CHI 2018 – an open letter to first-time attendants

7May - by Angelika - 0 - In #CHIversity

To first-time CHI attendees,

If you were at the plenary talk on Monday morning at CHI2018, you may have had reactions that many of us did. You may justly feel let down by this conference and this community because you experienced the dehumanizing and ostracizing keynote by Christian Rudder. By using outdated data, making statements such as ‘women are women and men are men’, this speaker has broken the trust we had in CHI. However, our first concern is for you: people attending CHI for the first time. We’ve heard newcomers telling us about feeling uneased, nauseated or excluded by this keynote, while others told us how difficult it was to feel heard by their colleagues, who dismissed their feelings and criticisms altogether. We want to let you know that we’re here, that we know people from marginalized communities still leave our field at much higher rate, and that something needs to be done.

We deeply regret that the excitement of coming to CHI for the first time, to making a different and a valuable contribution in this space has been smited. We know that  even a week after the keynote, this was still a subject of discussion. For many of us, and possibly you, it has prevented your ability to focus and engage fully with the community. This is not how we want CHI to feel.

To welcome you properly, we want to convey to you what CHI has been for us in the past, the issues it still has to address, and what we hope it will be in the future.

Experiences we’ve had

For some of us, CHI has been a place to meet long-lasting friends and colleagues who have supported our personal and academic endeavors. We’ve felt welcomed when joining unknown groups of folks during coffee breaks and demo sessions. We’ve received introductions to people in our field that helped us expand our professional networks. For others of us, CHI has not always been this positive experience, but coming back to the conference and building networks has helped us feel more welcome. We have all had our first CHI experience, some of us having a better first CHI than others.

However, we do see CHI as an extraordinary opportunity to publish because of the reach and prestige of the conference. Many of us, probably like some of you, are quite proud when we publish at CHI for the first time. It’s a career and academic achievement, and one that makes us proud.

Issues to address

Obviously, from opening keynote at CHI2018, but also wider issues of inclusion at CHI more widely, we feel like there are issues we can very pragmatically address:

  • We need to work on how keynote speakers are selected and how their talks are prepared for the CHI audience;
  • We need to be assured that if another keynote is problematic, there’s a protocol to handle it: we should be able to debate and refute keynote speakers;
  • We need to restructure the way questions are asked of keynotes, and how audience participation and an exchange of viewpoints and ideas can be better facilitated;
  • More largely, there’s a need to further convey to all participants the values CHI stands for;

But we’d also like to hear from all of you!

Values we support

CHI attendees pride themselves in hosting inclusive and supportive events for all academics, staff, and practitioners in the development of their careers.

CHI is an interdisciplinary HCI conference: many communities meet here from computer scientists to psychologists to health practitioners to human-centered design researchers and so many more. As such, not being inclusive is all the more problematic. As CHI veterans, attendees, and hosts, these are the values we wish to propagate and support at CHI:

  • Intersectional iInclusivity (inclusive on all axes of diversity – gender, race, economic status, education status, sexuality, religion, location, ability, and all other dimensions of diversity)
  • An inclusion and discussion of ethics in research and in presentation of results
  • Care and empathy for the people who take part in our research studies, and those who help develop and design these studies
  • Critical thinking and awareness of our own biases when conducting and presenting research, particularly when considering contexts of our research

For some more institutional information, you can have a look at the CHI2018 Diversity and Inclusion statement (https://chi2018.acm.org/attending/diversity-and-inclusion-statement/) or the ACM’s Policy Against Discrimination and Harassment for Members and Event Attendees (https://www.acm.org/special-interest-groups/volunteer-resources/officers-manual/policy-against-discrimination-and-harassment)

We will strive to see CHI through to a better future, and we really hope you stick around with us. We will continue to work towards a more inclusive, friendly, and welcoming CHI, and hope that you will join us in building this better future.

Signed,
Members of fempower.tech and members of the feminist-HCI community


This letter was co-written by members of the fempower.tech and feminist-HCI communities the week of, and immediately after, CHI 2018 in Montreal, Canada.

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