human working on Fables or other works. His products include other people. Yet, perhaps not purchasing Bill’s works will encourage folks to not work with him, and perhaps help him to realize that uncool acts of his need to be reassessed. Or, maybe not. There are lots of ways to go on this and your purchasing is a personal choice.

Ultimately, Bill Willingham is only one part of a much larger problem – that the comic industry (like every other industry) is rooted in sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, and many other societal ills.

Whoa, that’s super intense. Why do you keep talking about sexism and racism and all that?
It’s common for folks to wave their hands away and go “it’s not that serious” when outlining issues related to identity, especially in regards to pop culture. However, in this day and age, media is so pervasive in our lives – television, internet, film, literature, and more – that it often has just as much (if not more) effect on socializing us throughout life as the people who raise us.

In the United States, one of our beloved morals is that everyone has freedom and the autonomy to make something of their life – “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. This is actually a fallacy. There are different barriers presented to people who have marginalized identities. The United States was originally designed to uphold white able-bodied straight cis Christian men – essentially upholding the values these people were taught in their European home countries. Sure, over time the U.S. has begun to recognize that people with different identities have rights as well and the country has progressed. But there are still many barriers in place.

Racism, sexism, and other ‘isms are more than blatant offenses like name calling – they are tiny decisions like speaking over a woman or not going out of one’s way to make sure women are on a panel that is supposed to talk about women.

For the current topic of comic books, while there has been progression and growing openness to creators and characters with different backgrounds, there are still plenty of barriers. So when a well-known creator at a major convention acts in this sort of manner, it just further normalizes that some voices are more important than others. This is discouraging if you’re not in the majority and results in fewer marginalized individuals to want to pursue this career and perpetuates the idea to other folks in the majority that it’s normal for a white man to speak down to women and people of color.

HOLD UP. Just who the hell are you, anyway? Why should I believe a damn thing you say?!
I’ve already read some internet comments (a foolhardy task, but I was curious) after The Mary Sue article came out and know there are people who don’t trust that the accounts were correct and also don’t believe The Mary Sue has any ethics in journalism.

I get that. Really, why should you believe someone you’ve never met before? I could be catfishing you all, mwahahaha! Except I’m not. And I ask that you believe the corroborating accounts in The Mary Sue and in my report. Too often women and other marginalized folks are not believe when they give personal accounts of their experience, even though that courtesy is often afforded to people in our society with privilege (male, white, upper-class, Christian – take your pick of identities. Oh, and ps: being privileged is not a bad thing, just a fact).

I did not expect the panel to go the way it did – I only meant to bring my 3 year old iPhone 4 (yay free phones) to take notes since my friends couldn’t intend. But when Bill started the session off as he did, I sure wish I had a better phone with more memory to record. Alas.

So, since you’re unsure if you can trust some random woman on the internet who is speaking out publicly about a favored comic creator, let me give my background:

My name is Niki Messmore. I graduated from Bowling Green State University (BGSU) with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in History. I worked for five years in the nonprofit and education sector, including time as the director of a small nonprofit that supported after-school programs for youth and other volunteer management positions. In 2014 I graduated from Indiana University with a Masters in Higher Education & Student Affairs. During this time I learned critical research skills and have written multiple research papers addressing theory, management, identity development, law, and more. Currently I work at a university in Indianapolis managing alternative break programs, supervising scholarship students, implementing campus-wide days of service events, and coordinating a first-year student community.

I have the skills and integrity to write about this event and other issues.

But you’re biased! Because you’re a woman!
What an assumption! Yes, I am a woman. But the concept of “bias” originates from watching Law & Order in how it is used in our lexicon today – like the world is a black and white courtroom. We shout that folks are biased when they speak to their experiences because we have idealized what it means to “be un-biased”. We believe that the best reports are cold Emma Frost-esque accounts where the writing is robotic and the person is a complete outside observer.

That isn’t how it works. Humans are shaped by their identity and how they have moved through the world, including what they see on TV, how they were raised, and more. We are ALL biased, if that’s the word you desire to use.

Historically, the concept of bias is most often applied to people who are already marginalized in this world – we don’t believe queer people when they discuss discrimination, we don’t believe people of color when they report police harassment, we don’t believe women when they say they’ve been raped, etc. We (society) tend to only believe it when that person is privileged, such as when a white person speaks about racism or a straight person speaks out about LGBT* issues.

What some of you in the internet world are looking for, just doesn’t exist. Don’t discard a report because it differs from your beliefs and claim ‘bias’. I have worked and reworked this report to be as clear as possible. So, read all of it again with an open mind


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


Hello, My White Brethren! Let’s Work Together to Stop Being Racist!

Greetings and salutations, my white (s)kinfolk!

