Communities in Conflict
May 30, 2023
An online discussion to support organizers of dance, music, and song groups
From disagreements about COVID protocols to strong feelings about role terms on the dance floor, dance leaders and organizers have been in the middle of passionate community discussions the past few years. As an organizer, what approaches and techniques can you use to help your group through these rough patches? And what can you do to keep your own balance along the way?
CDSS Executive Director Katy German joined Jenny Beer, Dana Dwinell-Yardley, Sue Songer, and Kathy Story for a conversation about working through conflict as a community.
- PowerPoint Slides from CDSS
- PowerPoint Slides from Jenny Beer: Thoughts on Conflict in Communities
- Montpelier, VT, contra dance role terms: Timeline, process, outcomes, and learnings, by Dana Dwinell-Yardley (Word doc)
- Portland [Oregon] Country Dance Community (PCDC) Community Forum, by Sue Songer (Word doc)
- Role Terms Controversy in Portland [Oregon] Country Dance Community Timeline, by Sue Songer and Kathy Story (Word doc)
Web Chat Guests
Jenny Beer, Philadelphia, PA
Many of you know Jenny as a (very) longtime English country dancer and dance choreographer. In her other life, she is both an anthropologist and a professional mediator and facilitator, with much experience teaching college students and adults about conflict resolution, negotiation, and mediation, especially in mixed-culture situations. If you find yourself informally mediating in your dance organization (or elsewhere), you can find lots of down-to-details advice, in her Mediator’s Handbook, which has gone through many editions since 1982.
Dana Dwinell-Yardley, Montpelier, VT
Dana has been contra dancing since 2004, and has served on the Montpelier dance organizing committee since 2010. She’s proud of Montpelier’s reputation as a friendly, inclusive, and high-caliber dance. She’s also been proud and humbled to work alongside her committee members and dance community as they’ve navigated a lot of growth and change together, from gender-neutral role terms, to sliding scale admission, to restarting the dance safely during COVID times. Dana is a freelance graphic designer by day, as well as a climate justice activist, community singing organizer, and lover of mountains in any weather.
Sue Songer, Portland, OR
Sue Songer has been a contra and English dancer and musician for more than 30 years. She plays piano and fiddle, beginning in her hometown of Portland, OR, and eventually performing across the US. Her specialty is piano accompaniment, which she has provided for a great many fiddlers and a number of contra dance bands.
Sue is also deeply involved with community (all-comer) contra dance bands. She has organized and directed the 75-member Portland Megaband since 1996. She has worked with smaller open bands in many different contexts and locations, sometimes conducting intensive weekend workshops aimed at coalescing the sound of these groups of disparate musicians and expanding their repertoire.
Over the years, Sue has served twice on the PCDC board of directors and on almost every PCDC committee and task group. She has twice been the president of the board of directors, most recently from June 2021 to June 2023. Her professional experiences as a public-school teacher and as a licensed psychologist have helped her guide the Portland dance community through some difficult times.
Kathy Story, Portland, OR
Kathy began contra dancing in Memphis in 2005 and was soon dancing at contra weekends throughout the Southeast and helping organize the Memphis dance weekend. When she moved to Portland, Oregon, she was delighted to discover the vibrant contra and ECD community there. Her first Raindance, Portland Megaband, and Northwest Passage were highlights of her dancing life. Kathy also plays fiddle (very badly, she says) and loves playing the contra and ECD repertoire at slow jams and at open band.
Kathy joined the Portland Contra Committee in early 2020 and was elected chair just as the world shut down from Covid. Like so many, she was devastated, but the important work of the committee and the friendships she developed with other members over Zoom sustained her. For three years, the committee worked diligently to further a welcoming, safe, inclusive, and fun community. Kathy was also privileged to be the face of the Portland Live concerts, through which she met many dancers and organizers on the West Coast and beyond.
Transcript of CDSS Web Chat: Communities in Conflict
May 30, 2023
people, dance, community, decisions, dancers, committee, non-gendered, conversation, talk, group, montpelier, survey, process, issues, happening, kathy, email, dana, terms, conflict
Jenny Beer, Katy German, Sue Songer, Kathy Story, Joanna Wilkinson, Dana Dwinell-Yardley
Joanna Wilkinson 00:00
Delighted to see our latest web chat. Katy, I think we’re at critical mass, and we’re ready to get started.
Katy German 00:08
That’s wonderful. Just a quick reminder that this works best when most everyone is muted. So check your mic, make sure you’re muted for this while we’re in the listening portion. When we get to the breakout rooms and q&a section, we’ll cue you all up to unmute and talk lively amongst yourselves. So welcome, everybody.
Thank you so much for being here tonight, we really appreciate you taking this time, especially after long weekends, which I know it’s hard to come back to the real world after a long weekend. So it’s especially nice that you’re choosing your evening with us to spend your evening with us.
We have a few Tech Tips for everybody. We’re recording this whole session, it’s already recording. So if you do not want to be visible on the recording, please turn off your video and remain muted. There are also live captions, you can turn them on by clicking the closed caption symbol that says live transcript at the bottom of your screen, also where you can turn them off. If you don’t see that you can click on More and then you will have that option. And while we are screen sharing the slides, you can adjust the size by sliding the sidebar to the right and the left. I think everybody knows that by now. But you never know, we might have the one person on this call who has not yet ever attended a Zoom meeting. This could be their first ever Zoom meeting.
All right, next slide. So I’m actually just realizing I’m just doing all of Joanna’s part. Sorry, Joanna. So we want to just make sure you all know that we are able to do this programming free for the whole community because of the support from our members and our donors. So if you’re a member, thank you so much for making this possible. If you’ve attended a few of these, and you’re thinking about being a member or joining, this would be a great time. You can also make a one-time donation. But you could do that by going to cdss.org. That’s all I’m gonna say about that.
Next slide. So here’s the rundown for tonight. I’m going to do a little, just a short little bit of framing for the conversation, talk about what it is and what it is not. We have Jenny Beer, who is a professional mediator, who will be talking to us a little bit about the world that she works in. She is also part of our dance community. So she really understands what we’re working through right now. We also have stories from the field, are joined by Dana Dwinell-Yardley from Montpelier, Vermont, and Sue Songer and Kathy Story from Portland, Oregon.
There will be some time for breakout rooms this time. You know, sometimes on web chats we do that, sometimes we don’t, people love them, people hate them. This is a web chat, where there will be breakout rooms. But it’s just 10 minutes. And it’s very small groups. So hopefully that’ll be a good experience for everybody. After the breakout rooms, we’re going to all come back together. And we’re going to be able to share some questions and observations coming out of those groups and have more of a relaxed conversation back and forth with our featured guests. And we’ll talk you through how to do that.
So next slide. So today, I want to make sure that everybody’s clear on this, because I’ve already had to clarify that a few times. I want to talk about what this web chat is not. This is not a debate about policy. This is not the definitive answer on any given topic that you have been grappling with. I’m sorry, I wish I could offer that. But that’s not what we’re offering.
