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)