Right now it’s Baltimore. Before it was New York, it was Ferguson, it was Florida, it was…everywhere. Thanks to camera phones and social media, the world has been placed on notice: #BlackLivesMatter. Police brutality is a ‘thing’. It happens quite frequently. Twenty-three years ago there were riots in L.A. after police offers beat Rodney King and thanks to advanced communication capabilities, we are finally aware of how frequently these events happen.

So let’s skip the part where you argue “Not all cops!”, #AllLivesMatter, or “White people experience racism, too!”.

Let’s go straight to the part where you say “I see there is a problem. It seems like a huge problem. I think I’m a good person. I don’t think racism is good. I’m white. But really, how am I supposed to do anything?”

doctor who _ well hello there

You’ve come to the right place, my friend! We’re going to talk about what YOU can do, right now, as a white person, to do something about racism. Woohoo!

(For a TL;DR version, just head straight to this list “11 Things White People Can Do to Be Real Anti-Racist Allies“)

Understand what Racism/Privilege is: Racism is prejudice + privilege, as defined by Dr. Beverly Tatum. Anyone can be prejudiced to someone. But only white people have privilege based on skin color in the U.S., meaning only white people have societal power.

Shhh, cease your defensiveness, friend. I know. You probably don’t FEEL like you have societal power (I’ve been there!). Maybe you’re a woman, maybe you’re queer, maybe you’re poor, maybe you’re atheist in the Bible Belt. Or maybe you have a whole bunch of the privileged identities (white, male, Christian, able-bodied, etc) but are having a hard time finding a working wage to support your family in today’s economy. As Tatum said, “It is important to acknowledge that while all Whites benefit from racism, they do not all benefit equally.”

Honestly…Dr. Tatum’s work is a must-read to understanding racism, especially coming to the discussion as a white person. Here, take a moment to read some of her work. Then come back here. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Acknowledge You Grew Up & Live in a Racist Society: Eeeek. The word “racist” is ‘scary’. But don’t tune me out just yet! We’re taught all the time that racism is bad and it’s awful to be racist, but we (society) barely ever break down what that means.So first, I want you to acknowledge our society is racist.  Think about it…most of our media (TV, movies, etc) feature mostly all white people and most leading actors are white. Most of our political and business leaders are white…and I know what you might be thinking “Yeah, but that’s because people of color (POC) don’t work hard/don’t want to do those things/etc”. Nah. Now you’re instantly reverting to stereotypes about work ethic and interests. Have you ever considered that there are barriers at multiple intersections of life that prevent many folks who have been minoritized in the U.S. from certain jobs? Or consider our American lexicon – why are young black folks who ‘tear up’ a city called rioters but the it’s not a big deal when people are burning cars and creating general destruction after many sports games? We treat people of color very differently in America than we treat white people.

Understand what Systemic Racism is: This explanation will sound remarkably similar to the one above, but this is another way to explain why our society is so gosh darn racist:

Systemic racism is poison in our community well. It’s a big well – over 300 million people – and the poison has been diluted in the water. It’s still there, mind you. But in small amounts. Dispersed across so that you don’t even realize you’re drinking poison. In fact, drinking non-poisonous water tastes revolting at first because you’re not used to it. But diluted or not, this poisonous water is still there. You’re still being poisoned. Slowly.

So stop drinking the damn water.

In other words, our country was founded on racism (slavery, immigration restrictions on Chinese individuals in 1800s, the Bracero program where we used Mexican labor but barely paid for their salaries or kept safe working conditions, etc). It permeates every aspect of society. Numerous laws, policies, and leadership decisions have made it so that white people are more likely to succeed in the country – there is a system in existence.

Now, this may sound like a conspiracy theory. I doubt that, for the most part, there is not likely a real Illuminati chilling in D.C. making strategic decisions on how to make white supremacy continue every day. More likely, it is people who have been socialized (perhaps unconsciously) that white people are the status quo and they make tiny decisions that support white success. Every decision is a raindrop and eventually you get a flood until you’re drowning in racism.

racist_i am

Jane Elliot speaks on the Oprah Winfrey show

Recognize You Contribute to Systemic Racism: I hate to break it to you, but you perpetuate racism. Your actions help keep alive our racist society. Guess what? We all do it. Honestly, pretty much everyone in America, regardless of race, perpetuates systemic racism/white supremacy.

Why? Well, most of us have cell phones (as one example). The very creation that leads to grassroots organizing is a result of oversees labor where people face terrible working conditions, low pay, and much more. Our smartphones are ‘inexpensive’ because children are working in factories, because people work long hours, and much worse. The U.S. has smartphones because people of color overseas are breaking their back for you.

Most of the media we consume (tv, movies) feature white casts – by watching we are supporting with our time and dollars and reinforcing that the country wants mostly only white actors. We vote for politicians who don’t support people of color through the legislation they create. We don’t say anything when a friend makes a racist comment. Our standards of beauty include mostly people who are white with smooth hair. We buy products that are made by people of color who are not paid fair wages, which contributes to poverty.

