CLEAR has evolved into a collective, rather than just a collection on individuals. Sometimes, people want to enter into the lab space to work among us in an intimate way. These arrangements require that modes of accountability, such as consent, have to be collective. How do we do that?
Each collaborator and case is different. First, requests go through Dr. Liboiron, who does an initial screening and thus a lot of killjoy chores (Ahmed 2016). Such protective activities at one level allows a generous and safer space that can welcome people into the collective on our terms. Secondly, potential collaborators “onboard” into the lab space in ways that are appropriate to the collaboration, including agreement to the protocol for guests and guidelines for collective conversations outlined below.
Citation: Ahmed, Sara. (2016). Living a feminist life. Duke University Press.
Protocol for guests at CLEAR
Guests are people who are invited into CLEAR for short amounts of time, designated meetings, and/or for specific projects. This protocol outlines structures to support collaborative and interwoven accountabilities of both guests and hosts. This protocol is written in anticipation of guests that stay for longer periods of time, but one-time visits should also adhere to relevant parts of the protocol.
- CLEAR is a community, not just a place for microscopes and paychecks. We refuse all extractive projects and welcome projects with a foundation of reciprocity, even if that reciprocity is uneven (ie. one group “gets more” than the other).
- CLEAR’s organizing values are humility (being accountable to and grateful for our many relations), equity (accounting for power differentials and structures), and supportive openness (community and self care for accountability) and we aim to host all guests in this spirit. We also expect reciprocity with and accountability from our guests.
- Guests will always be invited, and these invitations must be refreshed to ensure good, ongoing relationships. Practicing consent is paramount in good host/guest relationships.
- Interactions always start with listening, for both guests and hosts. Openness is crucial. At the same time, healthy boundaries are important as well!
- Altogether, these principles and the practices below outline different aspects of respect, where all people (including non-humans), are offered these things (with good intentions) regardless of where they are in their journeys.
- These principles hold for all CLEAR spaces, whether online, in lab, or in shared documents.
Structures of support
- Guests will be invited to lab meetings as full, contributing participants to a shared environment (this includes “passing” in round robins or similar) and to participate in all relevant CLEAR activities during their visit with CLEAR. CLEAR will share our resources–whether material, social, emotional, and/or edible. Guests will receive onboarding materials and support, including access to the lab book. Guests will not have access to the CLEAR google drive or be added to the listserv, however all relevant and important documents and emails will be forwarded to the guest as required by the lab director or lab manager. A special guest onboarding will also include examples of previous guest projects and consent forms, as well as a primer on how we run meetings so they can more comfortably and fully participate. If guests need anything or want to be involved in something, please ask!
- CLEAR members will lead with generosity in their interactions with guests, being sure to introduce themselves and recognize that guests come from different places and are on different paths. As such, co-learning and sharing is a key relationship we aim to foster. Part of that is making time and space for one another, and accommodating a variety of needs so participation can be meaningful for everyone.
- If either hosts or guests are asked to adjust their behaviour, they are expected to comply and follow the CLEAR guidelines on conflict resolution and apology where appropriate (including in how behaviours are called out/in) and to lead with humility and openness to the extent possible.
- 1. Guests introduce themselves, their work, and perhaps even a proposed project with an opening presentation to the lab. CLEAR members will also present themselves and their work. There are no expectations at this meeting other than getting to know one another and sharing food. No decisions on projects will be made at this time–this is a meeting for listening, introductions, and questions for both guests and hosts, and for drinking tea and eating. Ideally, more questions will be offered than answers.
- 2. If a guest is proposing a project: Proposals for guest projects in, on, or with the lab community undergo a review with the entire lab to ensure they are reproducing the values of CLEAR, ensuring safer spaces, and are based in consent.
- 3. Formal consent forms–both collective and individual–are required if any knowledge, insights, events, or words are being used from the CLEAR community (there are examples of these) or if CLEAR is using the same from guests. If unsure of whether something is fodder for a project, always ask first. Always foreground consent. For example, always ask to take photos or repeat someone else’s stories or to cite the non-public lab book. CLEAR is a safer space, meaning that whatever happens in lab is meant to stay in lab unless permission exists to take it out of the community context.
