Every geographer should be able to enjoy, contribute to and benefit from academic conferences. But conferences are places where unprofessional and inappropriate behaviours have historically gone unchallenged. Prejudice, micro-aggressions and abuse of power – however enacted, and whether overt or subtle, conscious or unconscious – disproportionately impact geographers who are starting out in the discipline and those who experience structural discrimination, inequalities and marginalisation. That some of us have not been aware, have failed to recognise it, or have failed to intervene or call out these behaviours is part of the problem.
Often, the scholars most affected are those whose voices are under-represented in our academic communities, and who face multiple institutional and systemic barriers of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, and/or gender. This is not simply a concern about avoiding upsetting experiences: it causes serious harm, and has concrete impacts on the conference experience, on careers and on lives. It shames us all, and limits what our discipline should be. And we are all responsible for challenging it.
Ahead of RGS-IBG AC2022, we are asking everyone involved to think about how to tackle this problem, and to play their role in actioning change. We want a conference which is safer, more accessible, more inclusive, and convivial, not just for those who already experience these spaces as comfortable or welcoming, but for everyone. We require behaviour that is welcoming and respectful of others at all times, and for all delegates to hold themselves, and others, to the highest standards of professionalism. We will not tolerate discrimination or harassment on grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, gender identity, class, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, age and/or religion, or any bullying or belittling behaviour.
Events in the lead-up to the conference will provide space for potential attendees to discuss these issues together and inform our shared practice, and will offer training on allyship and bystander intervention. The knowledge that there is tacit support from colleagues that discriminatory behaviours and attitudes are not tolerated, and the provision of dedicated spaces for support and recovery, are important in tackling any kind of abuse and in supporting survivors and recognising their experiences. So the 2022 RGS-IBG annual conference will also pilot new visible well-signposted locations and processes for informal support and reporting, monitoring, and responses to harassing or offensive behaviour in the conference space.
We won’t change everything overnight. But with enough of us contributing, in whatever ways we are able, we can work together and build on existing efforts to challenge and change the culture of conferences. The Society is making this a long term commitment.
Rachel Pain (RGS-IBG Conference Chair 2022), Alison Blunt (RGS-IBG Vice-President for Research and Higher Education), and Peter Kraftl (RGS-IBG Honorary Secretary for Research and Higher Education)
(With thanks to the Newcastle RGS-IBG Conference EDI Reference Group and all those who have been actively involved in these discussions)
Conference code of conduct
All delegates agree to abide by the conference code of conduct at the time of registration. We encourage you to take some time now to reread the code, so that we all enter the conference with these principles at the forefront of our minds and with a clear sense of the full range of behaviours, situations, actions and language that may have the effect of making others feel unwelcome or disrespected and which are not appropriate at the conference.
Discrimination, harassment and bullying are unacceptable and constitute serious misconduct under the code of conduct. Such behaviour should be reported and will be addressed with potential consequences for offenders including expulsion from the conference and/or reporting to their institution.
The procedures for reporting incidents are outlined towards the end of the code of conduct. If you have questions, please speak to one of the Society staff (blue lanyards); come to the Support and recovery space for informal and confidential advice (see below); email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone or WhatsApp message 0207 591 3022.
Read the code of conduct
It’s everyone’s responsibility: response strategies
What should you do if you observe inappropriate actions and behaviours, or have other concerns, and you want to support fellow delegates and colleagues safely and appropriately? Working with The 1752 Group, we have collated guidance on being an active bystander, with concrete suggestions of different approaches and interventions that might be appropriate in different contexts. These are intended to support positive professional community norms and the development of healthier academic settings that inhibit future harm from occurring. These complement expert-led formal training.
Read the guidance for bystanders
Preparing for disclosures workshop: how to respond
We know that anyone could be a first responder to a disclosure of harassment, discrimination, bullying or violence; a survivor may decide you are the person they trust most, and your response could have a significant impact. We also know that the prospect of taking a disclosure can be daunting.
This workshop, and resources that will follow, will be delivered online by the 1752 Group, experts in sexual harassment and violence in higher education. It is for attendees to recognise the full spectrum of sexual misconduct/harassment; to be familiar with appropriate ways of responding to disclosures; and to be familiar with routes for onward referral within the RGS-IBG conference space and more widely. The workshop is on Thursday 18 August, running 14.00-16.00 BST.
Submit an expression of interest to attend the online workshop
The recovery space
As part of a pilot this year, we will have a dedicated 'recovery space' in Henry Daysh Building 1.07.
Joy Easterbox, a highly experienced counsellor, will be present at the conference to offer support or just to chat to any delegate. Anyone who wishes to disclose an incident, seek advice about reporting, or just to talk about issues of comfort and safety at the conference, is encouraged to speak to her. Or you may want to use the space simply to relax and decompress.
Joy will be in the recovery space in person on Wednesday 31 August and Thursday 1 September from 11.00-14.00 each day. There will also be phone support available on Tuesday 30 August and Friday 2 September, and printed resources in the space throughout the conference.