Last August, Kate Losse wrote a brief post about how “breaking things” is a white male privilege. I’ve kept coming back to this post the last month or so. For years, I’ve been telling people to not be afraid to break stuff. That’s how I learned how to much much of the work I’ve been doing in the digital humanities for over a decade now. I still break stuff, and still learn from it. I’ve always thought it’s a good way to learn, but I had never considered it a privilege of being a white man to be able to break things until I read Loss’s piece. It never occurred to me that such an approach could be a privilege for a particular race and gender. It never occurred to me—and I’m embarrassed to admit it—that someone could not take this approach because of their race or gender or class or any other number of reasons. (Of course, like most white heterosexual men, I’m quite unaware of all the privileges I have. I willfully acknowledge it, and am in no way proud of it.) Knowing what I do know about our society and culture, it’s blatantly obvious to me that this would be true. But being able to break stuff, being able to try things out without permission and fear of criticism or backlash was one of the reasons we started THATCamp five or six years ago. I still think its a great approach, but its one THATCamp needs to work harder to open up to more people. THATCamp needs to grapple with who gets to do it, and more importantly who feels like they have permission to do that.
Similarly, earlier last month, someone on Twitter noted they were hesitant to attend a THATCamp that lacked a public anti-harassment policy. This also had never occurred to me (and once again I’m embarrassed to admit it), and made me sad and angry and disappointed that anyone would feel they wouldn’t be welcome at a THATCamp or would be harassed. (To be very clear, I’m not at all sad and angry and disappointed with the person who first posted this.) Amanda and I chimed in with interest to begin composing an anti-harassment policy, and Amanda forked the Code4Lib anti-harassment policy as a starting point. That policy itself contains links to other policies, all of which I think should be required reading for anyone organizing an event, and required reading for anyone who thinks a policy is unnecessary). But it seems like this is only the very tip of the very large iceberg that is diversity and THATCamp that we should more deliberately and sustainably address. No one should feel like they can’t attend a THATCamp out of fear of harassment or unwelcomeness.
Both of these stories to me highlight a need for THATCamp to develop policies and spaces that foster comfort and confidence and diversity within and beyond THATCamp, and I can’t think of a more important and relevant topic for THATCamp Leadership to take on. I’d like to help organize a session or set of sessions that address ways THATCamp can contribute positively to already ongoing conversations on diversity, tolerance, and DH, and even begin developing documentation the THATCamp community can use for their own individual camps. I won’t claim to be the best person to lead these sessions—I have tons to learn, and I want to learn—but I want to help organize them, or at the very least strongly support having them at THATCamp Leadership.
These sessions should go beyond developing formal policies for things like anti-harassments, and more deliberately consider how the tone and language and character of camps can be safe and inviting and fun for a variety of people. In my experience, digital humanities as a whole, and THATCamp more specifically, is one of the more tolerant and accepting communities that exist, but there is plenty of room for improvement, and I’d hope these sessions would focus on those ways to improve, to take seriously any points from any person to consider for improvement. It doesn’t seem enough to me to develop a one-page document that more or less says “You can’t harass people.” Language and tone and character of everything THATCamps produce is more important, and should be obviously contribute to making THATCamps safer and more encouraging.
In the end, I want to help make it so every person who attends a THATCamp leaves more confident in themselves, and has more friends who value their ideas and perspectives, than they did before they attended THATCamp. The scope of these sessions is vast, but that shouldn’t deter us from having them and trying to nurture some positive outcomes.
I hope we can discuss some specific topics to cover in the comments, and possible outcomes of such sessions. Please feel free to share any ideas, links to stuff we should read/watch/hear for the conversation, in the comments below. If you’d like to talk to me directly, feel free to email me or ping me on Twitter.