By acknowledging our role in systemic racism and our privilege of understanding we will never experience racism, we can finally move forward from examining ourselves to try to make a difference externally.

Educate Yourself: Switch up your sources of news and also read from media that is owned & operated by communities of color (try: The Root) since white-owned media sources will have bias – that’s the result of growing up white in a society filled with racism. Read about civil rights activists, both of the past and the present – and try to read about more than just straight men. There are many people of color who also identify under other marginalized identities (queer, trans*, women, disabled) that need to have their stories learned. Listen and learn from people of color. We need to learn about their experiences if we want to try to really understand.

PLEASE read more about MLK because, my darling white brethren, we LOVE TO QUOTE MLK without really knowing context and misusing his words. It’s like “Race Talk with White People” equates to a Mad Libs game where every blank space is MLK quotes.

MLK didnt say

Read Things that Smart People Say: Whenever racial issues arise, well-meaning white folk immediately ask “How can I help to stop racism?!”. We’re fortunate that many people of color have taken the time to educate us, even though that work is exhausting. So let me direct you to this great list of “11 Things White People Can Do to Be Real Anti-Racist Allies” because it is an excellent start!

Take Action: See the list above for great ways to take action, but if you don’t want to click the link: Challenge racist views, educate other white people, talk to other white people about race, change the way of doing things in whatever arena you have control of, etc. Take individual action BUT be mindful of systemic issues. Connect with others to make a larger impact.


There really is no conclusion. This work will never be done. As white people, we are going to consistently learn more about ourselves. We’re constantly learning more about different communities of color and their different experiences. Each day brings new issues we must get educated on. Every day brings new issues we must take action on.

We’ll never be perfect. Working to end racism is…work. Work on ourselves, work on our community. We’re going to screw up. We’re going to say the wrong thing. We’re going to do the wrong thing. When that happens, acknowledge it, learn from it, move on, and do better next time.

Ultimately, there’s a lot to do. And I’m already at 1,400+ words so….time to stop here. There’s a lot I didn’t cover so please consider this a starter list. Comment and add your own thoughts.


Selecting a Student Affairs Conference Host City – Examining Ethics

Why are student affairs professionals outraged about NASPA’s 2016 conference location? And why aren’t they equally outraged about ACPA’s 2016 convention location?

Once the announcement of Indiana’s new law titled “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA); otherwise known as #SB101, was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Mike Pence (R) on Thursday, March 26th, student affairs professionals across the nation stated their concern. The reason? One of the major student affairs professional organizations, NASPA, is set to host their 2016 conference in Indianapolis next March (as is the 2015 ASCA Gehring Institute; ACUHO-I and AFA have made statements as well).

There is valid concern that the RFRA is intended to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals and the RFRA and political agenda of the state of Indiana is not congruent with the mission of student affairs. According to ThinkProgress, the RFRA  allows for “individuals who feel their religion has been burdened can find legal protection in the bill “regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.” In fact, even the Republican legislators who wrote the bill intended it to be used to turn LGBTQ individuals away from businesses and adoption agencies[link].

Please recognize that the wording of the law allows for a local business, for example, to use RFRA as a DEFENSE of their refusal to service a party due to religious concern bu that it could still proceed legally. Josh Blackman’s blog has a helpful legal analysis and Matt Anderson’s blog really breaks it down why the IN law is more threatening than other states’ RFRA laws. President Clinton signed a federal RFRA (1993) but the difference with Indiana’s law is that the term “person” can be applied to larger entities like businesses. Additionally there are 19 other states that have passed their own version of the RFRA – including states the host many higher education conventions, like Florida and Texas [link].

It is interesting that, from what this author has been told and from her recollection, there was little debate about the location of ACPA’s (the other major SA professional organization) 2016 convention in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Sure, there was concern about the cost of affording a passport and travel to a world-class city, but little concern cited for trans* individuals and undocumented individuals.

Why should travel to Montréal be a concern?

To begin with, a passport is required for U.S.-bound individuals. There are a number of undocumented folks who attend ACPA conferences that may be unable to attend (although DACA folks may be able to). For folks identifying as trans*, it is very possible that their photo and assigned gender on their passport may not match up with their preferred gender and how their present themselves. This could lead to confusion and possible malice and harassment by officials who do not understand or even are transphobic; leading to delayed travel and possible ban on travel.

The Montreal Gazette has a section of “Transgender Issues” where current news stories are posted. There have been several violent physical attacks on gay and trans* individuals in recent weeks. Canada Parliament Members (PMs) are currently debating to pass Bill C-279 that would allow gender identity to fall under protected identities but are receiving incredible resistance from folks who ultimately “don’t want a biological male in the same bathroom as their daughters’.

