For over a decade, the Romance Writers of America has been a generous sponsor of IASPR. Every conference we have held has received RWA support, including our upcoming 2020 conference on “Diversity, Inclusion, Innovation” in popular romance culture, and the field of popular romance studies has been seeded and sustained by the RWA Academic Research Grant program.
However, in light of recent events we as a scholarly organization must add our voice to the chorus of readers, reviewers, editors, agents, and authors who have called for sweeping and lasting change at the RWA, beginning with the eight steps listed in the “Readers to RWA” letter from Romance Sparks Joy:
- A clear, unequivocal statement that RWA is anti-racist and that all of its policies, procedures, and activities will ensure that the organization meets this standard.
- A public apology to Ms. Milan, the Board members who have been compelled by their consciences to resign this week, and members who have been harmed by the RWA as stated above.
- The resignations of President/President-Elect Damon Suede and Executive Director Carol Ritter.
- An emergency election of new Directors to replace those who have resigned in protest.
- A full, transparent, and independent investigation into the complaint, investigation, and censure processes around RWA’s Code of Ethics, with attention to events related to the complaints against Ms. Milan and reports that ethics complaints by marginalized members were not forwarded to the Ethics Committee by RWA staff.
- An accounting of the actions that led to the creation of a secret ethics committee and the Board’s initial vote against Ms. Milan.
- The removal of staff if investigations demonstrate those staff members discriminated against marginalized authors based on their identities, whether intentionally or through negligence.
- An Action Plan developed with public input to address the systematic exclusion, harassment, and lack of support for marginalized members and prospective members at every level of RWA, including chapters, conferences and events, staff prerogatives, and Board action.
In keeping with that letter’s call for a “boycott of any events sponsored by or affiliated with the national chapter of RWA,” and in order to forestall any use of our conference to whitewash problems with diversity and inclusion at RWA itself, we will budget for, plan, and, if necessary, hold our 2020 conference this summer without using the financial support that RWA has provided for it. We will reallocate resources and seek out other funding in order to minimize the impact of this decision on travel support for graduate students, untenured faculty, and independent scholars.
We do not flatter ourselves that IASPR, our conferences, and our affiliate publication, the Journal of Popular Romance Studies are somehow free from racism, exclusion, and inequity, or that we will always succeed in addressing them. We do, however, hope to respond to our failures by keeping in mind the advice that Prof. Jay Thalang gives his graduate students—and, ultimately, takes to heart—in Courtney Milan’s Hold Me:
“If you can’t get over your ego and just talk about what you did and what happened, this will take four times as long. You failed. Get used to it. Some of the biggest scientific breakthroughs came about because someone failed and figured out why. Don’t worry about failing. Worry about failing wrongly.”
So far in this matter RWA has not just failed, but failed wrongly. We ask for better from them, and will try to do better ourselves. We hope all organizations, including RWA, are able to embrace policy and practice that sees and represents all of their talent.