[hackerspaces] Safe Space Policies?

Steven Sutton ssutton4455 at gmail.com
Mon Jan 27 01:34:51 CET 2014

If your efforts toward diversity are making communication or sharing
opinions more difficult, then you're probably doing it wrong. I'm sure
you've had negative experiences in the past with the direction that these
conversations sometimes take, but there are some strategies that exist for
making your community easier for anyone to get into.

It's easy for the argument to get unfocused and for people to start
attacking things that are actually just a symptom of the larger problem.
That's fine, you just have to keep putting things back on a positive track
until people "get it.'

There's not an easy, turnkey ideology that people "should" adopt that makes
diversity in your space easier. Instead, we have to gradually open people's
perspectives and change their habits, which changes the culture of the

...or at least that's what's worked best for me so far.

Steven Sutton
President, Freeside Atlanta

On Sun, Jan 26, 2014 at 7:21 PM, matt <matt at nycresistor.com> wrote:

> I don't know why I am letting you lunatics bait me into this... but fuck
> it, it's sunday night, i am bored why not bite.
> I think this whole discussion hinges on a very simple question.  Why is it
> worthwhile to artificially promote a change in an existing community?
> If the answer is because the hackerspace should be inclusive to everyone,
> my answer is no, it should not be.  By it's very nature it's already
> exclusionary.  It's a hackerspace.  Not a bake shop.  Not a petting zoo.
> Not a race track.  It has a specific focus, and by that it is already
> exclusionary.  More to the point, hackerspaces are built around
> communities.  And communities themselves are exclusionary.  If you don't
> jive well with a community, you don't belong to that community, go find
> another one.  If you think that your hackerspace can be home to all the
> peoples, you aren't building a hackerspace you are building a public
> library, and by all means enjoy the crackheads and good luck keeping that
> inclusive to everyone.  Ask noisebridge how that went for them.
> If your goal is to promote diversity in your community with a specific
> desire, such as promote a gender balance, or bring in more artists, or
> bring in more ninjas... well sure, to an extent that makes sense to me,
> assuming you actually have a pool of people to draw upon that can sustain
> that effort.  The problem here is of course, you aren't trying to foster a
> second community, you are trying to welcome individuals into the fold of
> your already existing community.  That can be difficult to do.  You can run
> the risks of alienating your existing community and destroying your own
> hackerspace.  Or creating a whole new hackerspace, in which the previous
> community has left and the culture has shifted radically.  Is this what you
> really want?  I doubt it, unless of course you are noisebridge.  Most folks
> would like to gradually change the culture in a way that can be guided by
> the will of members.  That means bringing in people that fit the culture
> already and that means exposing them to the culture of the space to see if
> they fit well.
> As for 'safe spaces'.  It sounds like you want to create something of a
> cultural clean room.  That strikes me as an exercise in avoiding community
> building.  Which of course can be useful.  For instance if you want to do a
> skills lab, or an educational push some gathering of people.  However, if
> your goal is to bring in people to your space, and welcome them into the
> fold, the absolute last thing you want is to separate them from the culture
> of the space.  You want them to be enveloped in the culture of the space
> and see if they respond well to it.  If they don't then it's a non-starter
> for bringing them in.  And that's the best for everyone in the long run.
> If your goal is to enfranchise the disenfranchised because you feel this
> is a grand and noble ambition.  Let me stop you right there.   The
> hackerspace is not a social revolution space.  It's a hackerspace.  Does
> your social revolution really belong there?  Seems like you might be better
> served engaging in your social revolution somewhere with a focus on that
> sort of thing.  Maybe the YMCA?  The local library?  Tahrir Square? I don't
> know, but probably not the room filled with socially dysfunctional
> iconoclasts with a penchant for digital havoc.  Take that shit outside.
> You are being a bad member of your hacking community and it's really not
> cool.
> So, as far as safe spaces...  your hackerspace isn't one.  It probably
> shouldn't be one.  I don't think you really understand what a hackerspace
> is if you are asking these sorts of questions, or you really don't care
> about your hackerspace and are just trying to take advantage of it to
> further your own shit.  In which case you are a terrible person.  Don't be
> that person.
> Seriously, the amount of people who show up at hackerspaces expecting to
> raise an army to fight their own personal crusade is astounding.  It's
> probably the WORST place to show up expecting anyone to tolerate you.  Have
> you met a developer??  Do you know what compilers do to people?  It makes