According to the Montreal Gazette there are multiple systemic discrimination issues against trans* individuals, such as “Article 71 in the Civil Code stipulates that in order to alter their gender marker on legal documents, trans people must have undergone “medical treatments and surgical operations” which structurally modify “the sexual organs.” Other conditions include being at least 18 years old and Canadian citizenship” [link].

Yet there is very little outrage against ACPA and Montréal.

Now, I am an ACPA all the way! It is my professional home. Of course what I love about ACPA is it encourages questioning the establishment. Right now, it is questionable why the convention is located in Montréal, where trans* and undocumented folks have difficulty with access. I don’t believe this decision can be changed at this point, so I am not advocating for that, but we need to acknowledge that even if the NASPA 2016 Conference is in a state that actively discriminates against LBGTQ folks, the ACPA 2016 Convention is in a city that actively discriminates against trans* individuals and the location bars undocumented individuals from attending.

As someone I deeply admire (or to be blunt, I fangirl all about zir; GO FALCONS), put it on Twitter; Dr. Dafina Lazarus-Stewart noted how silent folks have been on ACPA compared to how they have been on NASPA and Indiana. And wow. Yes. Already there are multiple conversations going on about how NASPA should/should not pull out of Indianapolis for 2016. There are many conversations in the “Student Affairs Professionals” group [Link 1] [Link 2] [Link 3] and even a petition for NASPA to pull out of Indianapolis (with 496 signatures as of 3/28/15).

So why is there more silence around an issue that affects trans* individuals than there is around LGBTQ individuals?

Ignorance. Bias. Hatred.

The United States is ignorant on trans* issues – even media outlets don’t know how to cover them if they even opt to cover trans* stories. Typically LGBTQ issues in the news center on marriage equality – an issue that are important, yes! But also seen as more “fluffy”; many in the community do critique marriage equality activism as not radical enough and just a more palatable topic for white middle-class/wealthy LGB individuals that doesn’t challenge systems of power.

Historically trans* issues have been ignored. Worse, many people are taught through social systems like religion, family, school, and the media to hate and fear trans* individuals – whether it is a subconscious or conscious thought.

As individuals mostly residing in the United States, the collective ignorance and lack of concern of student affairs professionals for trans* individuals and their human rights is a predictable and verifiable outcome.

Question why you weren’t concerned about ACPA’s location.

Question why, if the news about Montréal is new to you, why you weren’t aware in the first place.

If you are cisgender (you identity with the sex you were assigned at birth), examine your privilege in all of this and educate yourself. I have and I am continuing to do so – because until the T*Circle  wrote an Open Letter to ACPA and I followed up with a friend I had no idea about any of the ACPA Montréal issues affecting my trans* colleagues.

And that is a problem.

The Fear Mongering of “Student Affairs is a Small World”

Dear Student Affairs family,

I love you. I do. Granted, it’s not as much as I love The Lord of the Rings but it is more than I love Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (geek translator: still oodles and bunches of love).

But we’ve got to recognize something, especially with conference season kicking into gear: There is a culture of fear within student affairs, perpetuated by the term “Student Affairs is a small world”.

Here’s the thing: that phrase is fairly accurate. Just last night at an ACPA SCGSNP social I found myself in a group of folks knew via one degree of separation. Our field is relatively small and due to graduate school, people moving around to different institutions, professional organization work, and more, we essentially have fewer degrees of separation than Kevin Bacon (and collectively, not counting SSAO folks, we make his monthly salary).

Too often, from our campus to national settings, there are whispers of warnings about the concept of “professionalism” and a nicely-wrapped statement that boils down to: “Be professional. If you screw up, student affairs is a small world and you will never, ever get a job”.

It’s like there is a Student Affairs Santa making his/her/their list and checking it twice.

santa bot list

Student Affairs Santa Robots, taking note of that time you had 3 drinks at a conference social.

I know – some of you may be mentally protesting already. “Well Niki, it’s true. If someone doesn’t dress professional or drinks too much or acts in a certain manner or is all hooking up at a conference, people will indeed judge them (as people do) and that could negatively affect their career. It’s important we warn folks – especially graduate students and new professionals – of this so that they will be on their best behavior. We can’t control how other folks react so it’s good to play it safe.”

And I get it.

It’s like how I know student affairs systemically discriminates against minoritized folks (ex: majority of SSAOs are white men with other privileged identities) and I will, for example, inform my fellow women of this bias and help them navigate professional ventures with taking this systemic issue into account. I’m not fear mongering, I am real talking so they can advance as safely as possible in this field.

It’s difficult, however, to see the issue of student affairs’ culture of fear in regards to professional conduct in the same light.

