By LeeLee James and Alicia Gibb
A Code of Conduct (CoC) should be treated as a policy for your lab/ community/ virtual or physical space. It is an agreement about how to act in your space. You can ask people to sign it directly, click an “I agree” box, or treat it as a shrink wrap agreement by being present in the space (by walking through the door and being in this space, I agree to this CoC).
One of the first CoCs is on the Geek Feminism wiki and is in the public domain, making it easy to copy and alter (you don’t need to rebuild the wheel!) This CoC is one of the oldest and has been used, altered and tested many times. Another useful resource in software communities is the Contributor Covenant, largely used for software projects, and has also been used and tested many times. The BTU Lab on the CU campus has had a Code of Conduct since its inception in 2014.
In writing a CoC, think through the interactions the participants have in your lab or community. Have there been issues that a CoC would help? Think through attributes you’d like in your space (virtual or physical) that the University does not cover. What gaps are there? Are there definitions needed to be clarified by examples? Are there issues you could envision that you want to make sure is in this policy? Involve the participants of your lab and ask what is needed in a CoC, both anonymously and as a group discussion.
There should be foundational language in every CoC. This language is often already in the University rules but it is worth repeating in your CoC. An example of this base language is “We are dedicated to providing a respectful and harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of people at our events or space in any form”. In addition, strong CoCs have granular examples. A CoC that just says ‘be a good person’ leaves a lot up to interpretation. But a CoC that specifies no ‘splaining, no disparaging jokes or remarks of any type or class of person / major, and no microaggressions, puts everyone on equal footing to understand the expectations of behavior.
To make your CoC work, there must be a reporting mechanism that you are comfortable enforcing. This can involve tricky conversations, but here are some ways and reminders to start those conversations. If you are not comfortable with enforcing, you can also bring things to the Student Conduct & Conflict Resolution Center, as they are a resource available across the CU campus.
Use I statements rather than you statements. “I noticed some aggressive behavior yesterday and wanted to check in and see what that’s all about” rather than “you were really aggressive yesterday”.
Make the conversation about the behavior not the person. “I hear there was some potential ‘splaining and I want to talk about it. Do you know what I’m talking about?” Avoid labeling the person as an -ist, (you’re sexist, you’re racist, you’re ageist) and label the behavior instead (that comment was sexist / racist / ageist).
Tap into empathy and ask an offender to see the world through another person’s perspective.
As educators, our goal should be in changing the behavior and teaching why the behavior might be problematic and giving a chance to learn from the experience – unless truly egregious and out of line with the university rules. Be clear about the number of offenses in your CoCs and outline what happens next.
If a third party is reporting, try to keep them anonymous. This is not always easy, but you shouldn’t disclose who reported the offending behavior.
Conflict is never fun, but when behavioral expectations are outlined up front, all parties are aware and agree to be held responsible for their actions. Codes of Conduct can help with that and make your lab / community / virtual or physical space a nicer place to be.
Co-sponsored by the ATLAS Institute, the Open Source Hardware Association, the Media Enterprise Design Lab, and the Media Archaeology Lab.