This is not an opportunity to air specific grievances. I know that there are a lot of very strong feelings and difficult situations out there. But this is not the time to draw attention to a particular situation that you’re working on. You can make friends and buddies and you can do that after the webcast.
And it really, I think we say this all the time, and you probably get tired of hearing it. But this is not a quick and easy solution to all of our problems. I don’t think you expect that at this point. But I think it goes without saying I think it’s important to say that oh, that this is just hard. And some things are hard and some things are worth putting hard work in for so that’s what’s good web chat is not what we hoped that it is the discussion about navigating decisions. How do you make decisions and move forward when your team or the team of people that you work with? Disagree? How do you care? Keep your community together when there’s conflict, it’s really hard. And it’s a conversation about being transparent, and being proactive in your communication and communicating with the community. So please join us on that path. And thank you for helping us stay focused tonight.
All right, next slide. So why this particular topic or approach, so we got a lot of requests from organizers who are dealing with various difficult situations. But this was a common theme that we were hearing, which was, we don’t know how to move forward, we don’t know how to keep things together when everybody’s disagreeing. We thought it would also be good to talk about this as a framework because it not only could be applied to current situations, but it also is just good for groups in general, teams of people working together, figuring out how to respectfully disagree, and really listen and really be able to move forward, that’s going to make your group stronger in the future as well. And, two, we hope that it will counteract the extremely polarizing impacts of social media. And we’ll come back to that a little bit. But I think everybody understands that feeling where you go online, and it feels like the whole world is separating into two groups or three, four factions. And we have to work, we have to actively counteract that by being human together. And remembering that we know how to disagree respectfully, and move forward. So that’s what we hope this is going to help us with today.
Next slide. Okay, so the other thing I want to say before turning it over to our guests is that CDSS works on this too. We have in the past; we are now still working on this. Our board is comprised of 22…21…22, I think, members from all across the continent. They come from very different dance and song communities, different states, different ways of seeing the world. So this is something that we have to constantly work on at CDSS. And it’s come up a lot in our history. Do we add song into our name and the mission of our organization? Do we let those wild contra dancers in? Do we support contra dancing? You know, this is decades and decades ago. But these were big issues at that time, big divisive issues. Should we support women’s morris teams? Should the office leave New York City? What do we think about gender balancing? And then most recently, should we become a remote organization? I bring that up because I think we are not alone in going through a lot of hard things in the past.
And it’s important for all of us to remember, we’ve come across hard things before, we’re going to come across hard divisive issues. Again, it doesn’t mean that the dance stops, or the singing stops. And so I just, it actually helps me when I remember what we’ve already worked through. Just like, our most recent conversations at our board meeting were around calling terminology at our programs, our COVID protocols, and how we relate to our affiliates. What responsibility do we have to them? How independent do we need to be and let them be? You know, these are really deep conversations. And they’re very similar to what you all are talking about. Another big theme is generational transition and transmitting knowledge and handing over leadership. So I think we did a really good job this year at our annual board meeting—we started by having a conversation introducing all of us to the principles of nonviolent communication. That’s a whole realm.
I encourage you to just Google search “nonviolent communication” and check, check out all of the resources that are out there. But basically, it’s approaching difficult conversations with curiosity, assuming good intention, acknowledging emotions that are at play, because a lot of times if emotions aren’t acknowledged, they are really—if you can’t acknowledge them, you can’t process through them and move forward and and listen to each other.
So that’s how we kind of started the meeting. Did our business. And the other thing we did was, we dedicated time for deeper conversation and understanding. We weren’t going to rush through and barrel through and get all the business done. We really held space for some less structured, more open, honest communication. And it really, I think, we didn’t figure everything out, but it was great. We I think one thing that really I took away from the conversation was, a lot of people were surprised that, that that we weren’t as divided as we thought we were coming into it. We assumed, we assume so much about other people based on the snippets that we hear either online, or an overheard conversation.
But when we really dig down deep, we all care very deeply about these dance communities. And there’s a lot of understanding, even when we don’t agree exactly on what to do next, there’s a lot of really deep understanding. And that’s what’s going to make it possible to move forward and make decisions, because you have to make decisions as an organizer, you can’t just not make decisions. So I think that’s all I want to say about that. CDSS is in that with you, dealing with the same things. I’m really excited to hear from our guests today. I’ve gotten to know them a little bit in preparation for this chat. So I think I think you’re gonna really enjoy what you hear.
And with that, I think I’m ready to turn it over to Jenny. Oh, wait, I have my one nerdy quote. Big Lord of the Rings fan here. So best line in the whole series was when Frodo says, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” And Gandalf says, “So do I. And so to all who live to see such time, but that is not for them to decide, all we have to do have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” That is one of the most true, beautiful, deep quotations that I have ever heard. And I think it’s important to leave, keep that in mind. These are the times we live in. And we, you know, we were built for this. It’s okay, we can get through it. Now, I’m really going to turn it over to Jenny, thank you.
Jenny Beer 12:18
It’s hard to follow Katy, who has very profound things to say. So maybe I should put my slides up so that I don’t have to look at me on there. So hold on just a second. Well, I put those up for you. And we’ll set up for slideshow from the beginning. Yeah. So I was just paging through who is here, we have the most awesome group of organizers, and experienced dance callers and musicians on this call tonight.
So it feels a little presumptuous to be the person who’s talking about this as if the rest of you aren’t longtime warriors in this area, and have risen to that occasion, over and over again, and many of the issues that Katy reminded us that we have dealt with and at least partially put behind us as we have moved on. So I’m gonna just give you a very brief sort of setting, setting the stage, because we have two groups that are going to tell you about what they’ve done in their own communities. And I read all their materials this week, and they just did awesome things that you are going to want to learn from and copy from. So after they’re done, I may add some other things. And I have more “how to” kinds of things that we can get to later, if that’s the kind of questions that come up.
So as Katy reminded us, you know, your community is always going to have issues. It’s wishful thinking to think that okay, we’re going to solve these and there won’t be any more. So this is one of the reasons why we don’t really want to talk today about masks and vaccines and gender-neutral calling, and how to deal with those issues, particularly because whatever issue that comes up the ways that you deal with them, the fundamentals are very similar. And we’re hoping that what we learn from this round of our difficult issues will stand us in good stead for the next wave that comes.
So the first thing I thought of, maybe it’s facetious, but I think there’s a really positive aspect to people being in conflict in a community. Because if they don’t really care, or if they’re really bothered, they’ll leave. But these are people who want to engage, they care about the dancing or the singing or the music making that they’re doing together. They care about you and each other in the group. And so the fact that they’re willing to stay and feel uncomfortable and argue is, is a wonderful gift that people are willing to hang in there and do this with us. That’s the most important thing, I think.
We find ourselves in an interesting position, where this break has given us a time to rethink and redirect. And some people, I think, during the break did more of that. And some dancers were kind of surprised two years later, when a lot of new decisions and new ideas suddenly sprung up when they hadn’t been involved in those conversations. So I think we’re at the moment hearing a little bit of reverberation from the difference between the people who really spent a lot of time thinking and talking, and the others who came back and said, Wait, what are we talking about? I think we’re also going through, obviously, political issues in the country that politicize some of the things we’re talking about in ways that we may not have had to deal with before.