Problematic Aspects of “SA is a Small World (after all)”

  1. Creates a “morality police”: Often the statement is meant to dissuade folks from drinking alcohol or acting in an unbecoming manner. I’m not saying “yes, let’s promote dangerous behavior, such as binge drinking” but I also think that folks are too judgmental on how they view other folks. So I see people acting like they are going to hook up after a social! Cool, dudes. Enjoy your lives – your actions do not affect me.
  2. Promotes a climate of judgement: We are human beings, and human beings often judge others, either consciously (shade!) or unconsciously (secret shade!). It’s going to happen. But by perpetuating this statement, we are making a statement that it is okay to judge someone’s behavior and let that interaction/moment affect their professional livelihood.
  3. Strikes down the concept that we, like our students are continuously developing: It’s unfair to judge someone by their actions from a past moment and assume they have not grown. So someone made an ignorant comment once or even twice – don’t act like you have been (and are) so enlightened.
  4. Perpetuates a white supremacist patriarchal heteronormative culture: Wait! Please don’t stop reading. I know these words scare a lot of folks. They are ‘mean’ and ‘student affairs isn’t mean’! But every time we talk about “Be professional” what we are really supporting is a concept of how folks should dress, act, and speak that was created in our country by wealthy white men and these professional norms still support that same group of people. Imagine, for example, that someone who you perceived to be a man was wearing high heels to a conference session. Would the thought of “that’s so unprofessional” cross your mind? Yet gender norms are unfair daily oppressions and we should allow folks to express their gender as they desire.  However, we have been taught to interpret that the word “professional” is that of a mild-mannered white man in a suit, and we judge negatively folks who live outside that image.
  5. Roots itself in hypocrisy: I think what is darkly humorous about all the “Student Affairs professionalism codes” is that we know there are definitely some senior student affairs officers (SSAOs) indulge in heavy drinking behavior. And that’s cool! You do you. We all engage in different forms of socialization/stress relief. But why do we (collectively it happens a lot, even if not within every region/campus) say things perpetuating fear of drinking to newer professionals lest someone thinks ill of them?
judging people

Just say no to judging people!

So how do I do my own work to subvert this culture of fear? When I see someone take action or look outside the norm of professionalism that I personally live, I try to remember a few things:

  1. Recognize one or a few or even multiple interactions with a human being does not define them. Humans are multifaceted awesome creatures who are continuously developing. Just because they said or did something that I disagree with does not mean I have immediate insight into their mind and spirit.
  2. Remember I’ve certainly done things that were disagreeable to others. Let’s not share secrets in a blog post, but I am not perfect. I have made and will continue to make mistakes. Judge not lest ye be judged, as one religious text summarizes.
  3. Understand that people are going to make different choices than me (dress, drinking, sex, speech, etc) and that, within reason (aka no Dexter-level or Joker-level behavior), is perfectly acceptable.

Bill and Ted have an excellent idea for a model of behavior.

I understand that we have to operate within the systems that exist. I understand that there are real consequences for folks who do not engage in the professional conduct codes. I understand that some aspects of these codes are needed for the profession.

But what I don’t understand is why we cannot have a nuanced and real dialogue of this “Student Affairs is a small world” ideology – stating it exists but also stating that it is not okay and discussing how to subvert this culture.

There are real consequences of this fear mongering – folks feeling they have to be inauthentic in behavior or dress, folks feeling like it is okay to judge others and let those perceptions limit future opportunities, and folks not engaging for fear of being judged (seen often in SA ethics or social justice discussions).

With #ACPA15 happening right now, this blog post has been on my mind as I keep hearing/reading tips on professionalism because student affairs is a small world. I’d rather we only discuss how small the world is when we are discussing networking and connecting to advance our personal selves, our students, and our field.

What are your thoughts? Send a tweet to @NikiMessmore. I’d love to hear them! I promise that I won’t judge you, either 🙂

ACPA Convention 2015 – Tampa Travel Tips (on a Budget)

TAMPA Travel Tips

I cannot wait to attend my third ACPA Convention. I have all the service-learning and social justice sessions marked on my CrowdCompass app, can’t wait to see friends and make new ones, and really am looking forward to the sun after Indiana weather!

What I’m not looking forward to? Depleting my bank account and figuring all the ‘life’ things, like eating.

Fortunately, I’m a deviously thrifty soul and am here to share some tips and information around downtown Tampa – including information on local places to visit if you do have money!


Lodging and Airfare: At this point, I’m sure you already have your lodging settled. But if you’re already thinking about your next conference, analyze the different conference approved hotels, ammenities, and costs (included accounting for possible roommates – such as this GoogleDoc!). I always recommend the Embassy Suites if you’ll have roommates because they provide a $2 coin laundry, free breakfast, free cocktails, and a mini-fridge and microwave!

Meals on a Budget

food smuggleSnack Attack: First, pack some snacks! Granola bars, cereal, etc. Anything that will make it through TSA and your luggage safely.

