“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” 

Attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In civil society, we measure our words and deeds, and listen to others’ ideas and opinions. We set our expectations for civil discourse not necessarily based on a minimum expectation of the law, but based on our humanity, because we set high standards for ourselves and feel empathy for others.

We, too, can be thoughtful in word and deed. We, too, can have each other’s best interests at heart. Sometimes, however, we can be too stunned by words or deeds to move, frozen in shock. We can be frozen by the fear of the powerful, or the shock of the unexpected. And, we can become frustrated when the wheels of justice turn too slowly or silently. We applaud those who do speak up for justice.

I am writing to assure our community that Harassment-Free AAG does not end at the boarding gate for the flight home from the Annual Meeting. In fact, avoiding workplace discrimination and harassment all weeks of the year is the first concern in AAG’s current Statement of Professional Ethics (see section II and II.A.).

The AAG launched Harassment-Free AAG at the 2019 Annual Meeting, which members did use. I am again grateful to all the individuals, AAG Staff Members, and committee members who worked hard on the policy and on the logistics, enactment, launch, and post-meeting follow through of this new program. This program builds upon the 2017 Council Resolution creating the Standing Committee on AAG Annual Meeting Attendee Disciplinary Matters. Meanwhile, AAG members will be receiving a post-Annual Meeting survey created by the Harassment-Free AAG task force, due out in early May, to assess their experiences as a benchmark for the beginning of this program, so please watch for it and respond.

And, justice moves at a judicial pace. Several incidents did occur and were reported, and the AAG is processing them. Please do not misinterpret silence as inaction or not caring. In order for AAG sanctions to be enforceable, there must be due process. This is in fairness to those seeking justice, to complainants, witnesses, and to respondents, until all evidence is presented and considered, and decisions are rendered in the formal process. If there is no due process, it undermines AAG’s ability to enforce sanctions when warranted. So rest assured that the meeting Advocate, Ombudsperson, and AAG Staff, AAG legal counsel, and officers have been working hard behind the scenes both during and after the meeting to process and respond to reports.

That said, some incidents have been discussed in the wider social media, which of course cannot be un-seen. One recent incident is made more troubling because of the lack of response of bystanders in real time. It is certainly our collective duty to call out bullying: peer pressure is another check on misbehavior in civil society, in addition to formal proceedings. Again, we turn to Dr. King for introspection:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Every one of us has a responsibility to speak out against mistreatment and misbehavior. While it is up to the justice system to investigate their severity and pervasiveness, and to determine consequences, this is also about our humanity and doing the right thing. AAG has released the following statement with the hopes that it will ease members’ concerns about the status of pending cases:

Statement by AAG regarding Harassment Free Meetings and Recent Incidents

“ The AAG is fully committed to having harassment free meetings. We have recently implemented a new wide-ranging Harassment Free AAG meetings policy (see AAG Event Conduct Policy http://annualmeeting.aag.org/conduct) that was rolled out at the Washington, DC meeting, and it has already made a positive contribution. The AAG is now compiling all the information currently available on each of the five harassment incidents which have been reported at the recent Annual Meeting. We have presented this information to our attorney, and will be undertaking formal investigations of each of the incidents as promptly as legally possible. The AAG also has a legally-reviewed policy in place on how to proceed regarding such incidents, and a special AAG Committee to handle these cases. That process is moving forward now on each of these incidents as rapidly as possible, and each will be thoroughly investigated, and enforceable sanctions will be forthcoming as warranted.”

Waiting for findings is painful, especially because we are sometimes at the mercy of University processes and timelines. So, again, I am grateful that AAG has a clear and enhanced anti-harassment policy and a process to address misbehavior by our members. I am grateful for our AAG Members’ concern and attention to this topic, and for the AAG Staff’s prompt and thorough actions to respond. AAG Council has asked the Harassment-Free Task Force to work on more specific topics that have arisen, including suggestions from our members, as we move into year 2 of this program. We will continue to review and update the new policy as unanticipated circumstances arise, and as the post-meeting survey provides input. Our work is far from done.

Thank you for allowing me into your mailboxes each month to discuss important issues that affect us all and thank you all for moving AAG into the 21st century in our expectations for courteous, thoughtful, and professional discourse, for healthy debates among ourselves, and for respect for one another.

Please share your ideas with me at: slbeach (at) austin (dot) utexas (dot) edu

— Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, President, AAG
Professor, Geography and the Environment, The University of Texas at Austin

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0053