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Update on the Safe ToC initiative (guest post by Sandy Irani)

August 30, 2019

[Guest post by Sandy Irani; see also the new website http://safetoc.org for more information on this initiative. –Boaz ]

Update and follow-up on the Safe ToC initiative: 

Last year, a group of us served on an ad hoc committee to combat harassment and discrimination in the Theory of Computing community.  In our report, we suggested a number of measures that the various theory conferences could adopt to help in this effort. At a minimum, we wanted conferences to adopt a code of conduct and to appoint volunteers to serve as ToC Advocates whose role will be to provide support to any individual who has experienced harassment at a conference.  Our full final report is now available here:

https://www.ics.uci.edu/~irani/ToC_SH_report.pdf

A small subset of the original committee along with Yuval Rabani in his capacity as IEEE TCMF chair are working on implementing some of the recommendations in the recent report. We have now launched a web site for the SafeToC Initiative: safetoc.org

So far, the support from the broader community has been strong. Quite a few conferences have passed resolutions to adopt the recommended practices in our report. The new web site lists all the participating conferences as well as the names of volunteers who have signed on to be ToC Advocates. The web site also provides information for ToC Advocates, conference organizers, and members of the ToC community. 

Participating conferences all have codes of conduct and are ensuring that participants agree to abide by the code as part of their registration process. In addition, some of these conferences are adopting new mechanisms for author-declared conflicts of interests. This is especially important if an author feels that he or she may receive an unfair review due to a previous harassment-related incident. 

Of course, the work is not done, and this important effort needs to continue. What can everyone do from here?

  • First, we are in need of trained ToC Advocates, to spread this important service around!  An advocate would be a designated conference attendee who would be available to provide support and information to anyone who has observed or experienced harassment at the conference The work is not difficult. Right now the training consists of an hour-long webinar sponsored by the ACM. We are envisioning one or two group Skype meetings per year to share experiences and best practices. If you are interested in serving as a ToC Advocate for a conference, you can contact someone on the steering committee for that conference.
  • Second, even if you are not serving as an Advocate, please familiarize yourself with the various codes of conduct, and perhaps even listen to a training video!  A larger community of invested bystanders who are aware of these issues and prepared to support and/or intervene as needed is critical. This does not have to mean formal reporting – even helping to diffuse a problematic situation or checking in on a colleague to be sure they are ok after a difficult conversation can make a big difference to someone involved in an incident.

We will continue to update the web page as participation in this effort grows. Thank you to everyone for helping to make our community a safe and welcoming place for everyone.

Erin Chambers
Martin Farach-Colton
Sandy Irani
Yuval Rabani

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