Publix: If you’re familiar with south, then you know Publix is an immensely popular grocery store – an it is ONLY .3 MILES FROM THE CONVENTION CENTER. Buzzfeed reviewed the best parts of Publix and their subs are delicious and affordable with Boar’s Head deli meat and prices around Subway-level.You can even order them online so they’re ready for you!

Check out the Publix #628 website information. It’s open 7/8am-10pm and their weekly ad can be found here. Pick up fresh fruit, wine, deli deliciousness, bread and peanut butter, etc!

Free Meals: Attend all the socials you are invited to! There’s nothing like a dinner of assorted hors d’oeuvres.

Restaurants within a .5 mile radius of the Tampa Convention Center

Starbucks (Embassy Suites Tampa – Downtown Convention Center): One thing you can always count on when it comes to conferences – the Starbucks line will take 3 hours on average.

Zudar’s Deli (201 W Platt St): Known for sandwiches, salads, soups, and wonderful sounding dinner platters. Moderately priced items with platters at $12-ish. [Yelp Reviews]

Four Green Fields (205 W Platt St): An IRISH restaurant (!!!!!) with sandwiches and burgers about $9 and classic dishes like Shepherd’s Pie at $14. MMM. Live music is featured March 5-7. Time to get our jig on, eh? (<—I love my Irish side). [Yelp Reviews]

Nayaka Japanese Noodles (301 West Platt Street): Their ramen is supposed to be great and it’s right next to Walgreens if you need any ibruprofren from long days of sessions. [Yelp Reviews]

Franchise Restaurants: Need a quick bite? About .5 miles north there’s Pita Pit, Jimmy Johns, and also a host of local spots with Thai, Jamaican, pizza, Spanish, coffee, and sandwiches

The Sail Pavilion (333 S Franklin St): Located right next to the convention center (across from the Mariott) and on the riverwalk, this bar opens at 2pm weekdays and 11am weekends, closing at 2am. Perhaps this is the perfect spot after late night events like the Standing Committee for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Awareness (SCLGBTA) 30th Anniversary Social on Friday or their Cabaret on Saturday (ps: tickets are still on sale!!) [Yelp Reviews].

Columbia Restaurant (801 Old Water St #1905) – one of the largest and oldest Spanish restaurants (and Florida’s oldest restaurant), this is a Tampa staple. I’m not 100% sure if I want to support since this family also owns the “Native American” inspired place Ulele (see cultural appropriation in their menu) but it’s only .3 miles away. It’s fairly pricey for a person like myself, with a lunch menu featuring $8-$12 salads, $8-$13 tapas, and entrees $10-$15. The dinner menu has $33 filet mignon and a host of other SAAO-style priced meals. [Yelp Reviews]Cafe Dufrain (707 Harbour Post Dr): Enjoy waterfront restaurants and really really fancy food, plus you haz monies? This place is for you. ++

Nearby Attractions

The Florida Aquarium (701 Channelside Dr) is a .7 mile walk from the Convention Center. Eek, tickets are $22 online/$24 in-person so this isn’t budget-friendly. For an additional $30 you can pet penguins or participate in other attractions, which is cool for you SSAO types out there 😉 [Yelp Reviews]

NHL Hockey: Tampa Bay Lightning (Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Dr): Did you know there is a professional hockey team in FLORIDA? If for any reason you’re from the north and you miss ice during ACPA, there are games 3/3/, 3/5, 3/7. Prices start at $24. If you don’t like hockey, the Harlem Globetrotters are also performing on 3/6 at the Arena!

Channelside Bay Plaza (  : This shopping center includes different retail and dining options, and is just a .5 mile walk.

University of Tampa (401 W Kennedy Blvd): Who doesn’t want to check out a college campus whilst at a higher education conference?! 🙂 Only .5 mile walk!

Tampa Museum of Art (120 W Gasparilla Plaza):Over 500 ancient Greek and Roman art pieces plus a focus on contemporary art, the 1.3 mile walk may be worth it. $10 or Fridays ‘pay-as-you-will’. [Yelp Reviews]

John F Germany Public Library (900 N Ashley Dr): Hey fellow nerds! This .8 mile walk could be fun if it means having an introvert moment to hug books!

spn - dean - i regret nothing - eating

My plan for attending my IU and BGSU socials on Friday night!!! 😉


Feel free to share your own travel tips! Tweet me @NikiMessmore with the #ACPA15 hashtag! Also, I’ll be presenting at the Genius Lab on “Surveys: Wufoo, Zoomerang, Survey Monkey & Google Forms” Saturday at 10:00am in the Convention Center-First Level West!


The 40 People You Meet at Higher Education Conferences, Part III

[View Part I]

[View Part II]

Woohoo, time for our final edition!