And I think, at least in Philadelphia, we’re going through generational transitions. And I think that’s an overlay on some of the other things that we’re having difficulty making decisions about. But I do think we still have that positive for us right now, that people remember what it was like when they couldn’t dance, and they couldn’t see each other. And so there’s that, that extra positive regard or willingness to go a little far farther than they might otherwise, because they understand how much it means to them. Dana may talk about this later, because she put it very eloquently in the handout that you’re going to get later.
But I think it’s smart to think about what is the underlying? What are some of the underlying subtexts of the issues that happen to be percolating to the surface with us at the moment? And for me, those are, I should say, I’m an anthropologist, as well as a mediator. Right? So these are anthropology questions. Who do we want to welcome into our community? And I would say, as an anthropologist, by definition, all communities exclude people as well as include people. Your community isn’t everybody on the planet. There’s a subset of people, they may be people who love to dance or whatever. But whatever decisions you make, include as well as exclude. And that’s a sad thing.
But I think it’s also a fact. And then I like to, I think for many people, it may just not be the political issues, but we often have significant differences in what is fun. Why do you dance? Why do you play music? What makes a joyful evening for you? And people have very different feelings about how they want to spend their precious dance and music time? See if my—are we just going to work here? No. There we go.
Yes. So in the work I do, I’ll often focus on three aspects of conflict, sort of very simply put, the people the emotions, the individuals who are involved, the problem that you’re trying to make a decision about, or the set of issues you’re trying to make a decision about. And then the process you use together and get there. And by process, I mean, how is your group going to make these decisions? How do you bring people along to a place where they can continue together? One of the things that’s interesting to think about is what are you good at? Because I think most of us have a tilt towards one of these sides of the triangle. And when you’re facing a deep conflict, thinking about who are my allies as an organizer in helping the group get through this? Do I have a really strong people person? Do I have someone who’s really solid on process? Do I have someone who’s really wise about the issues at hand, and see if you can make sure that you have those three bases covered?
Because it’s rare that one person can do all three of those things really well. And I think we mentioned the other thing before, and the last thing I want to say before we get to our stories…you will have conflicts come up. You will make decisions, you’ll have more complex, you will make more decisions.
And for me anyway, I think the compass needle points always towards community well-being first, that I as an organizer, or as a longtime dancer, and thinking about how do I approach this difficulty in a way that builds relationships while people are working through things that keeps people from sliding into interpersonal dislike. You know, it’s really—if you disagree with somebody, just start disliking them. And once you have that happening in your community, it causes a lot more polarization and escalates things beyond where they need to be. How do you set up conversations that are caring and attentive?
Katy spoke to that with nonviolent communication, which I also highly recommend as a way to think about having really useful listening happening in people’s conversations. And then I think this is the organizers’ problem, right, the next thing, and that is where you want to be inclusive. You want to be transparent so that people know what’s going on and have a say in the issues that are happening. You also need to set clear boundaries and fair boundaries of what’s okay, what’s not what’s going to happen, what the timeframe is, and respect people’s privacy, as well as people’s desire for knowing everything and knowing about everything. I don’t have good answers to that last one. I think that’s always an individual judgment. Should I let’s see, I think I’ll stop there. And we’ll go into our stories. Great.
Dana Dwinell-Yardley 21:22
Yeah. Thank you for some of that framing, Jenny, I appreciate it. Cool. My name is Dana Dwinell-Yardley and I’m from Montpelier, Vermont, and I’ve served on the contra dance organizing committee there. I’ve been on that committee since 2010. So that’s 13 years. And I still love it. And I’m still there. So that’s, that’s quite a thing.
I have about 10 minutes to tell you our story. And I’m going to try really hard to do that in 10 minutes. So I want to, I want to give you a little context about our dance and about the way our organizing committee is set up. Because I know organizing committees are set up in a lot of different ways and do things differently. So I’ll tell you about us. And then I want to try and tell you a story, a little timeline story about how our dance navigated the switch to gender-free role terms, which was just prior to the pandemic. And I’m going to also try and talk a little about how some of the things we learned in that process has helped inform and make our process on COVID policies go smoother than it would have otherwise. Having navigated the one conflict makes you stronger for the second conflict.
I want to, yeah, see if I can focus a little on that story on some of our conflict points, and some of the ways that our consensus process as a committee really helped us through. And then I want to try and leave you with, like, some things I learned. And some things I think we all learned. But like, just speaking for myself as a committee member, I know there’s some other Montpelier committee members on this call, and I’m very happy that you’re here, so please feel free, and also Montpelier dancers, if you remember things differently or have things to add, put them in the chat. Montpelier people are very happy to tell you what they think and feel about things, so hooray for that.
Okay, so here’s a little bit about our committee, we have about eight or nine people. It’s a committee with a lot of longevity, like our newest member has been on the committee for five years. And we have members that have been on for 20-plus years. We’re pretty intergenerational, our committee members are like in their 30s to 70s now, and were in it some more in their 20s. When we were doing this dance role process, role term process. We operate by consensus. And the short version of what that means for us is, we try to get to 100% agreement, not everybody has to be blazingly enthusiastic, but everybody has to be willing to live with the decision, which I think is a key point that people get bogged down in consensus. They’re like everybody has to love it, when you don’t—everybody doesn’t have to love it, but like nobody has to hate it, basically. And we’ll get into a little more of what that looks like in practice.
We are a slow moving committee, we take our time with decisions, we will bring something up at one meeting. We’ll chew on it. We’ll take it back up again at the next meeting. We really have a pretty deliberate process. And I think like many dance groups, we are kind of a benevolent oligarchy. Like, we’re not elected by our members. The members don’t like that, or there is no members, we’re not elected by the dancers. We choose ourselves to organize the dance. We make all the decisions. We love our community. We’re making decisions for the benefit of our community. Hopefully they love and trust us. And we’re not doing this for money. We’re like, we’re all volunteers. We’re doing it because we love dancing. Again, like probably most of you.
Okay, here is what I’m trying to give you—the story of how Montpelier went to gender-free calling. It is a fairly long story because of the already-mentioned deliberative process, so it started in May of 2018. Five years ago, one of our really beloved community members, Aaron Marcus, who is part of the Montpelier dance, has been there for a really long time. You may have heard them play music. They’re like a contra dance musician. They’re also a transgender person, wrote this really lovely letter to our organizing committee saying, “Here’s why I think we should have gender-free role terms.” And it had all of these personal, like, “Here’s how I feel when I come to the dance. And here’s how I feel when I go other places. And here’s how this affects other folks in the transgender community.” It was this like, really personal thought out letter.
