Zoë Tucker 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.]

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?
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 know that we have had issues with treating the voices of some volunteers as more important than that of others. In order for our organizational response to complaints to be effective, we must listen to voices of our historically underserved volunteers. While I cannot right those past wrongs, I hope to not perpetuate them. As a Support volunteer I’ve done my best to treat all of my fellow committee members and all the users we serve with respect and kindness. As a member of the Tag Wrangling committee I’ve tried to treat all tags that we interface with that regard race respectfully. In all applicable situations, I have tried to use my voice to support others who might feel maligned or side-lined. However, I recognize that is not the same thing as having contributed to anti-racist organizational change overall, and will work in the future, Board member or not, to use what power I have to elevate the voices of people we don’t hear from as often in order to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to speak and be heard.

To make sure that volunteers feel supported, I want to increase awareness of and strengthen the support networks available to them—in particular, I want everyone to feel that our chairs are here to support us. Recently I’ve seen more chairs and leads reaching out to their committees to let them know that their voices are valued and reminding them that they always have a chance and the right to be heard. I find this very important, and would like to restate: chairs and supervisors exist to serve our committees, not to stifle or micro-manage them. I believe a consultant would be a valuable resource to assist our leadership in supporting our volunteers, and I discuss that possibility more in the last response of this set.

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]
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]
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?
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?

Many of the foundational members of the OTW were white, academic or academic-adjacent Western media fans, who were primarily concerned with preventing re-occurrences of massive losses of fannish works. We’re continuously working on inherent biases in the Archive based on who was not heard from at its founding. That said, I don’t think it’s appropriate for the organization to attempt to disavow or otherwise comment on currently non-volunteering fans. Instead, it’s better to focus on what we can do to make the organization we inherited a better place for all. I will present my planned actions with respect to addressing the fundamental goals of the OTW, including inclusivity of content and accessibility to users, protection of our volunteers with the organization, recruitment of diverse groups of new volunteers, and assessment of the diversity of our current volunteers.

Archive ethics state that it is important to have inclusive materials representative of the community you serve (including minority communities), and to have equal access to the Archive. Unlike physical archives, we don’t have the issue of limited space, and so we don’t need to prioritize some type of contents over others in order to maximize the utility of our Archive’s resources. Therefore, by letting users submit any transformative works they choose (within our minimal guidelines), we have achieved the archival goal of having materials relevant to all members of our community. However, if fans of color feel harassed and attacked on our website, then it is not accessible to them.

Users need access to tools to protect themselves from things they don’t want to see. Due to our maximum inclusivity of content guidelines, cultural variations on what is and isn’t acceptable, and our ever-growing volume of users and works, active moderation from our volunteers is not plausible on the Archive. As such, I want to support our AD&T coders in giving fannish communities the power to decide what they consider racism within their communities, without having to wait on decisions or enforcement from our volunteers, so that fans can move quickly to protect themselves and each other.

With that goal in mind, I am particularly excited about AD&T’s current plan to improve the visibility of bookmark collections within searches by fandom. While public bookmarks can be a vector for abuse, bookmark collections can be moderated so that the collection owner can make sure that bookmarks are submitted only from within their community, and can be curated to focus on a particular theme or type of work, creating a potential safe and trusted space for others. Improving our search functions to better account for them will help these collections go from a lesser-known tool to a very powerful resource.

I also hope that our AD&T committee will find a way to implement an effective blocking function so that users don’t have to engage with other users whose comments and/or works they find offensive. Creating a block function will require more discussion and coding work, and I will support AD&T’s efforts to do so in any way possible.

Anti-harassment measures within the OTW are the responsibility of all leadership, and are specifically in the purview of our Volunteers & Recruiting Committee (VolCom). It is vital that our leadership address any reports of harassment to make sure we take reasonable steps to prevent repeating any similar incidents. To that end, I support VolCom in their currently ongoing review of our conflict resolution policies. I encourage volunteers to report problems to chairs, VolCom, or the Board if they feel that anyone is interacting with them in a way that is inappropriate for our workspace.

While the Board of Directors is not directly involved with volunteer recruitment, my ideal action plan for recruiting fans of color would include working to identify public communities that are primarily fans of color and signal-boost volunteer opportunities there. Much of our recruitment is through word of mouth and our primary social media accounts, but we will need to expand outside of that as part of our aim to increase the diversity of our volunteer base. That said, we will never require fans to tell us their race, ethnicity, or country of origin when they join the OTW.

Similarly, any diversity report would need to be completely voluntary. Many of our volunteers are parts of marginalized groups that would be at high risk of persecution or even attack in their daily lives if their communities knew about their participation in the OTW. For their safety, we do not require information from them: we cannot be forced to give anyone information we do not have. Any voluntary collection of such data would be incomplete and perhaps non-representative, and so we will need to take more of a big picture approach towards making the OTW a more welcoming place for BIPOC and other potentially vulnerable populations. I’ll discuss other steps we can take to this end in my next response.

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? (https://t.co/5bmgFhAQKq?amp=1)
How will you support your chairs and staff in addressing racism in the OTW’s culture and platforms as with the technical projects?

The three points in the Open Letter include: hiring a paid external expert consultant on racism, supporting changes to the Archive’s technical features and terms of service to allow for different harassment policies, and an apology to academics whose work was shared without visible engagement with its contents. I’ll direct readers to the official OTW statement on these issues and then expand on the first point.

An external cultural expert (or experts) would be a valuable resource for the OTW, provided we can find the right fit—we would need to make sure that they had an understanding of fannish communities as well as international concepts of race, ethnicity, and culture, and that we could ensure confidentiality for our volunteers. I’d especially like for them to provide insight on how we can improve our volunteer management techniques to make sure that all volunteers feel valued and respected. I would also be interested in looking into other resources that they could provide, or that we could research ourselves, on creating and maintaining a healthy multicultural workspace. Creating and curating a repository of such resources to use in our leadership training would greatly strengthen our ability to identify organizational failings and improve upon them on an ongoing basis.

My plans for technical changes to the Archive are covered in my second response in this set of questions, and I support the careful re-evaluation of our Terms of Service in order to include further forms of harassment now that we have experience in running the Archive as addressed in the official OTW statement.

A first step in the process of addressing racism is making sure we are hearing those who are calling out racism when it occurs. I believe that opening and maintaining more clear lines of communication between volunteers and leadership, as I mention in my first response in this set, will help in this process. In some cases, individuals who have offended others will need to change the way they communicate with others. If there is pushback from individual volunteers about objections to their conduct, I can affirm that it is within the authority of OTW chairs to manage volunteers such that no one feels marginalized for reasons related to their identity.

Whether or not I am elected, I will support OTW leadership, including our chairs, staff, and supervisors, in making necessary decisions within their committees to protect disadvantaged communities internally and externally. The role of the Board of Directors is to make sure that our members have the tools and resources they need to succeed, and I value the opportunity to take part in facilitating that mission.

2 thoughts to “Zoë Tucker 2020 Q&A: Racism in the OTW and Its Projects”

Comments are closed.