The Dating App User: The term ‘dating’ is relative, but not always sexy time so I’ll separate it from the type mentioned above. Grindr is always poppin’, and lesser known dating apps get a boost during conference season too. Now with Tindr, so many phones are gonna be buzzing. Let the excitement of seeing your colleagues’ naked torso photos begin!

htgawm - dating app

The Intense Networker: They’re at every session, every social, and doing private coffee dates with people. They have their small talk down to a science, with the hopes of scoring yet another business card.

Small talk networking

The Self-Esteem Queen: This person (regardless of gender) thinks very highly of themselves and has never really been criticized before. Going to their sessions means a droning lecture and very little dialogue, because don’t you realize how fortunate you are to learn from them? Daring to critique them never ends well…

everyone ele think im wonderful

The Volun-Told: They don’t want to be here, but they’re being forced to attend. Perhaps they have to recruit for new staff, their institution is a sponsor, or they’re mandated to present on work-related matters.

30 rock - stay up what fresh hell tomo

Sleazy Older Married Man Director Who Pays Extra Attention to Young Female Grad Students: Enough said.


The Presenter Tries Way Too Hard to Incorporate the Already Lame Conference Theme: Maybe one day we’ll just let go of the idea that conferences need snazzy themes. Let’s just settle on “Learning things, talking to people, and drinking” in the future.

trying too hard

The Hugger: They are just really excited to see you again, and have all the feels (x10 when drinking)!!!!!!!!!

spn - sam

The Person Who Can’t Get Lunch Alone: By the end of the night, their throats hurt from talking all day.

SPN - Lucifer - pay attention to me im bored

The Eager Beaver: It’s their first conference and THEY ARE SO EXCITED.

luna lovegood and dad dancing

Drama Kings: Gossip all day err’day! They enjoy stirring the pot and getting folks riled up.

Jane the Virgin - Dramatic

The Person with 9 Roommates: Times are tough (+people want to pocket work travel reimbursements), so better believe their hotel room is packed with people.


The Jaded Professional: They work in higher education, but they kinda hate it and pretty much everyone else working in it.

office - patience

The Professional Session Critic: Prepare to weep softly if they attend your presentation, because they will shred you with their cutting questions

judging and drinking

Social Justice Warrior: This isn’t a bad thing – we need people making our conferences more inclusive! But face it, it is one type of person you’ll find at any higher ed conference (myself, included).



The following individuals contributed a name, description, or otherwise idea/inspiration for the different types of people you meet at conferences. A few people gave ideas for multiple ones and a few people inspired various types with their comments to me; overall definitely more than half this list. Thank you, friends! ❤

  1. Kristen Abell
  2. Chad Ahren
  3. Eric Crumrine
  4. Ashley Dorris
  5. Mika Karikari
  6. Annabel Feider
  7. Alberto Gonzalez
  8. Michael Goodman
  9. Amanda Khampa
  10. Kathryn Magura
  11. Kristen Marshall
  12. Vanessa Pacheco
  13.  Kaitlyn Owens Yoder

The 40 People You Meet at Higher Education Conferences, Part II

[View Part I]

And now, the second part of our edition!

The Name-Dropper: One minute they’re telling you how they were on a bowling team with ‘”Marcia, or Baxter Mags as I call her”, the next they’re talking about how Vasti Torres made them cry in their grad school interview but now they’re total research besties.

mean girls - father is inventor of toaster strudel

The Knowledge Nerd: They’ve got the sessions plotted out on their calendar and are taking notes the entire time.

Modern Family - cant wait to learn

The Twitter BFF: Surprise, just because you follow each other on Twitter doesn’t mean you’re BFFs now.

let me love you

The Fashionista: So much color coordination and cuteness, you spend more time checking out their outfit than listening to the presenter.

fashionThe Sexually Frustrated: All they want from a conference is some sexy time. What else are hotel rooms paid for by their university for?

30 rock - sex person

The Avoider: Student Affairs is a small and often incestuous world. For some folks, conferences equate to avoiding ex-lovers, people they hated in grad school, people they hated at their last work place, etc.

adventure time- hide

The Drunk: Open bars are a devilish temptation…not to mention one of the most popular ways to bond/network in higher education is by drinking.

drinking bridesmaids

The Swag Hag: This person is all about that free swag, whether it’s hotel pens, stickers, free food at conference socials, or the sponsers’ hall.

swag hag

The Desperate Job Seeker: You said “hello” to them in the lobby and next week they email you asking for intel at a job in your department or a LinkedIn reference.

mariah - obsessed

The Blogger: How do you know if someone has a blog? Don’t worry – they’ll tell you.


The Vacation-er: You’ll find them by the pool, by the beach, heading to nearby amusement parks, or engaging in other adventures. If they’re smart, they’ll follow along on the conference’s Twitter backchannel (i.e., hashtag) to see what folks are saying about sessions so they can pretend they went.


