Jennifer H’s 2023 Q&A: Recent Discussions

[Note: There will be 4 Q&A posts total, covering all the topics brought up during the user-submitted Q&A period. Candidates were limited to 300 words per answer.]

What’s the biggest problem currently facing the OTW? What is the priority for the Archive to do in general, and how would you see this happening?

How to answer this in 300 words—to start, I mention in my platform that the OTW needs an entire rehaul.

The current structure is not working: Board doesn’t act on the power that they supposedly have nor are there methods to relieve them from duty should they fail in their responsibilities; some Chairs are elected without oversight and also cannot be relieved of their roles; Legal is an unknowable entity that can only be reached via email; OTW membership seems to have very little ability to actually connect with the Board to discuss what is working or not working from a user-perspective; proposed changes often take forever to go through, if they go through at all.

I think one of the reasons the organization is so resistant to change is that there are not enough volunteers that are interested in and willing to take on leadership roles, extending all the way up to the Board. This leads to the same few people passing the torch (or not passing it at all). Because of this, I believe term limits should be placed on Chairs. The way Chairs are chosen across the organization is also not standardized, which can lead to having the wrong people in these roles.

Ultimately, it’s going to take concrete changes from the bottom all the way to the top. This won’t happen overnight—but it also shouldn’t take years, either.

Would you be in favor of creating a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee? Why or why not?

I could see the benefits of this, with the caveat that it could introduce additional challenges and layers of bureaucracy in an already slow-moving organization. One way that I think it could work well is if the committee’s focus was on proactive change within the organization and providing suggestions to committees on how they can foster inclusive environments or change policies to be more welcoming, rather than reacting to changes that other committees bring up to them to sign off on.

An example of the second: recently, the Tag Wrangling committee went through and removed a prominent racial slur from current omegaverse-related canonicals. The entire process took less than a week from decision to implementation. This speed is not the norm, of course, but there were no additional sign-offs needed to put it into action that might have otherwise slowed it down.

Ultimately it would depend on scope, membership, and intention. I could see it being both something very positive or something that may not work as intended.

The cost of becoming a member/voting in elections is prohibitive for many users, particularly disabled, international and POC ones. Do you have any ideas about how this could be improved to make the OTW more inclusive and less privileged?

I would like to implement a method for “Sponsoring a Membership” where someone who donates more than the $10 can elect for part of that to go towards the membership fee of someone who is not able to pay it (or, for people to donate increments of $10 specifically for this purpose). People are already donating more than the minimum and this would allow membership to grow and become more diverse and inclusive. I’ve seen this handled very successfully with other organizations such as the self-care app, Finch.

What challenges do you see presented to the OTW by its growing international userbase and volunteer pool, and how do you plan to address them? English dominance within OTW has been a longstanding topic of discussion. What actions have you taken, or do you plan to take in the future, to make OTW a more welcoming and accessible space for volunteers and users who do not speak English as their primary language?

Through this election cycle, I have learned that I’ve held a lot of false assumptions about the archive and its accessibility to non-English speakers. For example, I naively assumed that the languages drop-down when posting a fic meant that all of those languages were supported by the archive; this may seem obvious to some, but it was not to me.

As such, I have not taken any actions on this front; however, I wholeheartedly support the platforms of Zixin, Anh, and Qiao who have all mentioned the accessibility of language. If elected, I will champion necessary changes alongside them. From listening to our AD&T committee discuss this topic, it sounds like tangible changes will take considerable time and effort. I think this would be an excellent project to hire contracted developers to assist with—it should be a priority and the AD&T committee does not currently have the bandwidth to properly support a project of this scale.

Recently, we’ve seen disagreements about how the Legal team handled various problems. How will you clarify to everyone what Legal’s role is, and make sure their actions are within that scope and are documented so their decisions can be reviewed?

First, I think one thing that could be helpful is noting whether decisions were made in-house or by external counsel. External counsel is consulted occasionally, which makes it difficult to discern where decisions or advice is coming from, and I think documentation of that will aid transparency.

