Last month, Yesner was found guilty in a Title IX investigation of three decades of sexual abuse of students, including harassment and assault. After the story was broken by Anchorage station KTVA, I began blogging about it as well, because I had been in touch with some of the survivors and their faculty supporters for some time (for several blog posts on this story, see Balter's Blog.)
When Yesner showed up at the meeting in Albuquerque, the survivors at the meeting alerted me and I in turn tried to alert SAA officials of the situation. I made it clear to them that this was an emergency and that Yesner's victims were in distress and unable to attend the sessions they wanted to--which were also sessions that Yesner himself was likely to be interested in. (Yesner moved rapidly around the convention center, from place to place.) In particular, I spoke to SAA communications director Amy Rutledge, who, not to put too fine a point on it, looked at me like I was crazy. It was clear that despite a new anti-harassment policy, over which much fuss was made at the opening session of the meeting, the organization was not prepared to enforce it seriously.
Thus, with the help of the students who acted as spotters, I found Yesner and insistently escorted him out of the building (no violence of any kind or physical action was used.)
That action, and perhaps also my insistence to Amy that SAA had to do something, led to my being expelled from the meeting by executive director Oona Schmid and president-elect Joe Watkins in a telephone call last Friday morning. All this led to a number of consequences, including world-wide social media condemnation, a letter of protest that as I write has more than 1700 signatures, and, very positively, standing room attendance for a #MeToo in Archaeology session in which I had been invited to participate (and which was my main reason for being at the meeting.)
The response by SAA leaders to all of this has been lamer than lame, as hundreds of people have pointed out on social media. A number of people have written directly to Oona Schmid to express their dismay, only to be met with the following canned response (only slightly altered from recipient to recipient. I thank a confidential source for sharing their copy of the letter and allowing me to post it here.
I need to add that contrary to the impression this letter gives, when the survivors filed complaints against his presence at the meeting, they were met with what they characterized as a nearly complete lack of concern, support, and sympathy, and were told--amazingly--that nothing would be done until the meeting was over. Meanwhile, Yesner continued to wander the halls unmolested for at least another two days. Rumors that he was finally ejected from the meeting himself went unconfirmed due to a very misguided policy of "confidentiality," completely inappropriate to the situation.
Meanwhile, the struggle for a safe meeting place, consistent with the spirit of SAA's anti-harassment guidelines, is sure to continue.
Afterthoughts April 16: In the letter below, Oona Schmid expresses how much she supposedly wishes she could say more about her viewpoint on what happened. The implication seems to be that she is restrained form revealing some confidential information that would somehow shed a different light on things. I don't understand what those restraints are. If SAA leaders did eventually bar Yesner from the meeting, there is no reason that should be kept confidential--Yesner has no privacy rights in this situation that should be recognized. As for the three survivors who were at the meeting, they have now all gone public with their perspectives on social media; even so, they do not need to be identified in any new SAA statement. As for me, I waive all privacy rights concerning this episode now and forever: SAA leaders are free to tell me, as I have asked them to do, and everyone else why they banned me from the meeting, in detail.
Because of harassment reports that were filed with SAA and following the published policy, I did withdraw multiple meeting registrations at the 84th Annual Meeting. I appreciate that it is excruciating -- and infuriating -- that SAA cannot say more about any particular instances, because the Society needs to protect the confidentiality of all parties.
I worked very hard to follow the anti-harassment policy and did so as quickly as possible after reports were filed. Considering that some of these were received on a weekend and the Society had over 5,300 guests, while resolution was slower than Twitter conversations evolved, the longest it took to resolve any one complaint was 5 hours. In all cases, I handled reports in the same manner using the same set of steps.
I am sorry that none of us can say more. I hope you believe me when I point out that--more than anyone--I wish I could say more to show how firmly committed to the organization and _all_ its members.
Society for American Archaeology
Direct dial: 202-559-4580