We said thank you for the letter. And we put it on our agenda. We couldn’t fit it on the June agenda. So we put it on the agenda for the fall. The community got word that this issue was on the table. And that summer, there was a ton of discussion, like, lots of emails, lots of comments, people talking to us at dances, people writing things on Facebook, like lots of buzz about like, this is a thing. Even though there wasn’t any official anything on the table, there was a lot of chatter and buzz and thoughts being shared with us. So we’re pretty clear about not making decisions by email, as a committee, we really wait to meet in person to talk things out. But we did gather a lot of information and gather a lot of feedback by email. So there was a sort of a gathering process that summer.
And October, we met and discussed for a little bit, oh, gosh, my dog has opinions. And we tossed some ideas around, but didn’t make any hard decisions. And we agreed to reconvene in a couple of months in December. Along about this time, so our nine-member committee, we had roughly like three people who were like, “This is a great idea, we love it,” and three people who were like, “It’s probably an okay idea; I’m waiting to see,” and three people who were like, “I’m really not super comfortable with this concept.”
And the member who was the most kind of opposed and uncomfortable, couldn’t make it to the October meeting and subsequently resigned from the committee before the December meeting, before even engaging in the conversation, like just the idea of the conversation was too much for this person. And they left the committee, which was really hard and sad for us, because we’re like, “We just want to talk to you about it. I just want to understand where you’re coming from,” but they were just like, “Nope, can’t deal. I’m out.” So that was sort of the first conflict-y piece.
Okay, December meeting, we decided that we’re going to hold, we’re watching what some other dances are doing, we decided we’re going to hold a three-dance trial of larks and ravens terms in March, so three months later, or so. And we’re gonna have a survey for our dancers. And, you know, do this process. At the same time, we drafted a FAQ document about like, why are we doing this? What are the trials? We printed it out on paper, we made it available online, we made a document of talking points for us as a committee so that when we were having those informal conversations, we would have some consistent messaging coming from all because there was eight of us at that point. So like, that’s a lot of different voices.
And then we started publicizing in January for this March trial. This is 2019. At this point, March had a first, third and fifth Saturday. So we got three trial dances in, we had these paper surveys and we did them on paper so that like you could only do the survey if you were physically at the dance, kind of a pain to collate, but like you just got the opinions of the people physically experiencing the thing, not the opinions of people sitting behind their computer somewhere else. So we did surveys on “How did you like that?” And we also did a survey at our first April dance, back to gents and ladies role terms, to be like, “How did you like this?” We should survey them for that one to end of April we meet again, we look at the survey results, the committee or the community is pretty overwhelmingly in favor of making this switch, like 75% want it or are like, I feel like neutral, neutral positive, like they want it to happen.
So we make the decision at the end of April to start moving toward 100% gender-free language, but like 100% gender-free by January 2020. But starting in July, like some dances with some terms, some dances with the other terms in that decision. We’ve been talking about this right for like almost a year at this point. We still have one member who’s like, “Ah, like I don’t really like this, I’m not that comfortable with it. I might have to leave dancing if this is how it is.” Like pretty strong feelings for this committee member.
But this person really, really trusted the consensus process and I think really understood the consensus process and said “I, you know, I recognize that community feels differently than me, I recognize sort of where the sea change is going on this. And I’m not going to stand in the way of that. I’m not going to block consensus. But I’m going to abstain. I can’t, I can’t, in good conscience support this decision. And like, I don’t know, maybe I’m going to leave the committee and maybe I’m going to leave dancing,” but it was just a really magical, like, recognize that their feelings didn’t trump where the community was going, like, was able to separate those two things out to be like, “My personal thing is different than what everybody wants, and maybe what the group needs.” So that person stepped aside from that decision, and we were all like, oh, I don’t know?
Happy ending, I’ll tell you, that person is still on our committee. And like, still hangs out and comes to all the dances and is a fun dancer and is still here. And like, so great that we trusted that process and trusted their no, because that allowed them to just hang out with the switch and see how they felt about it. Great, so we announce all this to our whole community. In June, we hold a public listening session, community conversation where people can talk about how they feel about the thing. This was maybe a mistake, we maybe should have had that before. We made a decision as a committee instead of after we made a decision as a committee, but great, we had a moment for people to come together in person and talk.
And then we implemented the transition. And we started switching this again, this gradual deliberate like, gave people plenty of heads-up notice about what was happening, when it was happening. July to December was a mix, about like there were 14 dances, and 10 of them were larks and ravens and four of them were gents and ladies, sort of sprinkled along. We switched in January of 2020. We had two months of really good dancing, and pandemic happened. Boom.
So that’s basically the story, except the postscript is that when we restarted our dance about a year ago, we we restarted with larks and robins instead of larks and ravens, there was more knowledge that came to light that ravens are special significance for some indigenous tribes, and probably shouldn’t be used as a dance role term. Robin still has the same syllables and the “R.”
And we just made that decision as a committee, or like we’re not putting this out to our community, we’re just deciding, they just care that they’re dancing post pandemic, like fine grain. And we continue to have a good bit of information about why we do these things and clarity around that. So that’s the story. And that’s our timeline. This is going to be in a handout that I made that will send to you. And I’ll just give you like—this timeline is a story. It’s not a recipe.
So like, you might follow this in your own community, but maybe it takes you a different amount, amount of months, maybe you are ready to move at a different speed. I think we really assess, like, do we feel ready for the next step? No, we don’t feel ready to make a decision now. Oh, we are ready to make this decision here. Oh, we need this time. Like we really had a good awareness of time. I think. So yeah, just the whole process, especially that process around trusting the consensus and trusting that just because a committee member said no, or said I’m uncomfortable, didn’t mean we need to stop the process. And that really held us well, during COVID, when we had to make decision after decision about masks and vaccination and policies like COVID, just the world just changes so fast. And you have to keep deciding and deciding. And people would say “I don’t love that. And I’m not, but I’m not going to block it.” And we’d say “Great, we love you anyway, like, let’s keep going.” And we weren’t really worried about our relationships to each other as committee members, because we had an experience of “no” before that still resulted in us being in relationship.
And so that’s really helped, I think, in COVID time as well. And I think our dance community trusts us as a committee because we were so clear and transparent about what was going on. And when it was going on that they’re like, we’ve also done that with COVID. And I think that transparency of communication has really been appreciated. And there’s just yeah, there’s just a deeper trust that’s happened since I haven’t gone through that process that was a little tricky. I have some takeaways and am, like, super overtime. I’m not paying attention to any time anymore.
Joanna Wilkinson 34:22
Dana, I think we’re gonna give a chance to Sue and Kathy to come in with their story, but we’d love to hear some of your takeaways. And I think that will come up as we do.
Dana Dwinell-Yardley 34:30
Tell me, tell me when to do it. Or like maybe I’ll work them in as we go. Excellent. Sounds good.
Joanna Wilkinson 34:36
Sue and Kathy.
Kathy Story 34:39
Thanks, Joanna. Hi, I’m Kathy Story and with me today is Sue Songer. And we’re from Portland, Oregon. Sue is the chair of the board of the Portland contra dance community. And I’m the immediate past chair of the contra committee and different from what Dana was talking about. We actually are a nonprofit. We’re governed by an elected Board of Directors, and they oversee the various committees that are the groups that actually put on and organize our events, the contra, English and family dance series as well as our special events. And our events are open to the public, although we have a paid membership base, and we have over 200 members, but I would say that at contra dances, there’s probably at least 100 people that come to our country dances who are not members, we have a lot of members, but we have a lot of non-members who are also coming to our country dances.
