Inclusiveness at Conferences

Earlier this morning a conversation started on Twitter about the family vibes at cons and feeling left out and whether someone belongs or not. I just wanted to point out a few things based on my own experience at various cons over the last few years.

It is important to remember that whenever you have a large enough group, cliques will form. Despite the best intentions of any con organizer, it can be hard, if not impossible, to keep the open vibe at a con. There is a lot of talk about “family” and everyone is always welcome etc. That’s great and despite what you may think of using the term family to reference this, it is important for those of us who are more outgoing to make sure we provide an opportunity for those who want to participate, but for whatever reason, don’t seem like they can.

I’m a decently outgoing person. Sometimes I am also reserved and would prefer to sit quietly by myself. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to take part in discussions or hanging out with others, but right now I’m not into it and that’s fine (and no, nothing is wrong :).

At some point, I’m going to want to join in the fun.

For example, my first Derbycon was a few years ago. After a long day, the board games had started coming out and my acquaintances and friends that I knew had gone to bed or were off doing other things. I was wandering around the con hotel by myself and saw a group of people playing Cards Against Humanity. I had never played before and was standing there watching. At this point, someone asked if I wanted to join.
I said yes and had a great time playing.

Now the above could have gone differently and if I had not asked, and I had really wanted to play, I may have felt rather left out. And I know at this point some people will just say “well if you really wanted to play, you would have just said so”, and that means that you really don’t understand the problem. Sometimes, some people, for a lot of reasons, can’t ask. However, that simple gesture is what I am talking about. I could have said no that I didn’t want to play, but it was the gesture and the opportunity that matters.

I am also guilty of leaving people out. A moment last year at DEFCON 22 sticks out and I still feel a bit bad about the situation. My partner and I were tired and wanted to talk about a couple of things alone. We were also hungry and were waiting in line for one of the restaurants at the Rio and we just happen to come up to be seated at the same time as a younger attendee had been there. This person was eating alone and had struck up a conversation with us and had asked us if we wanted to eat together. Now on most occasions we would have said yes and welcomed the addition and the chance to talk to some one just getting into the scene. We kind of blew this person off and after eating I tried to find the person but couldn’t. This kind of bummed me out as our conversation could have waited until after eating. It was important but could have waited.

I also wanted to touch on the use of the word family. While I’m not a member of any inner circles at these cons, I am grateful for the friends that I have made over the years from these events. Growing up I didn’t have a close family. Just the opposite. I had few friends, but we were very close. I have made friends over the last couple of years that I feel closer to than my own brothers and sisters. Not everyone grew up in a cherished family where everyone went on picnics and family outings. I was just as likely to get smacked or thrown against a wall.

Just remember that at the end of the day, any con is only as good as the attendees. No policy or enforcement is ever going to fix that. We all need to remember to be good people, fix mistakes and make sure we do our best to make everyone feel welcome. It needs to also be understood that everyone is different and some places or cons just aren’t for some people and any attempt to make everyone happy is futile.