Alex Tischer 2020 Q&A: Racism in the OTW and Its Projects

[Note: In total, there will be 6 Q&A posts to cover all of the topics brought up during the user-submitted Q&A period. The candidates were limited to 300 words to answer each question, but they were allowed to rearrange and combine questions within a single post to more clearly express their thoughts. Candidate answers represent only the views of the individual candidate and are not endorsed by the OTW.

Due to a high volume of similar questions this year, many questions were merged and duplicate questions were left out. Other than this, questions appear in the form they were submitted. Questions represent only the views of the individual questioner and are not endorsed by the OTW.]

Many fans of color have spoken out about racism and racist harassment in fandom. What *specific* steps do you propose that the OTW take to tackle racism on its platforms? (such as a diversity report of volunteers, an anti-harassment working group, etc) [merged question]
Please discuss what can and should be done by OTW to make AO3 a more welcoming environment for fans of color and a less welcoming environment for racists. How will you prioritize these action items? Do any of the candidates have experience in address the racism that is systemic in fandom as a whole? How would you go about improving Ao3 for fans of Colour? [merged question]

As an organisation we can’t solve racism in fandom; even on our own platforms we will always be limited in the scope of what we can do. The OTW’s main mission of allowing any content that can be legally hosted will always be in conflict with making the site a safe space. What we can, and should, do is provide users with the tools to curate their own experience, allowing them to avoid content they don’t wish to see and users they don’t wish to interact with. This is a long overdue need, the first steps of which have been outlined in the statement by the current Board. If elected, I would aim to empower those working on those goals and provide the resources required so they can bring them to completion as fast as possible.
I would also work with the other OTW projects on developing new ideas to address those issues and further iron out the existing ones, like possible new obligatory warnings or new ways to facilitate filtering content.
As of right now, the steps we plan to take as an organization have already been outlined. They are not exhaustive by any means, but the best help I can provide isn’t in the form of new proposals but by supporting our coders so they can do their work and implement tools that enable users to better curate their experience on the Archive in a timely manner while continuing to listen to external feedback and promote internal discussions of these issues.

What would you do to ensure that volunteers feel supported within the OTW, especially volunteers of color and other marginalized groups who may feel that their voices go unheard?
Will the candidates commit to the OTW publishing a volunteer diversity report, and an action plan for recruiting fans of colour? Will this action plan include disavowing well-known racist and early-AO3 architect franzeska?

The OTW has deliberately little knowledge about its volunteers. The only information we require is a name or pseudonym to address them by, an email address to contact them and their confirmation that they are of an age in their local jurisdiction that they can legally volunteer. This is very much by design, as we are an international organisation that deals with people from diverse backgrounds and realities. For some of our volunteers the knowledge that they volunteer for the OTW could place them in personal danger; other people might run into problems with their professional life if there was any indication of them being connected to internet erotica, even in the most roundabout way. Some simply prefer to stay as anonymous as possible and we have, from the beginning, made the choice not to require any information connecting to a person’s real life identity in any way or force them to disclose any more than that, even indirectly. Because of this I will not support a report asking for that kind of information, nor any recruitment plan that requires them to disclose it. Besides that, from my understanding, discretion elimination is currently thought to be a good way to combat implicit bias, so having deliberately limited information about applicants is a beneficial choice for us in that regard too.
Being an international organisation we must also be aware that different marginalised groups experience harassment very differently, depending on location and their own personal background, and be mindful of those differences. By taking a US-based approach, or relying on US-sourced materials, we risk only addressing an US-based concept of racism, potentially missing large groups of affected volunteers. This is counterproductive to making the OTW more diverse and inclusive, and something I believe essential to how we approach the issue at hand.

As for Franzeska, she has not been a volunteer with the OTW for a long time and we have no control over her writing. As with any current or past volunteer, as long as they are not claiming to speak for the OTW, they are entitled to write what they want and let it reflect back on themselves.

Fans of color have long expressed concerns about the way racism (especially anti-Blackness) in fandom is reproduced by the design and structures of OTW spaces. If elected to the Board, how would you work to make OTW spaces more welcoming to fans of color?

In my opinion, the best way to make sure diverse voices are heard and supported inside the OTW is having a solid support system and ways to report cases of conflict and harassment of any kind. We can make it more explicit in our recruitment announcements that our recruitment is open to everyone who wishes to apply. I would also like to implement easier ways for volunteers to provide feedback or ask for additional support. Additionally, I would favour having a more streamlined procedure in place than our current corrective action plan so any reports of harassment or code of conduct violation can be addressed quickly. A faster and easier way to respond to volunteers not following the code of conduct would be helpful. This ties back to one of my previous answers, we already have a number of rules and procedures in place but we struggle to publicise those internally as well as externally.
As for making the OTW projects themselves more inclusive: I’ve already addressed AO3 issues in my other questions, but the same general principles hold true for our other projects as well.

How will you support your chairs and staff in addressing racism in the OTW’s culture and platforms as with the technical projects?

I would listen to their plans, help refine them as needed and provide any support they require. Additionally, I would attempt to make available resources to help them address those issues, facilitating the approval of the necessary expenses for additional resources, training or anything else they require to address the problems. I would also encourage them to seek input from our userbase – for the committees dealing with user facing content – as well as OTW volunteers from other teams who often can bring new perspectives to the table, and reaching out to suitable outside organisations to receive more guidance on their processes and plans.

In your work as an OTW volunteer (including prior Board service, if applicable), do you feel that you have contributed to anti-racist organizational change? If so, how? If not, why not, and how will you do so as a Board member?

I would say that depends on what you define as anti-racism. Considering race relations solely within a US context (disclaimer: I am not from the USA), I almost certainly will have to answer no.
What I have worked on and argued for more specifically is more internationalisation and greater inclusivity of people from varied cultural backgrounds, and I will continue to do so. As to how: by constantly pushing for non-majority voices to be included in discussions, by working on making as much of our material available in non English languages, by recruiting for more diverse language teams and by working and talking with international volunteers eye to eye.
Improving internal processes and support for Translation’s numerous language teams, not to mention cooperating with many other committees in order to get material translated, means that I’ve helped many of our translators carry out their work more efficiently over the years, and that I’ve helped them become better integrated in the OTW. This, in turn, has led to many volunteers who initially joined as translators to branch out and join various other OTW committees. The greater presence of translators throughout the OTW and the broader availability of translated material for non-English-speaking fans are two improvements I am proud to have helped achieve in the past few years.

What is your response to the three points in the Open Letter to the OTW on Racism in Fandom? As a Board member, how will you help make fandom a space where all fans, particularly Black, Indigenous, and ethnically marginalized fans from all over the globe, can thrive? (

The statement by the current Board and Chairs that was recently published has already outlined our current plan to address these issues as an organisation. Given this context, my response would be would be to thank the signatories for the letter and to say that I have read it and will continue to think about their points but to keep in mind that the OTW works by committee and at a slow pace so any changes, internally as well as externally, will take time and consideration. Especially hiring decisions, as specifically asked for in the letter, require lots of research to find appropriate experts.
As a Board member I would hope to have a positive effect on the OTW and by extension its projects but solving systemic racism in the wider world or even just in fandom at large is beyond the scope of the OTW. While the OTW is part of fandom and has its part to play in making that a better space, it is far from a controlling entity that can affect things happening outside its bounds.