So our journey is also one about non-gendered calling. And it started back in 2015, when the contra committee began talking about this issue. And then in 2019, they decided to hold two dances at which callers would use non-gendered terms. And this was actually before I was even dancing in this dance community. Before those dancers, the article was written, it was published in our newsletter and our newsletters called Footnotes. And we have some linked resources. And in those resources, you’ll find links to the Footnotes articles that Sue and I will be talking about.
So there’s an article about non-gendered role terms, kind of explaining what it was, what some of the perceived benefits were, you know, kind of what was happening elsewhere in the country. How was that proceeding, announcing that there were going to be two upcoming dances at which non-gendered role terms were used, and asking for community feedback. And then a dancer survey was available at those dances, and it was also available at a ladies and gents dance that occurred near that same time. And it was also available online, asking dancers about their dance experiences with non-gendered terms. And the survey results, again published in Footnotes, showed overwhelmingly I think, like Dana was talking about, that most of our dancers either preferred strongly preferred non-gendered role terms, or they had no preference, they just wanted to dance.
So and then a separate survey was sent to callers at the time asking about their preference, and also their comfort level, because we weren’t really sure how many of our our callers who are already using non-gendered dance terms, and we were concerned about that, I mean, you know, you switch to something, and then you’ve got nobody to be there as your caller and, and, you know, we all recognize how important callers are and what a leader they are in our community.
And out of that, the overwhelming majority were already comfortable or wanted to become comfortable. They wanted the opportunities where they would have the chance to call non-gendered calling. So based upon those two surveys, the results from them, the contra committee in July of 2019 began holding one dance per month with non-gendered calling. And our dances are second, fourth and fifth Saturday.
So basically, it was kind of every other Saturday that it was one of our dances, it would be non-gendered calling or gendered calling. And this continued until we shut down, everything came to a standstill like everybody else’s community. So fast forward two years. So as we were planning our first dance back, the committee discussed whether this was the right time to switch to all non-gendered calling. And we had spent a lot of time during shutdown, working on a new dance etiquette policy that was based on safety and comfort and inclusion and providing a fun and welcoming community, a lot of energy on that. And we share that new policy in our newsletter, and also at some summer outdoor events that we had.
And we also were really active in developing COVID protocols that were going to keep our dancers safe. So the change to non-gendered calling, for several people on the committee, just felt like an extension of that—wanting to create that that safe and inclusive environment. Kind of an extension of all the work that we had done as a committee during the intervening two years when we were shut down.
And I think that what Jenny had mentioned about, you know, that our committee had spent two years of intense thinking and talking about these issues, and kind of working together, that in some ways that might have worked against us, because when we came together to think about, you know, are we going to change to non-gendered calling, we have this real kind of comfort level that we had worked on so much thinking about inclusivity and safety issues. And I, and in some ways that may have meant that we were not completely in touch with our broader community of dancers, many of whom we have not had a lot of contact with for a very long time.
But during our discussion, we considered a dozen different factors. Everything from sustainability of our dancers, to what other regional dance organizations were doing, to what we saw as the benefits and risks that were involved in this decision. Everyone on the committee agreed that switching to non-gendered role terms was the right thing to do, and everybody agreed that it just seemed inevitable. But there were members who thought we should continue, at least for a while, what we were doing before shutdown, which was one dance, you know, be non-gendered and one dance using gender terms. And there was some other, there was at least one other member who really thought it should be left up to the caller. And just let the individual callers decide what they wanted to do. And that eventually, they would all turn to non-gendered calling, because that’s the way everything seemed to be going everywhere. So ultimately, we all decided, we reached consensus that we should hire only callers who would use non-gendered role terms, whether that was larks or robins or positional calling. And so now I will turn this over to Sue and she will share with you what happened next.
Sue Songer 40:50
What happened next? Well, when I heard Jenny talk, I thought, “Oh, she read I should Kathy’s and my material, because she kind of nailed it.” The people on the committee working, you know, right along, struggling with all these issues, the broader community that had kind of checked out for the interim. And that was checking back in. So immediately after I assumed the chairmanship of the board of PCDC, a letter came to the board protesting the decision of the contra committee to kind of two things—the questioning the process, and in that meaning not engaging the larger community and the use of the non-gendered terms itself. He copied the email to at least 40 people, and asked them to reply all.
So within a very short order, there were hundreds of emails in my inbox, with very, very passionate opinions on both sides of the issue, wanting to come to the next board meeting, which was going to be like days away. So we decided on having a community forum and that’s what I’m going to talk about now, not the issues, but just how we set this up. Because it seems like way too big to handle in a board meeting. And there was so much email chatter back and forth now between the 40 people and all the people they forwarded to and all kinds of people arrived to the board.
So we rented the space where we usually have our dances and first established a date that everybody on the PCDC, Portland Contra Dance Community board could attend and the contra committee could attend, we found that date first. And then we issued an invitation to attend to all PCDC members. And from the get-go, we were really careful about how it was worded and made really clear that this was an opportunity to mostly listen to each other and gain a larger understanding of different viewpoints. It was not going to be aimed at decision making at all.
And so there were two goals. Anyone who wanted to come was asked to please listen and see if they could come away with a new perspective or a new idea about the issue at hand, and the goal for our community was really to kind of lower the temperature a bit and reach a better understanding, in general terms, of the feelings on both sides, which were I mean, very heartfelt. I know someone said that a lot of this happens because people care so much about the events. So the passionate opinions and feelings are not necessarily a bad thing.
So we—it was very structured. When Dana said they had a community forum too, I thought, Oh, I wonder if it was—they had this much structure, and then I thought, nah, probably not. So we sent a letter of invitation and asked people to respond if they wanted to comment, I think 80 people said they wanted to come. I know for sure that 42 people spoke. So we said if you can’t come, you can send comments, and we will read the comments if we have time, and we ended up not having time.
So we made very clear to people what to expect….So we set up the room in concentric circles. We had a sound person, we had cordless mics. When people came in, if they thought they wanted to speak, they took a number. And then we called the numbers at random. Every person was given two minutes. And we had two big clocks, and two timekeepers, we had two mic runners, so that people didn’t have to get up and stand up in front of a, you know, group in rows or anything, they could stand up right where they were. We did the random number thing because we knew that friends would sit together. And if we passed the mic around, then we would hear, you know, five opinions that were the same, and we wanted to mix it up. And so when a person’s number was called, they could speak or they could pass. If they weren’t ready to speak right then, people could—if they changed their mind and decided they wanted to speak, they could come get a number, you know, at another time. And some people passed multiple times, until finally there was just a tiny, tiny pool.
