’Security at g16 should have been handled differently’
During a public session of the gender studies conference g16, which was held 23–25 November in Linköping, Sweden, an external visitor acted in a threatening manner. Some of the conference participants trying to act on the situation were then asked by the security gards to leave. Gender in Sweden talked to Silje Lundgren, conference coordinator from Tema Genus, the department of Gender Studies in Linköping.
What happened at g16?
– The evening session of g16, at which Victoria Kawesa gave a lecture on the Black Lives Matter movement in Sweden, was open to the public. During the lecture, a person in the audience was filming. Some conference participants confronted him and he was asked to leave the premises, which he did.
– This situation led to a discussion among some of the conference participants, including one of the conference’s keynote speakers, Jin Haritaworn. At this point security guards intervened and some of the conference participants that had brought attention to the situation were asked to leave. Jin Haritaworn has written about the situation at Feministiskt Perspektiv (see link in the right-hand column).
You were one of the organisers of the event. Do you have any comments about what happened?
– The security guards were hired to handle potential external threats, and they had received specific instructions about this. But I also want to add that we as organisers should have had more people assigned to monitor the event and take appropriate action if needed. We didn’t do that.
How did the conference organisers deal with security issues when planning g16?
– We discussed the issue continuously. For instance, some of the PhD students from Tema Genus at Linköping University took the initiative to form an ”awareness team” for the conference. The awareness team among other things emerged from the need to address internal feminist conflicts that we know exist.
– The security discussions focused in particular on the open evening session, due to the present situation in Sweden where researchers and activists who write about and work against racism are frequent targets of threats, mainly from far-right extremists. The session was also of particular importance because it was open to the public.
– Our aim was that the security guards at the event would respect the purpose of the conference – a conference that addressed issues related to racism, migration, transphobia and so on. We also knew that many conference participants have personal experiences of racism, transphobia and other kinds of discrimination and harassment, not the least from security guards. We therefore tried to recruit security guards from a local partner organisation, RFSL (the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights). Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. But of course we shouldn’t have left it at that.
What is the aftermath of this discussion?
– During the closing session of the conference, we read Jin Haritaworn’s statement to all participants. We are also continuing a dialogue with, and have apologised to, two of the individuals who were asked to leave.
– We are following up on the event with those in charge of the venue and the security staff.
– A facebook group discussing how security, racism and transphobia are handled in academia, has been formed after the conference. This is also something that Jin Haritaworn addressed in their statement – that the discussion does not only relate to how the security guards acted, but also about internal conflicts and how other conference participants are part of creating an excluding academic community. This form of dialogue is positive and shows how important critical research is, that something happens in the room when for example antiracist research takes space.
Is there anything you would like to say to the organisers of the next g-conference?
– To listen to the feedback and listen to those who face this kind of racism.
– It would also be a good idea to continue working with an awareness team for future conferences, and to involve this team much earlier in the process and include it in the discussion about security.