Establishing any principle has consequences beyond the situations people
immediately think of. In this case, the principle is that harassment is
defined by the emotions of the person claiming to be harassed.
Compounding this by declaring that acts which are judged subjectively
and are insignificant in themselves constitute harassment because they
"add up" creates a situation in which anyone can be charged with
harassment and no defense is possible. You've said as much in saying "So
excluding types of situations from even being considered as problems is
unnecessary." _Any_ type of situation might be considered a harassment
Of course, not just any type will be. That would result in a situation
where anyone could bring charges and counter-charges on a whim, bringing
the whole system down. What happens in practice is that the people with
the best connections or the greater skill in manipulating the system
will use it to intimidate others.
Here's an example: At IUPUI, a janitor was reading a book called "Notre
Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan." A
union official, for reasons I don't know -- maybe he just didn't like
the janitor -- brought charges of "racial harassment" against the
janitor, because he was "offended" at seeing a book that even mentioned
the Klan. The university's affirmative action officer told him: "You
used extremely poor judgment by insisting on openly reading the book
related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject in the presence
of your black co-workers." It took intervention from the ACLU and FIRE
before IUPUI dropped disciplinary proceedings and apologized.
If harassment is in the eye of the beholder, then the janitor was
"harassing" the union official simply by trying to learn about an
"abhorrent subject." The official may have legitimately felt pain just
from being reminded of the activities of the Klan in Indiana. Knowing
there are lots of historical accounts of it might "add up." But the
result, if it weren't for the determined efforts of some people, would
have amounted to book-banning. Is that a path that library people should
be starting down?
On 1/27/13 8:34 PM, Fitchett, Deborah wrote:
> I'm not creating any categories. Whether or not "unintentional harassment" is "actual harassment", it's still worth bothering with. Even if it's "a minor thing" it's still worth bothering with. Even if someone only harasses me "a little" because I'm a woman, it still decreases my enjoyment of the community we're participating in simply because I'm a woman and that's still worth bothering with.
> Because all the hundreds of "unintentional" and "minor" and "little" bits of harassment add up. They really, really add up, you know? That one time some guy tried to rape me actually wasn't as impactful (for me personally; mileage varies a lot on this kind of thing) as the hundreds of times guys merely honked/whistled/catcalled when I'm walking along the street.
> No-one's trying to treat every situation as equivalent, except perhaps you. The code of conduct allows admins/helpers/whoever to take the precise nature of the situation into account and choose an appropriate response. So excluding types of situations from even being considered as problems is unnecessary - and it's *really* counterproductive, because those types of "minor" situations, in the aggregate, are as great a barrier to the inclusion of underrepresented groups as any single "major" event.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Code for Libraries [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Gary McGath
> Sent: Monday, 28 January 2013 1:45 PM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [CODE4LIB] Group Decision Making (was Zoia)
> Miscommunication, error, and harassment are all legitimate concerns.
> Sometimes one person says something and another person hears it as offensive where no offense was intended. Sometimes people say things based on assumptions that they should have questioned but didn't.
> Sometimes they set out to dominate or hurt another person. These are three different things, and treating them as equivalent is more likely to make the situation worse than to help.
> Creating the category of "unintentional harassment" diminishes the nature of actual harassment. If the statement "I was harassed" means only "someone said something with good intent that made me feel bad,"
> then harassment is a minor thing, not worth bothering with. When words are stretched, they're stretched in both directions; if harassment has nothing to do with intent, then it's a relatively minor issue, and people who harass in the normal sense of the word can hide behind the dilution of the term. If the stretched meaning of the word becomes normal, they can say, "Hey, what's the big deal? All I did was harass her a little."
> Speech that "offends" simply on the basis that someone claims to be offended is a fourth category apart from miscommunication, error, and harassment. If it's a private conversation and someone says "Stop talking to me, hanging around me, etc.," that request should be respected regardless of the reason. But if we're talking about public speech, a requirement to stop amounts to granting anyone's emotions a veto on other people's public statements, and I've already discussed the problem with that.
> On 1/27/13 4:27 PM, Fitchett, Deborah wrote:
>> There's a reason the code isn't oriented around intent: which is that it's perfectly possibly to think one's an upstanding equitable-minded person but still make offensive comments that do in fact constitute harassment. This is another thing I can say "been there done that" about, in various contexts. I *thought* I was being respectful - but I wasn't. On at least one occasion I was saying something racist; on at least another I was demeaning a friend. Completely unintentionally, but if you accidentally step on someone's foot it's still your responsibility to back off and say sorry the instant you become aware of the fact.
>> (There may not be a universal objective consensus as to what is or
>> isn't offensive, but nor is there a universal objective consensus as
>> to what someone's intent is. People say "I didn't mean to be offensive
>> therefore I didn't harass you" all the time, sometimes ingenuously,
>> sometimes (as I did) absolutely sincerely, and how are we to tell the
>> two apart? Meantime someone still got hurt.)
>> So a code of conduct needs to allow for unintentional harassment in a way that protects the person who got hurt without being unduly censorious to the person who hurt. Which this code does: it says ~"If you're asked to stop harassing behaviour you're expected to comply". Because if you didn't intend offense then you'll want to stop as soon as you're aware you've offended. So stop, and everyone moves on. You're not going to be banned for accidentally stepping on someone's foot.
>> If you persist or if your actions were really egregious then that's another matter and that's why we need to mention other possible sanctions. But these aren't things you're likely to do accidentally, so there's no need to be stressed.
> Gary McGath, Professional Software Developer http://www.garymcgath.com
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Gary McGath, Professional Software Developer