But we also gave them guidelines about what they could and could not speak about. I’ve got them here, I will read them to you. So yes, please express your own thoughts and opinions about non-gendered or gendered role terms. Tell us what you think. You can tell us what you think about the committee’s process. You can tell us what direction you would like to see PCDC go. Those are all things you can tell us about. And all things that other people can listen for.
Here are the things you cannot talk about, and you will be redirected if you start to talk about any of these things. You cannot talk about something someone else has said. You cannot talk about anything you read in an email. You have to stick to the topic. And you have to refrain from hostile or accusatory remarks.
Those are the gist of it. And we hardly had to redirect anyone. Kathy might remember, but I—there werre a couple people that went over time, there were a couple people that started veering off into the past. And I think we asked them to, you know, come to the present and please, you know, refocus. It was—it was really—well, I’ll tell the—At the end, we asked for how many people learned something new. Most hands went up at the end. And how many people would like to talk about something that, you know, they gained from this? And we spent 10 or 15 minutes on that.
And I would call it kind of a feel-good experience? I don’t know. What do you think, Kathy? I mean, everyone felt kind of proud of us. Because we had talked about, you know, this really tough issue with goodwill. And without—and I would say without, well, I wouldn’t say 100% without animosity, there was some veiled underpinnings along the way. But pretty, people really did pretty darn well.
And so then, we didn’t have time to read the comments that have been mailed in. But I asked people there, if they had anything they would like to share as a follow up, they could email it to me. And then I would email it to all the attendees. So I included all the the pre-comments and the follow-up comments, some of which I had to send back to be reworked because they—the comments had to stay within the same guidelines. And, you know, once you get away from the in-person stuff, people are a little freer to go off in direction we didn’t want. So I did—one I didn’t allow at all, and some I asked to shorten or, you know, please reword this. It’s just not in the spirit that we want.
Kathy did a bunch of follow-up with her committee, she can tell you about in a minute—I’m kind of rushing because I know we’re pressed on time—the board had an executive meeting to just discuss this topic, you know, in a much freer form, to share opinions about the role terms, about the process. We ended that—well, for one thing, it was a done deal. You know, we weren’t debating about whether we were going back to—it was done. So as the board, we finished by listing the advantages we thought we would gain as a community from using the non-gendered role terms, because here we are, and we got to make, you know, the best of it one way or another. We—it’s not 100% success. We lost people. We’ve still got unhappy people. Kathy just did another survey, maybe she can tell you about, so, but the community has remained intact. It’s thrived. Our dances are well attended regardless of this. So I feel like we’ve kind of navigated through as best we could. So that’s—
Joanna Wilkinson 49:57
Sue and Kathy, thank you so much, and Dana, thank you for sharing your stories. And I’m sorry to interrupt, but—
That’s okay. I’m done.
It’s great material, we want to hand things back over to Jenny to really respond to the stories that we’ve heard and how that feeds into the process of having these conversations, dealing with these difficult topics. Remember that we’re not talking tonight about the topics themselves, but about the process of having these meetings, having these discussions. After that, we’ll go into breakout rooms, and then there’ll be an opportunity for some q&a. So start thinking about questions you might like to ask all of our presenters. You can pop them into the chat, and I’ll be keeping track of them. And we will follow up with all of these materials later, including timelines that Dana and Sue and Kathy have shared. So Jenny, I’m going to turn things back to you.
Katy German 50:56
Jenny, I think you need to unmute.
Jenny Beer 51:00
Is that visible? Okay. So yeah, we don’t have a lot of time. So what I’d like to do actually, was first say that every dance community has a different set of circumstances. And so some of the things that you’ve heard from these two really excellent ones might work in your community; others might not. And I was asked early on to share another example, which is I just started a new contra dance. And I decided I was going to be the dictator for one year. One year is about up. But I made all the decisions about gender-neutral calling, but I also made the decisions about masks and vaccinations over the time. And it’s been very interesting that I haven’t had push-back much. I just decided we wanted our group energy to be developing a dance rather than tangled up in these issues that are tangling up a lot of the other dances in our region.
So people are having these conversations in other contexts. So I just want to give that as another example of you may have a dictator, you may have a committee that’s a friendly oligarchy, as Dana does, or you may have a very mature and large community like Sue and Kathy do, where you need to have a lot more process skills to manage the number of people and the number of issues that you’re dealing with.
So I have a whole bunch of slides. And what I’d like to do, I’m going to end up, I have a handout for you at the end. And we can also talk about some of these as we converse for the next q&a and the breakout rooms. But I think I’d like to just show you what’s there, what the topics are. And then we can come back and look at things that you’d like to hear more about.
So when you’re having a decision-making process, one of the most important things is people know how this decision is going to be made, whether it’s the dictator, or the long three-year conversation, or whatever it is, so that they feel when the outcome comes finally, that they have felt heard, and that they feel the process was fair.
Let’s see, I gotta get my cursor in the right place here. I’m happy to talk about the groan zone. I use this with my clients all the time, because it sort of makes a more amusing, but understandable framework for what you’re going through. I can talk about that. More groan zone. One of the key things I do in working with organizations in conflict is thinking about all the ways I as a leader or a consultant can help break up or deemphasize faction forming. This is what really causes the hurt in your communities. And the division, it’s not the particular issue at hand, is how people are treated and how they end up clustering in us-versus-them formats. So we can talk about that too.
One of the most important things, I think in the situation that we’re doing both with gender-neutral and with deciding how much risk we’re going to ask people to take in terms of vaccination and masks, or not knowing how risk can be actually measured, is to acknowledge that there’s a loss whenever you make a big decision. You lose something, you gain something, and I think several people have said this already. I think this is really important for having people who are on the losing end of a conversation or feel they have been on the losing end of decisions, to feel like people really understand what their losses and what our collective losses are. And then we could talk, if you like, I have a mediation technique I use—relentlessly is probably the right word, where I take all people’s whining and complaints and anger and whatever and I try to always turn it into “What positive future are you looking for?” This changes the conversation usually in very helpful ways.
And as Sue said, you’re going to lose some people. Because exclusion, and you know, whenever you include some people, you exclude other people. And that’s a hard thing. And I just think we should acknowledge that there is no, like, silver bullet that solves all problems and that makes all people happy. And then I say to myself, frequently, as Joanna will testify, “It’s just a dance. It’s just a dance, nobody’s dying here, whatever. And it’s fun to be passionate, but it’s just a dance.” Katy spoke to this. And I thought this was important.
So I just put a slide together about some of the assumptions people bring to these conversations and making sure you’re alert for, listening for them in yourself and in others. And then I have some communication tips. Email, the stories we just heard—conversations over email are deadly. So how to figure that out.
People rely on surveys a lot. They have some benefits, but they also have a place in the sequence of things. And so that’s something else we can talk about. And then I think you’ve had some great examples today of how to hold effective meetings. And when you see their notes and the detailed guidelines they had for their groups, they’re really very thoughtful. So I highly recommend reading what Dana has said, and Kathy is going to post. And my last slide is for you all!
