Of dignity undermined

We have posted our revised Conference Code of Conduct for ISTE 2014. Check out how you can help ensure this year’s conference is a friendly, supportive and respectful event.

As a lifelong student of communications, I’ve always found the news cycle fascinating. With traditional media giving way to social media, the news cycle now moves at warp speed. An event happens. Coverage begins. Connections are made. Social media movements emerge. And only minutes have passed.

Recently, ISTE was linked by some folks on social media to the #YesAllWomen movement. That movement began following the recent, horrific slayings near the University of California, Santa Barbara. The writings of the young man who carried out the attacks were, in the eyes of many, misogynistic in nature. That aspect of the event resonated with people. A social media movement was born.

It was distressing to read a recent blog post about an attendee’s report of her experience at one of our past conferences. Mistreatment of either women or men is unacceptable – regardless of whether it takes place at a conference, or anywhere else in civilized society.

At ISTE, we are committed to creating a safe, enjoyable and professional experience for our conference attendees. In the ISTE conference code of conduct, we ask conference participants to: “Please help make it a positive experience for fellow attendees by treating other members of the ISTE community fairly and with respect. This includes fellow members, volunteers, staff and the wider educational population engaged in ISTE-related discussions, events and social media.”

And, we invest significant resources in a genuine effort to live up to our end of that commitment. We provide shuttle services to pick attendees up from their hotels and return them safely at the end of the day at a cost of $200,000. We contract with a professional security company that provides onsite (at the convention center) security guards (to address personal safety, theft prevention, fire marshal rule adherence and crowd safety and control). This important commitment is a $100,000 investment. Unfortunately, ISTE is not able to provide security services for offsite or unofficial gatherings that are not managed by ISTE.

From both a human perspective and a resource perspective, ISTE’s commitment to attendee safety is real and significant. But, unfortunately, like so many things in our world, it is not fail-safe. And we are not alone in this challenge.

When organizations hold events, human beings at those events engage in activities that are beyond the control of the host organization. Sadly, it happens too often. Groups like ISTE hold conferences across the country, and humans behave in ways that are inappropriate, sometimes illegal and, frankly, mind-boggling.

And, though we wish it were possible, event organizers, whether for-profit or nonprofit, can’t stop human beings from making unwanted sexual advances against other event attendees. Yes, we can take proper security measures, adopt codes of conduct, and take appropriate action when those codes are violated. But if those things alone could stop a misogynist from repulsive conduct, what a world it would be.

Which brings me to the #YesAllWomen movement. I’m proud to share that I was raised by a strong woman with a keen intellect. That I have two sisters who are determined, smart women. That I am the father of two wise, impressive women. And that I am the husband of a brilliant, tenacious woman with a 33-year career as a public school teacher.

These role models turned lifelong examples mean that I always treat women with the utmost respect and dignity. It started with my mother’s earliest example.

In the mid-1960s in a rural part of Northern California, my mother had the foresight to seek to have her physically handicapped child, my younger sister, mainstreamed into a public school classroom. It took years, but she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, continued to do battle, and ultimately assured my sister a seat in that classroom. From her – that dauntless woman – I learned to fight the good fight for what’s right.

Years later, in college, I was one of only a couple male students who took a course called “The Image of Women in Popular Culture.” The class was taught by a noted feminist professor, Dr. Merline Williams. At the end of the term, she asked me to be a teaching assistant for the class the next quarter. Some female students objected, arguing that a male shouldn’t be allowed to TA in a women’s studies course (But that’s another blog).

In the years since these formative experiences, I have more than once been offended by people of both genders who engaged in inappropriate, offensive and illegal behaviors. And yes, some were people who portray an honorable, upstanding image in the rest of their lives.

The vast majority of us in this community are committed to genuinely treating each other with dignity and respect. To have that reality overshadowed by this behavior is appalling.

4 thoughts on “Of dignity undermined

  1. While I appreciate the reason for posting your support of the efforts that ISTE has made to create as safe an environment as it can, perception is reality. The experience of the person you are referencing also experienced her challenges while at ISTE. I did not get the impression she was blaming ISTE nor asking for recompense from ISTE just stating that some of the people at ISTE were behaving inappropriately and contrary to ISTE’s code of conduct.

  2. Well said. I appreciate all ISTE does to provide a safe venue, and agree that people sometimes make bad choices, for which ISTE is not responsible. However, that does not excuse repulsive, illegal behavior and I do not believe anyone should have their personal space or body invaded. A big thanks goes to ISTE for the shuttles and security at the conference. I hope people behave responsibly and watch out for one another, as we should be doing every day. Thank you for this post.

  3. I assume that you’ve convened a committee to a) look at the code of conduct to make sure it prohibits harassment and includes reporting and enforcement mechanisms and b) is empowered to make the appropriate changes if it doesn’t (hint: it doesn’t).

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