> them vicious angry people who revenge code programming languages just to
> get back at the assholes that made their software segfault 10 years ago on
> a thursday making you miss a really happening party.  Now you think I am
> joking, but that's not the case.  Software developers are not well people.
> These are people who have stared into the void of human created logic.
> They come back changed man.  They either come back broken, or they come
> back angry.  Either way, you try to get them to engage in some sort of
> personal crusade and you are asking for catastrophe.
> Now, I get that some folks will be all... stop trolling, or i disagree, or
> what have you.  But, seriously, heed my warning.  I know what I am talking
> about here.  You face certain doom.  A peril unlike any you have ever
> reckoned with.  Step back from the brink before it is too late.
> May Bob have mercy on your very souls.
> -Matt
> On Sun, Jan 26, 2014 at 5:02 PM, Steven Sutton <ssutton4455 at gmail.com>wrote:
>> To add to what Alan said, we also try to think carefully and inform
>> ourselves about how to approach these kinds of conversations -
>> Jonathan Haidt is a Moral Psychologist who has a really good book about
>> bridging divides between different social groups. It focuses on how we can
>> think about developing *individuals* in organizations/communities by
>> developing *individual, unique strengths/opportunities*, but we can
>> better develop diverse *organizations/communities* by emphasizing *similarity
>> and common ground*. In other words, he invested a lot of time in
>> researching how members of social groups think about their own group, other
>> groups, and their interaction. This also means that having a clear
>> mission/direction that we're all working towards make it easier for us all
>> to feel like we're on the same team.
>> Despite some of the strange tangents and the first half of the book
>> pivoting on liberal/conservative differences, it still totally changed my
>> perspective about our space and also about how I communicate about
>> diversity and personal development.
>> It also offers a lot of good insight on how to keep these kinds of
>> conversations focused and positive. Sometimes they can get totally
>> off-track if people get defensive or over-focus on details instead of
>> seeking common ground and working from there.
>> http://righteousmind.com/
>> Steven Sutton
>> President, Freeside Atlanta
>> www.freesideatlanta.org
>> http://www.meetup.com/Freeside-Atlanta/
>> On Sun, Jan 26, 2014 at 8:57 AM, Alan Fay <emptyset at freesideatlanta.org>wrote:
>>> On Sun, Jan 26, 2014 at 7:31 AM, Brendan Halliday <wodann at gmail.com>wrote:
>>>> Thoughts/experiences please?
>>> Freeside has an anti-harassment policy that was not without some
>>> controversy:
>>> https://wiki.freesideatlanta.org/fs/Policy_AntiHarassment
>>> I based it off the sample conference anti-harassment policy on the Geek
>>> Feminism Wiki:
>>> http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Conference_anti-harassment/Policy
>>> There were a few key things that got our members to understand and
>>> accept the policy.  The first is that our leadership spent a good six
>>> months correcting any harassing behavior we heard about, in some cases
>>> certain repeat offender members left, and we made it a point to take lead
>>> during our Tuesday night open house presenting the leadership as not
>>> tolerating harassment.  The second is that due to this work, we were able
>>> to increase our female membership, and so we had women on our member
>>> mailing list that were able to explain, defend, and augment the leadership
>>> position.  Third, we approached the subject of having an anti-harassment
>>> policy in the context of one day growing our space to 150 members, and that
>>> diversity was valued, and the whole point is to be exposed to different
>>> points of view and facilitate learning from each other, so when our members
>>> bought into that vision, an anti-harassment policy makes more sense.
>>> After all that, we introduced the policy, and the controversy was
>>> minimal.  We created the environment for acceptance first.
>>> My advice would be, if your goal is a respectful, diverse hackerspace
>>> that attracts women and minorities to become members and contribute, then
>>> cultivate that environment first.  A policy is not going to magically
>>> create it for you.  This is critical, too: leadership MUST set an example
>>> in this area.  Be respectful of ALL your members, online and offline - I
>>> would even go so far as to say as a leader, don't argue with any member on
>>> a mailing list.  Talk to your members in person.
>>> Finally, you have to maintain the policy.  Enforce it, warn members, and
>>> also carefully screen people that seek membership.  We've put the brakes on
>>> a couple of people that were clearly never going to respect women, and
>>> shown them the door.
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> Discuss mailing list
>>> Discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org
>>> http://lists.hackerspaces.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss
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