The Desperate Job Seeking Grad Student: Yes, they’re similar to the trope of the “Desperate Job Seeker” except they’re worse because they’ve been brainwashed to believe they must have a job by May graduation or else they’re an SA failure. So expect lots of “OH GOD SOMEBODY PLEASE HIRE ME HERE’S MY UNSOLICITED RESUME” from them.

New Girl - ResumeThe Person Constantly Calling/Texting Their Significant Other/Family: They are constantly on the phone going “Hey bae, I miss you” and giving all the updates. The antithesis of ‘The Sexually Frustrated’


[View Part III]


The following individuals contributed a name, description, or otherwise idea/inspiration for the different types of people you meet at conferences. A few people gave ideas for multiple ones and a few people inspired various types with their comments to me; overall definitely more than half this list. Thank you, friends! ❤

  1. Kristen Abell
  2. Chad Ahren
  3. Eric Crumrine
  4. Ashley Dorris
  5. Mika Karikari
  6. Annabel Feider
  7. Alberto Gonzalez
  8. Michael Goodman
  9. Amanda Khampa
  10. Kathryn Magura
  11. Kristen Marshall
  12. Vanessa Pacheco
  13.  Kaitlyn Owens Yoder

The 40 People You Meet at Higher Education Conferences, Part I

I’ve had the good fortune to attend three national student affairs/higher education conferences as well as small regional conferences. After a while I picked up on a pattern of different ‘types’ of folks who attended conferences. Between my experiences and the contributions of my hilarious and observant SA friends, we put together this list. The categorized types in this list are not to bash or shame, because I even embody a couple of them (well, there is some side-eye at least for a few of these…), but it’s just for laughs.

 The 40 People You Meet at Higher Education Conferences (Part I of III):

The Live Tweeter: The people who are so connected they can become unconnected to folks in the physical vicinity. They’re walking around with 3 portable cell phone battery chargers because every minute is spent with fingers tapping away on their screen. And hashtags, ALL THE HASHTAGS. #butreallytho #thisisme #soexcitedtousemy2batterychargersatACPA

parks and rec - donna - live tweet this bitch

The Self-Important Ribbon Collector: Not everyone falls into this mindset, but for some each ribbon on their nametag makes them feel so fancy and important.

Conference Ribbons Futurama - yay pay att to me

Incorporates Personal Agenda, Regardless of Relevance: No matter where they are , this person talks or tweets out their own personal goals or professional achievements, while only barely linking it to the original subject matter. They just really love sharing/bragging.

buffy - spike - bragg

The Over-Your-Shoulder Looker: They’re nodding their head, inserting some energetic “yeah, totally” while you talk, but all the while they’re looking for someone more important that they can connect with.


The Student Affairs Celebrity: Palms get sweaty in their presence. Like the sun, people seem to gravitate towards them. Whether they are Research Gods or Twitter Royalty, people know them.

Interview with the vampire

The Published Braggart: The Ron Burgandy of higher education – don’t you know that having their name in print makes them totes important?

Anchorman  Kind of a big deal

The Pretentious Grad Student: They drop student affairs theories and theorist names like it’s some kind of SA drinking game. Meanwhile professional staff/academics are silently thinking “Yeah, bro, learned this when I was in grad school too…”

30 ROck - grad student are the worst

The Conference Clique: Love em’, hate ’em, or be ambivalent about them – every conference/association has a clique of hyper-involved folks that can bar access (intentionally or not) to others.

mean girls - cant sit-bw

The Awkward Networker: They really really really just want to be your new best friend and literally tell you all the things.

SPN - Cas - let me tell you my story

Student Affairs All-Stars Bingo: The person looking to complete their Bingo card of all the SA celebrities they’ve met in real life. Don’t be surprised if they take a few selfies with the All Star conveniently in the background and frame it for their office desk.


The Hungover: This group of individuals will never be found at a conference session before 11am.

Turnt Up-miley

The Introvert Desperately Seeking Alone Time: No matter where that takes them…

mean girls - introvert


That Person Who Has No Idea What Your Name Is: It’s all “Hey…you!” and insertions of words like “buddy”, “pal”, “dude”, “lady” etc in place of your actual name until they have a chance to glance down and read your nametag. Curses to people who forget to wear their nametags and increase the awkwardness!

looking downwards

To continue, click onwards!

[Part II]


The following individuals contributed a name, description, or otherwise idea/inspiration for the different types of people you meet at conferences. A few people gave ideas for multiple ones and a few people inspired various types with their comments to me; overall definitely more than half this list. Thank you, friends! ❤

  1. Kristen Abell
  2. Chad Ahren
  3. Eric Crumrine
  4. Ashley Dorris
  5. Mika Karikari
  6. Annabel Feider
  7. Alberto Gonzalez
  8. Michael Goodman
  9. Amanda Khampa
  10. Kathryn Magura
  11. Kristen Marshall
  12. Vanessa Pacheco
  13.  Kaitlyn Owens Yoder