So anyway, I think we’re going to stop there. When I was asked to do this, I said, “Well, you know, I teach this, so I could talk for three days.” And I’m sure you don’t want that. So let’s go into the breakout rooms, Joanna, and then you can talk about what you saw in the slides, what you heard in the conversations. And if you could sort of collectively think about, what are the questions you have about process and handling conflict that you think will be most valuable for the group?
Joanna Wilkinson 57:07
So thank you, Jenny. So we’re, I’m going to put you into breakout rooms. I’m going to do that in just a minute. But for those of you who like to take some notes, here is what we’d like you to do. These are going to be small breakout rooms, we hope just three people, maybe two. So what struck you as you were listening to the stories, as you were listening to the information that Jenny just gave you, and what questions do you have, because that’s what we want to focus on in the q&a. So want to take a minute and put you into breakout rooms, please join them. And we’ll see you back in about 10 minutes.
Joanna Wilkinson 57:56
All right, I think everybody is here. Thank you all for coming back from your breakout rooms. This is a moment for q&a for our presenters. If you came up with a good question in your breakout room and you want to present it, thanks for typing it into the chat. If you’ve got another question on your own that was not answered in the chat previous to now, this is a wonderful time to do that. While you’re typing in your questions, I want to turn things back to Dana for a moment, just to share the rest of the story and what the outcome was. And I’ll stop sharing for a moment and highlight Dana.
Dana Dwinell-Yardley 58:32
Thanks. I realize I talked a lot at you about, like dates and times and not necessarily about what we learned, which is probably the more relevant thing for everyone. So the short version of like, the outcome is that our dance is vibrant and doing really well, in this moment when dances are not doing that well. And a lot of our long-term dancers are still with us, we have a lot of new folks. And just like, the instances of people being teased for dancing the wrong role or being split up to dance with other couples have gone way down. And so the community is doing great, but I wanted to give you a couple of like, sort of like key takeaways. And I think Jenny hit on some of them, but I’ll give you a few more.
One thing I learned is that feelings are not conflict. Feelings are okay, feelings are normal. And just because someone is disagreeing with you, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily conflict, affirm the heck out of people’s feelings and do not let the feelings derail the process. You are also going to have a lot of feelings yourself as an organizer when I like talk to the rest of my committee that I was doing this, everyone was like “Wow, that was a really emotional time. Wow, I wish I had kept a journal like so see if you can hold your feelings and the community needs at the same time.”
The other thing I would say is that values are so key, and making decisions with your shared values or shared goals in mind. And you have values and goals even if you don’t have a specific written mission statement. Like there are ways that you are together and just named out loud, like, Who do you want to be as a community? How do you want to be together, like, make decisions toward that best possible version of yourself. And like, let that guide where you’re going. Caring for people in transition.
So conflict, this is a place where conflict can happen, is that we don’t care for each other when change is happening, change is friggin’ hard, learning new things is really hard. And it’s—some people have an easier time of it than others. The more we can be kind and patient with each other and help each other along with compassion, when we’re learning something new or dance is going through a change, the more likely everybody will come along and do it together. So just being aware that transitions need extra love.
Yeah, and the other thing I guess I would say is that everything is connected, like contra dancing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Contra dancing exists in this big world in which a lot of political things are happening. And a lot of societal struggles are happening. And especially if your conflict is connected to power, or privilege, or systemic injustice, that stuff’s gonna come into your dance world. And people are going to bring their life experience and their cultural norms into this space, and start bouncing them off each other in either good ways or bad ways.
And we have a chance in contra dancing to take the cultural norms that work for us and discard the others at the door. So like, listen to those experiences. Be aware, you know, when we were talking about gender-free calling, a lot of older women were like, “How are we still talking about gender? I have been a feminist my whole life.” Like “What the hell, that’s real, contra dance doesn’t exist in a separate place.” So the beautiful thing is that we also get to influence the bigger world and the way that we are with each other. And dance is like a way that we practice being in the world that we want to build out there. And we get to do it in our beloved dance communities. Those are some of the things. I think Jenny said a lot of the others. I’m—you are all posting a million questions, I’m sure. Thanks for the moment.
Joanna Wilkinson 1:01:57
Thanks, Dana. All right. Lots of questions are coming in. Jenny, I think you might be good to lead on this one. This is really just about getting started. We have somebody with a dance community in conflict. Where do we start in order to come together again, and establish processes for decision making that work and show care for all? So how does this even start?
Jenny Beer 1:02:22
Such a minor question! No, my goodness, I’m sorry, you’re facing that. And that’s a really hard question to answer in the abstract. Because I think each community is going to have a different way in. But let’s say you start with the people side of the triangle. And think about the well-being of that group of people who are not happy with each other at the moment. What is a way that you can start creating bonds and willingness to listen to each other, even if it’s on a small scale, with some with a few people to start?
Often, when I have a large group that has a big conflict, I will start working with four or five people, sometimes even just two people who are sort of the ringleaders of the conflict. And we all know who they are, you know, the people who are the energy nodes, positive or negative. And I’ll start working with them first and say, you know, “I think if the three of you can really have a series of significant conversations together, that we can start bringing the rest of the group into this conversation.” But if they still see this review on opposite sides of the universe, it’s harder to make that happen. So that’s what I do often in professional settings. And I find that that works pretty well.
And then, I guess, to articulate also, yeah, we have decisions to make. They’re uncomfortable decisions to make. But first, we need to talk about how we’re caring for each other and how we’re going to make decisions. So that people are clear. What’s their role? Like, am I just sounding off to the oligarchic committee that runs things and they make a decision? Are we having voting? Are we having community meetings and a consensus? Who are the organizers taking input from? So you may, in addition to your members, need to be consulting lawyers, for example, or public health officials, or who knows what else you’re asked to be expert in that you aren’t personally expert in?
So I think starting to put the structure in place for conversations, difficult conversations, is where I would start. I hesitate to put this out here, because I think I’d be in a full time business, but I know CDSS does that. I’m also available for some sidebar consultations with people who are trying to figure out where to start a foothold. So that might be something I can do privately with some of you. Anybody else want to jump in there? Our panelists?
Joanna Wilkinson 1:05:20
Well, here’s another good question to think about. This is somebody who had the experience of nine different groups sharing one hall, and trying to coordinate policies that align for the ease of the dancers. And the question is, what are some ways that groups with potentially very different opinions on various topics can communicate, communicate effectively to align their decisions, when they would affect answers who aren’t privy to what’s going on behind the scenes? So how do groups come together?
Jenny Beer 1:05:57
Well, if you want me to jump in there, again, briefly, I just say, these groups of people need a coordinating committee where the nine different groups have a small group of people that can start talking with each other about the needs of each of those groups. There’s no way you can do this without a subgroup of decision makers, is my guess.
Katy German 1:06:18
And I do know of organizations like FSGW in the DC area where they have many different series that share the same hall, and they—not all their series have the same regulations and guidance, I understand that it doesn’t make it less, you know, easy and clear for dancers. But it’s not the only option that you—because they have some nights that have stronger COVID precautions and some that don’t. They feel like they’re giving everybody in their community chances to dance. And I think that’s, you know, they say, they’ve said that’s manageable. So it’s something to consider.
