August 25, 2015

Still Standing / Still Standing with Laura Mullen

Thank you to everyone who spoke out last week, when "Chicks Dig Poetry"--first the specific link to the post below, then the entire blog--was flagged (by who I'll never know) as being "abusive" and was blocked from Facebook. All earlier links to CDP on my personal or Author page were compromised as well. For some of us, the scrubbing of links took portions of a larger conversation with it.

This is a reminder of how easily social media's tools to protect can be misused to censor. Initially, I had no recourse beyond submitting generic forms to contest the decision. But an outcry on Twitter got Facebook's attention, and a friend facilitated an in-house request to investigate. The flag was subsequently overturned, and CDP is allowed on Facebook's pages. 

At no time have I had reason to think anyone closely affiliated with the Association of Writers & Writing Programs triggered the block. Staff members went out of their way to express support. It's important to not conflate what happened here, as frustrating as it was, with people's concerns about AWP leadership; by the same token, having this issue "fixed" should not be false comfort when real concerns remain.

I spoke with AWP Executive Director David Fenza for an hour on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 19. I appreciate him taking the time. We are in agreement on some things, and I respect that he has dedicated years to fostering this organization. 

That said, I return to three points:

-Mr. Fenza interpreted sending and favoriting Tweets, as Laura Mullen did using her personal Twitter account, as public actions in her capacity as an academic. 

-He chose to cc this letter to the Department Chair and Vice Chair at Louisiana State University, where Laura Mullen is the Director of Creative Writing.

My concerns related to these points were not dispelled by our conversation. There were internal contradictions in Mr. Fenza's justifications. There are external inconsistencies with the values I hold as a writer and a member of AWP. 

There has been one thing that everyone who I spoke to because of an AWP affiliation seemed to agree on: the Executive Director acted in error. But there has been no public acknowledgement, even in a statement that mentions me by name. As of checking in with Laura Mullen last night, there has been no private apology either. 

I understand the need for off-the-record conversation, especially when people are gathering facts. But when the gap between what is said behind the scenes and what is said on the record grows too significant, everyone's credibility is damaged. If we let the silence stand, then we send the message that this is all okay. 

This is not okay. 

In the life of any organization, members will have questions, criticisms, even flat-out complaints. Sometimes the most inconvenient ideas yield the most growth. We have to be free to voice dissent without fear of disproportionate recrimination. Our latitude to speak, and our ability to object, should be regardless of our individual rank or stature. If there are not appropriate protocols in place to ensure that, there should be. 

Laura Mullen deserves an apology. 


Lauren K. said...

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Robyn Ringler said...

Laura Mullen does indeed deserve an apology. Thank you for the post, Sandra. We all appreciate your keeping us informed.

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