CHI 2018 – an open letter to the CHI community
The below speech was written collaboratively in the immediate aftermath of the offensive keynote speech delivered on Monday morning to open the conference, and was read out at the SIGCHI Town Hall meeting at CHI 2018 in Montreal, Canada. It was co-authored by members of fempower.tech as well as members of the feminist-HCI community.
The speech in itself was slightly different to what is written here, as some words were slightly changed last minute, as it was delivered immediately after the special ‘listening post’ panel that was attended by CHI 2018 and CHI 2019 organisers, as well as a group of concerned attendants to share thoughts, ideas, and feelings towards inclusion and diversity at CHI, as well as the emotional labour involved in working towards better futures.
To CHI 2018 attendants and the wider SIGCHI community,
I want to start off this talk with a huge thank you. A thank you for everyone who has helped me put this together, and the collective action that has been brewing and that has matured this year at CHI. Thank you for providing us with this official forum at this town hall to voice our concerns, and thank you to everyone who has entrusted me with taking the microphone.
I may be standing up here with only a few others, but this message was co-constructed with a wider community of researchers, students, and those working in industry over the last couple of days. This is a message not only to CHI organisers, but also the acm more widely, and us individuals who make up the chi community.
For the many of you who will not know who I am: I am Angelika Strohmayer and I’m based at Newcastle University. Today I stand in front of you as an ACM-member, as well as a co-founder of fempower.tech, and a concerned part of this community. I want to address some of the concerns that many of us share about the CHI community, focusing primarily on the opening plenary of this years’ CHI.
Before I do so though, I want to air the concerns that many of us share about this speech. I think it is a bit harsh for us to address this social problem only at this year’s CHI, the organisers of which have done a lot to put inclusion initiatives into place. I also think it is a huge amount of pressure on next years’ organisers to say they must fix these deeply entrenched, contextualised and nuanced social concerns surrounding exclusion, toxic environments, and harassment.
Instead, I want to put a little bit of pressure on all of us to do better. To speak up when we see or hear something that has been normalised in our community but that should be unacceptable. For all of us to pull one another aside if we seem distressed; to genuinely ask if we are okay. To lend a listening and caring ear; and to offer the kindness and support we so desperately need.
Throughout the last few days there has been a lot of discussion, communication, speeches, and collective action around the keynote that happened on Monday morning. What I want to stress though, is that while that talk was incredibly problematic on a number of levels, I want to also address the wider implications of it. While the content may not represent the CHI community, this choice of keynote at the time of #metoo and the various Facebook privacy scandals was problematic and short-sighted.
I want to thank the organisers for their recent comments, and I personally want to thank the community which has come together around this issue throughout the last three days (and really the last many years with MatriarCHI, ArabHCI, LambdaCHI, and now CHIversity as well as various other ongoing campaigns). We also need to acknowledge that this was a mistake and something we need to learn to collectively unpack and avoid in the future. I hope the kinds of conversations we have had earlier today, and over the last few days, continue to support the struggle towards equity in SIGCHI.
I also want to stress that the keynote is only a catalyst and symptom of wider issues in HCI and CHI that we have chosen to strategically avoid over the last few years. Yes, there have been campaigns, policies, and actions, but the fact that Rudder was chosen to open CHI this year shows that inclusion is still a work in progress.
I want to now read to you a letter that was inspired by a collective of feminists at this conference, and that was co-written by members of the CHI community both present and not present at this years’ conference; some of whom are on stage with me.
We need to use the next year to continue these conversations and proactively move towards more inclusive, diverse, and equal spaces at CHI and other SIGCHI events and venues. Our conversations need to go further than this week and today; they need to go further than this years’ CHI, and need to be addressed not only at upcoming conferences, but throughout the year.
We need to develop an acceptance that there will always be conflict and a difference in opinion, but also that there are certain incidents and language that we will not stand for as a community, and as an institution such as the ACM. We need to learn to encounter, address, acknowledge, and constructively deal with these differences democratically and collectively, rather than relying on top-down decision-making consensus.
The letter I have read out is a call to action not only for the chairs of CHI 2018 and CHI 2019, but to us as a community. A community made up of individuals who can make a difference. It is a call for social change that is complex, and nuanced, and necessary. Something we have to work on together, and something that is an ongoing conversation about intersectional inclusivity of varied experiences across ACM membership.
We need to stop the self-congratulation about being the ‘best’ conference in relation to diversity and inclusion in the ACM, as this gives the false impression that the job is done. Instead, we must celebrate our small victories and simultaneously work towards becoming a better, more welcoming and retaining, space for the most marginalised in our SIGCHI community.
We know the will to change is there, but now we need to collectively walk the walk.
In feminist, caring, and kind solidarity.