We don’t, I guess Dana earlier said, trust the “no.” When someone gives a “no” and says “I need space,” or “I’m not ready to jump on board,” that I would say, Trust, trust in people to understand. Organizers tend to hear from the passionate folks. But there are a lot of really understanding folks out there too, that know how hard your job is right now and what you’re going through. So there are other options there.
Joanna Wilkinson 1:07:34
So we’ve had a couple of comments and questions about Jenny, something you mentioned about how email can be deadly. So suggestions for transitioning from a faction creating email exchanges, to more productive discussions. So that’s one of the questions that has come up. And then similarly, how do we come back and come together as a community when lots of email communications have happened, and some of them were hurtful? How do we welcome back everybody, potentially including some of those who sent emails that were not well received?
Jenny Beer 1:08:20
Maybe Sue and Kathy want to talk to this first, since they had sort of this massive explosion of email that they then had to deal with, they want to mention that and I can give the tips that are on my slide and other things after that if you want.
Sue Songer 1:08:37
Well, but one thing that happened spontaneously is that some of the people began arranging private meetings with each other. And Kathy and I didn’t really have a lot to do with that. There was just enough goodwill, sort of baseline in the community, that people talked to each other. And they didn’t come to agreement with each other, but they did gain a better understanding. I don’t know—what do you have to add, Kathy? I mean, anything that can be in person, it’s just so much easier to respect another person when you are face to face with them.
Kathy Story 1:09:18
Yeah, I agree with that. In fact, the dancer who wrote the first email, I invited him over and we sat and had a cup of tea and talked about it, and it really opened my mind to—I didn’t realize how much people were involved in the dance, in terms of their sexuality and gender identity and role terms, for the traditional role terms of gents and ladies, and that really helped me understand that, so that at the meeting then later, I could hear that and understand that at a deeper level. So I do think that individual one-on-one. And one thing I also want to say was just how great it was to work with with Sue and Christine Appleberry, who also was involved in setting up the meeting. And I think people in the community knew them really well, and trusted that they understood the process, and knew most of the people in the community and really valued them. And I think that led to a great success, that we had people within our own community who knew a good process that would work. And I’m sure many groups would have that, as you mentioned before, Jen.
Jenny Beer 1:10:24
Yeah. And in what the more difficult the conflict and the bigger the community, the more having a team of people thinking through this, whether that’s your executive, your board, or just three or four people who are well placed in the community to take leadership on it, I think it’s really helpful to have people to talk to behind the scenes and say, “Oh, should I say this? Should we do this? How are we going to do this?” Because it’s, it can be touchy.
So, and the email question: First, the reasons why email conversations are so dangerous. There’s a lot of research that shows that people read emails as much more accusatory or hardlined or less nuanced than the intent than the sender actually intended. So they tend to inflame, or they have a risk of inflaming people. The second, so obviously, they can be forwarded, you get these long angry chains, and you have no idea who’s getting these, they get forwarded to anybody. But there may be other people in your community who aren’t getting them, who are essentially left out in some ways. So it can skew who’s talking to who in the community, and thereby increasing the factions, as the factions sort of talk to each other and air their grievances with each other.
So on a one-on-one basis, when I receive emails like that, or when I’m advising clients, I’ll say, you know, be old fashioned. Reply and say “Thank you for your message, let’s talk,” and then pick up your phone, or go talk to them in person, and just refuse yourself to continue the chain and take it into another forum.
Another better way to have a conversation. If you have the situation that they had in Portland, where you have large chains already making the rounds, I think you can then move things on to an online space. I don’t know, you’d have to decide whether you want to make that private or not for your community, where people can post and comment with guidelines, and moderation of those guidelines, so that everyone who’s interested can see what’s being said and can jump in. And I think in those situations, you can also help people step back from hurtful posts and ad hominem posts, depending on how you set that up. So in a larger setting, I would look for that kind of neutral forum, if you can set one up. So those are a few tips.
Joanna Wilkinson 1:12:57
So I think we have time for one more, which takes it from the discussion part to the decision-making part of the process. There have been some requests in the chat. “Oh, you did a survey? Would you share your questions with me?”, that kind of thing. And it brought up another question from a participant, which is, it’s important to understand how you’re making the decision in this concept of data driven decision making. Are you letting the data inform the decisions? Or are you letting the data make the decisions? And that data could be statistical data, or it could be qualitative data received from surveys. So if any of our presenters have some comments, or your thoughts about the decision-making process and how data feeds into it, I think that would be a great way to close out the conversation.
Dana Dwinell-Yardley 1:13:59
Yeah, I’m happy to share the survey that we did in Montpelier. Again, it’s going to be linked in this very thorough document that I made for you all. Surveys, yeah, I think the thing I like, again, our larger community doesn’t get to vote on these things. So they know that the survey is like a non-binding. We’re just trying to get the general vibe of the community. And so it’s helpful, but it’s not the be-all, end-all. Like, we are thinking about more things in our decision making as a committee besides like, “Oh, the survey said this, we should obviously just go ahead and do that.”
I think one thing we think about sometimes when we’re making decisions that you know, one of our members has really eloquently stated during COVID, is like “What is our responsibility to our community as organizers, and what is people’s personal responsibility to hold themselves?”—which is like a big question in COVID safety, right? Like, what policies do we need to institute from the top down to keep the group safe, and what is people’s own thing to carry for their own safety?
And so that I think plays into certainly the gender-free role terms that I saw happen. I was part of the civil union debate in Vermont in the early 2000s, where legislators were making decisions that their constituents did not agree with. And they were doing it because their larger values said, this is important for all the people to be welcome, to be included, to live up to our values. So sometimes you have to make a decision that might not be the majority, but it’s like the right thing to do. Or it’s the thing that by instituting this top-down thing like gender-free role terms, it results in a huge boost of inclusion for transgender and nonbinary folks that they can’t do themselves from the floor, with the current policies in place, right. So it’s this thinking about, like, what can people do themselves as dancers? And what do we influence from the top? And so sometimes, surveys play into that, but that’s where it doesn’t always—the majority doesn’t always win, if that makes sense.
Sue Songer 1:16:12
Right, Portland just had an experience with a survey. This is a COVID protocol survey, where we had about 545 responses to this one. And we asked people their opinion about relaxing various COVID protocols. And without going into any details, the board actually did not agree with one of the most strongly held opinions of the majority, but we don’t—we can’t survey people and ask them, you know, what they think, what their preference is, and then go against this really strong wish for something. So we, anyway, we, in this case, went with what most of our community wanted, and then decided not to ask that question again.
Joanna Wilkinson 1:17:11
All right. Well, we have reached time and there’s definitely more to talk about, and there are more questions we didn’t have time to get to. So thank you all for posing your questions. And thanks, especially to every one of our panelists today for sharing their experiences and all of their knowledge with us. So thanks to Dana, to Sue, Kathy and Jenny, and to Katy for leading us off today.
Jenny Beer 1:17:38
And thank you all for coming and being here and caring.