Jess White 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.]

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?
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 Board, Chairs and Leads recently published a statement that addressed the points in the widely circulated open letter, and in which they apologized and responded to the criticism they’ve received from fans who have felt marginalized or unwelcomed in OTW spaces. I agree with the feelings expressed in the Board Statement. It made clear that they would look into hiring an outside expert and/or advocacy group(s), made a commitment to antiracism by taking specific steps to amend and discuss their Strategic Plan to address these issues at a structural level, and committed to further working with the committees directly involved with the Archive to not only reassess the current content warnings, but implement further admin tools for Policy and Abuse to continue to protect users by prioritizing features on AO3; specifically features that would not interfere with the mission statement of inclusiveness by allowing users to effectively remove content from their view that they do not wish to see.

To me, this shows an openness and willingness to acknowledge different viewpoints, and puts forth a specific plan on working towards the implementation of these ideas. If elected, I think this is a very exciting time to join the Board, and I look forward to helping the OTW strengthen these plans.

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

As explained in previous question sets, very little can be accomplished without Chair feedback and approval. They have the unenviable job of working to meet the goals and needs of the OTW. The Board’s help and support in these matters can vary depending on a Committee’s needs. Often, this support entails serving as a contact to provide resource materials, or help with communication issues across committees. Ideally, as a result, the OTW moves forward as an organization by implementing elements of the Strategic Plan and Vision statement that are already in place- or, if it’s found that those plans do not address the issue of racism in a way that is actionable, working together to do so.

Recently, the Board has committed to providing a feedback form where volunteers can have a platform to address racism and other concerns. Prior to this form, the OTW Board could be contacted via email, but by actively soliciting responses, I feel like they’ve made a true effort to actively encourage feedback. This ensures that all of the answers are consolidated, and once that information has been processed, I feel that feedback from the OTW’s volunteers will give the Board, and the relevant Chairs, a place to start. They can assume knowledge of how people feel about certain topics, but until those people directly speak up, it is hard to address explicitly. Once it’s addressed at a volunteer level, we can begin to continue to address it in other OTW projects. Some of this is answered in my other responses, but continuing to support Committees in providing fans with the ability to curate their experiences on the Archive, as well as identifying whether or not there is a need to recruit volunteers who, based on the feedback, feel they are underrepresented are ways I feel the Board can help.

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 a Policy and Abuse staffer, we have already had discussions on how best to address issues of harassment, and continue to do so. My experience serving on the Policy and Abuse committee has given me a lot of practice on upholding the Terms of Service, even when I personally might be opposed to the content of the fanworks in question. (Note- there is a question set that will be published later that is specifically regarding content.) I have seen firsthand when users report racist works, and understand that for many fans, the Archive is not a welcoming environment. The OTW, and especially AO3, was created specifically to provide a place for users to post their work without fear of reprisal. Users must agree to and adhere to a Terms of Service, which allows transformative works on any subject as long as they’re properly warned for, thereby allowing those who wish to avoid such content the ability to do so. While publishing racist content might not be a TOS violation, however, harassing the Archive’s users most certainly is. Specific steps , as mentioned above, will be to follow the plan set out but the Board, Chairs and Leads.

As for an anti-harassment workgroup, users and volunteers on other committees might not be aware that Policy and Abuse frequently reviews policies on harassment as users find new and interesting ways to harass each other. In the Board’s recent statement, they also committed to “Reviewing our Terms of Service and potentially drafting revisions that will allow our Policy & Abuse team to address different types of harassment not covered under the current Terms of Service.” which is a specific step that is in the beginning stages of implementation.

Currently, we do not, and I feel strongly that we should not censor Content. So the first item to be prioritized is to work with the relevant committees (which as I understand is already being done) to look at what steps need to be taken to give users stronger tools. The problem with this simplistic answer is that it is in no way a simple process. In previous questions, I’ve detailed how it can be challenging for feature improvements such as these to be completed in a timely manner due to the sheer amount of coding, testing, discussion, etc. that goes into a major (or for that matter even a minor!) Archive change. As a Board member, I will continue to support the committees that give users options for curating their experience on the Archive. I wish to reiterate that this is in no way an easy process to undertake, and I don’t expect it to be a straightforward one.

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?

I will not commit to the OTW publishing a volunteer diversity report. While I believe the intent behind this is well-meaning, the repercussions of asking for this information could be disastrous for the safety and wellbeing of our volunteers. I believe wholeheartedly that asking our volunteers to divulge information about themselves is invasive at best and dangerous at worst. Having volunteer data that could be subpoenaed and used against our volunteers- specifically, those who live in areas where participating in OTW projects are illegal, or those whose livelihoods rely on keeping “fandom” and “real life” separate- would have far-reaching negative repercussions. As it stands, unless a volunteer specifically tells someone, their race and other personal information remains confidential. Unofficial polls across committees- where volunteers are in no way required to answer- have shown that we are already a richly diverse group of individuals, living in a number of different countries around the world.

As a Board member, I would not be in the habit of ‘disavowing’ a former OTW volunteer. As an organization with over 800 current volunteers and thousands of former volunteers, it is likely that some may express problematic views that the OTW as a whole does not share. Moreover, no single volunteer – current or former – represents the OTW on their own, and so their views should never be taken as representative of the entire Organization. No one person is representative of the entire OTW.

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?

Volunteers are asked to inform their chairs if there is an issue, and if they don’t feel comfortable going to their Chairs, they can go to a Board member or to a staffer in the Volunteer and Communications committee. The Board has recently asked for feedback on how they can better address these needs, and if elected I anticipate that this method of communication in which volunteers can submit anonymous feedback without any perceived fear of reprisal will allow me to help address volunteer concerns in my role as a Board member and ensure no one feels marginalized.

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?

Due to the way the OTW is structured, individual volunteers cannot set policy for the entire organization or single-handedly enact changes. (Nor should they!) What little experience I have is through serving users with the Policy and Abuse Committee’s harassment policy. My hope is that by contributing actively as a volunteer (and Board member) I can help the OTW move towards improvements on this front.