Second, Legal does not have a presence in OTW communal spaces. I understand this is for a myriad of reasons, including them being careful not to say something and then have it taken as fact, but if Board members can interact in OTW spaces and make it clear that what they are saying is not being done in their role as a Board member, then I believe Legal can as well. The same goes for PAC—their work is confidential, and yet they have a presence in communal spaces.

Right now the only way that I know how to reach them is via email, which is not transparent at all. I have learned so much about how the organization works or how past decisions were made by simply witnessing conversations in communal spaces—and people have brought up topics that I never would have thought of. With Legal being so siloed, these types of interactions are non-existent.

All of this, combined with transparency in public forums (ie: understanding em who wrote and signed off on various public posts), will help to clarify Legal’s responsibilities and also serve as documentation of decisions.

Do you believe there should be any restrictions on people with a history of harassment running for Board? Do you believe there should be any restrictions on people with a history of harassment becoming committee chairs?

I do, but I believe this behavior should be addressed before it comes to them running for the Board or becoming a committee chair. Harassment should not be tolerated and I do not believe that volunteers who engage in it should remain volunteers with the OTW.

In its current state, I understand that it may be difficult for people to come forward about their experiences; however, I am hopeful that with HR contracting on the horizon, that will open the doors for accountability.

A long-standing issue in the OTW is that chairs often prefer to avoid conflict and never discipline their volunteers. Do you have any ideas for how to solve this issue?

Guidelines and expectations should be documented, clear, and up-to-date so that everyone understands what their role encompasses and what their responsibilities are. It can be hard to manage expectations with someone who is not performing their duties when those duties are not properly defined.

An HR function should also be fast-tracked. This will ensure that any disciplinary actions are consistent across the organization.

Last, Chairs should be chosen based on their skills and ability to lead their committee. This includes conflict resolution and being able to handle difficult conversations with their volunteers, not just having the institutional knowledge for the role.

What specific actions would you have the Board take to 1) fulfill its commitments made in 2020 to reduce racism on AO3 and across the OTW and 2) continue to expand anti-racist efforts in the OTW? How will you support Black fans, Indigenous fans, and fans of color in feeling welcome on the Archive of Our Own and in avoiding harassment? How do you feel about #EndRacismInTheOTW?

I applaud EOTWR (#EndRacismInTheOTW) for their organizational efforts to shine a spotlight on the lack of anti-racism progress in the OTW and to encourage accountability, but I have noticed these efforts seem to only cater toward a racism. In particular I have found their reviews and comments on my Asian candidate counterparts throughout this election cycle to be dismissive and biased. The OTW is a global organization and racism is experienced in a number of ways, all of which are important to address. EOTWR should continue their work to hold the OTW accountable, but I would ask that they keep in mind that championing their cause does not mean they should dismiss others.

As for the rest—I would like to assist our Diversity Consultant Research Officer by gathering data on racism, ableism, and other forms of bigotry experienced on AO3 from users via single-blinded surveys, focus groups, and in-depth interviews to be presented to the consultant(s) that they select. I would like to do the same with volunteers within the OTW. Hopefully this can be done in tandem so that it is ready for review once a consultant has been selected, rather than having to wait for it.

Additionally, I encourage people to continue making feature suggestions that they would like to see on AO3. I mentioned in my previous post that a lot of the features I had been wanting have been implemented, but the way that I experience the site is not the same as anyone else.

In my experience, problems in institutions can often be traced back to pockets of stagnation, where people who are uninterested in general change have become calcified in a given organization. How would you approach trying to address that kind of organizational stagnation?

This question implies that people who are calcified in an organization have the authority to make decisions and promote or dismiss changes in the first place—to avoid this, Chairs need to rotate more frequently and all committees need to be better about supporting Chair-track roles and volunteers to ensure that there are enough people with experience who can assume the role.

Another reason people become calcified in an organization is because they hold all of the institutional knowledge and it’s not documented—this is where proper documentation and ensuring that said documentation is up-to-date comes in. All committees need to be better about this.

Together, this should help alleviate pockets of stagnation.