Priscilla Del Cima 2016 Q&A: Group 2

[Note: Candidates were limited to 300 words for each answer.]

5. The org and its projects have been exponentially growing the last couple of years. So much so even, that it seems no longer feasible for it to run on 100% volunteer efforts. Do you agree with this? If yes, and there was room in the budget for a paid contractor for a year, where and in what capacity do you think someone would be most useful?

Yes, I do. This is certainly a structural change we’re going to have to devote more time and effort to in the next few months and years—it’s vital to the survival and improvement of the Archive and the OTW in the long run. A contractor would be most useful in one of these two (preferably both, if we had room in the budget for that) very overworked and understaffed teams: Accessibility, Design & Technology (the AO3 development team) and Systems (sysadmins for AO3, Fanlore and the OTW’s various internal tools). AD&T already has some experience with contractors, and I hope we see this increase significantly in the future so that it brings us major improvements for the projects and in our volunteers’ workload and atmosphere.

6. Do you plan to increase communication with the ordinary members who aren’t involved with the inner workings of the OTW?

It would be great to raise awareness of the OTW’s existence and accomplishments in general—not just among members (though certainly that as well), but also among the wider public. I’m not sure how many people are actually interested in the OTW’s inner workings and where the line is between sharing excessive minutiae and being overly opaque; I reckon finding out is a matter of trying different approaches and learning by trial and error. The OTW’s monthly newsletters, for example, don’t have a wide readership; should we try emails in addition to it? What content would people like to hear about and in what format? How often should we send them to avoid spamming people’s inboxes? I don’t have any clear answers to these questions, but I would be happy to discuss them with our Communications and Development & Membership teams.

7. One of the worst issues plaguing fandom right now it racism – many fans of color feel unsafe and unwelcome when faced with the constant degradation and exploitation of characters of color in fanworks, and the way the voices of fans of color are ignored when raised in critique, and downright harassment and racial violence from white fans. This isn’t specific to one fandom, it exists across ALL of them. When fans of color do critique authors in response to painful racism in their fics, one of the most common responses is a to essentially declare us bullies who are harassing authors in an attempt to censor them. In fact in some cases they even suggest if we don’t like fanfic that continues to alienate us from fan communities, that we should simply be the ones to go elsewhere, as if we aren’t regularly driven out of fandom spaces already.

That being established (unfortunately I’m not able to cite sources in this format, so hopefully my lived experience and that of my fellow fans of color will suffice), I’d like to know if the candidates are prepared to address the needs of fans of color who are tired of running across blatantly hateful and racist fics across an endless supply of fandoms, with no warning and no tags, as well as accusations of bullying when critique of such fics is offered? Where do you draw the line between free speech and hate speech? Would you consider attempting to ensure that more fans of color are specifically sought out to be part of various committees of AO3 in particular to help make it more welcoming to ALL fans? And lastly would you make such demographics available publicly for the sake of transparency?

There are certainly a lot of racist fics out there, as there are transphobic fics, misogynistic fics and fanworks that are extremely offensive for a myriad of reasons—works that I myself avoid and don’t approve of. I completely agree, discussing these issues is crucial in fandom, and while thankfully they have become more visible in the past few years, there’s still far too much room to improve.

That being said, one of the AO3 and the OTW’s foundational values is to protect even works we don’t approve of, even those with content we personally find repulsive or offensive, provided that they contain the applicable mandatory warnings and no illegal content. That is at the core of our Terms of Service. Censorship, however well-intentioned, is a slippery slope: how does one define exactly what is and isn’t okay? What happens when the lines shift over time? Who are we to say a work where someone may be working through their negative or traumatic experience isn’t legitimate? The AO3 was founded to avoid giving anyone the right to decide what content was or wasn’t appropriate here. That kind of power is dangerous to the free exchange of ideas in fandom: it’s much healthier for fandom to have discussions than to forbid content. Discussing problems is how more people become aware that there are problems.

We don’t collect demographic information about OTW volunteers. If we did, given how spread we are around the world, it’d be difficult to even define what the term fans of colour means in each of our cultural contexts. (I’m Brazilian and race discussions here, for one, are quite different from the traditional US discourse.) Regardless, I do believe we need to do better with regards to outreach. And more hands and voices in the OTW are always welcome!

8. You mentioned in your bio that the OTW needs to start changing its mentality of “this is volunteer work, so any kind of work is good work” in order to work more efficiently and effectively. What concrete actions would you take – or do you think the OTW should take – to achieve this?

Setting specific expectation thresholds for each team, depending on their team’s workload and reality. For example, if it isn’t acceptable for someone not to reply to emails (or complete tasks or attend meetings) for X weeks, or whatever thresholds are applicable for that team, we should make that clear from the start, and when contacting them about work progress. If someone is hostile or passive-aggressive and alienating others, or if the quality of someone’s work is poor and causing others to have to work double to make up for it, actually bring it up with them—don’t walk on eggshells and let it linger, creating a much worse atmosphere for everyone and driving away other collaborators.

These aren’t steps that the Board itself can take alone—it’s primarily up to committee chairs. And for chairs to be able to do that, we need to share knowledge of past difficult situations, how we approached them, and how we could avoid them happening again in the future. Chairs are often so bogged down by the tasks they have to do that they don’t stop to think about their staffers’ performance and interpersonal dynamics; that is definitely something I would try to help improve (and already do, if I can) by discussing some cases I’ve been through and listening to others’ to see if I could help in any way.