- 4. Community peer review is an expected part of projects that use any knowledge, insights, events, or words from the CLEAR community.
- 5. Ongoing and less formal discussions and meetings are also expected and appreciated, as are rests and stepping back for a moment. 🙂
Guidelines for collective conversations at CLEAR
- One Diva, One Mic: one person speaks at a time. Also, if you’ve been speaking a lot or for a long time, step up into a listening role. If you haven’t spoken much or at all, step up into a speaking or communicative role. No one has to speak, but everyone is expected to communicate.
- Your Story, Your Choice: You decide which stories to share and which to keep. No one is expected to educate anyone else by sharing their experiences, traumas, or stories.
- Don’t Yuck My Yum (Yes, And): If what someone offers to the group (their joy, ideas, experiences, gender expressions) isn’t hurting anyone, don’t disparage it. Instead, affirm and add (yes, and!). One person’s yummy bit isn’t superior to anyone else’s.
- Own Your Shit: There’s a difference between intent and affect, and often harm can occur when there isn’t the intent for harm. We know people will make mistakes. All we ask is that people are accountable to those mistakes.
- We Have Wounds: While being cavalier or flippant about genocide, slavery, racism, sexism, ableism, rape, etc. can be an individual coping mechanism, it’s not an ideal fit in collectives where there are survivors. We’ll be talking about these things in a way that respects the heaviness that we’re laying on our peers, including asking for consent first.
- What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas: People often share and say things in lab because it is in lab. If you want to take something out of lab that isn’t yours– someone else’s actions, stories, ideas, or images–get consent.
Many of these guidelines come from the AORTA Collective’s Anti-Oppressive Facilitation guide, and some come from listening to people like Eve Tuck and Matt Wildcat facilitate.
Collective Consent for collaborative projects
One project was the participatory filmmaking project with Couple3 Films that resulted in GUTS, a documentary about CLEAR. See an interview with filmmakers on the process, and our collaboratively produced collective consent form that outlines the responsibilities, accountabilities, and processes for good relations between CLEAR members and filmmakers from Couple 3 Films, Inc. We have also hosted graduate students using CLEAR as a research site, artists, other filmmakers, and people who just wanted to see how we work.
The following is an excerpt from CLEAR member Lauren Watwood’s thesis, from when she worked in CLEAR for a few months as a “field site” for her research. Versions of this story also appear in Whatwood’s thesis (forthcoming!) and in Liboiron’s Pollution is Colonialism (2021) and it is shared with permission.
That’s Stealing, Settler
9:00 a.m. Friday morning, I stride into my new field site: the CLEAR. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, I peer into the room for the first time and make eye contact with the sole occupant. By her bright and ready smile I gauge this is Kaitlyn, the lab manager I’ve been emailing with the past several weeks, organizing my research with the lab.
“Lauren.” she says as if we are old friends and she is happy to see me. “You must be Kaitlyn” I chime back, pleased to be greeted in such a comfortable way. During the lab tour, I ohh and ahh over the gizmos and gadgets found in a marine science lab. Such a different world than the cerebral ivory tower that is Anthropology at Heidelberg University.
Kaitlyn showed me one sample of plastics she finished yesterday. It’s carefully enveloped in a white coffee filter. She says with incredulity “There were 51 plastic particles in this sample.” She says it in a way that I know is meant to convey “Can you believe such a thing!?” The only problem is, I have no reference for how much 51 pieces of plastic in one sample is. I venture… “Is that a lot?” She replies in the affirmative. She dons a white lab coat several sizes too large for her slight frame and pulls her brunette hair into a loose, low pony tail. She walks me over to the processing station and selects a sample. She extracts a coffee filter from a jar gently, so as not to lose the contents. Reverently, she unfolds the filter and presents me with… Nothing. I squint at the white filter and see a tiny blue speck. And then, to the left and down, an even smaller off-white speck. So this is the 51 piece sample? Indeed it is.
Let’s take a pause from my riveting tale for a moment and examine our thoughts. You may be thinking “Wow, this gal drones on and on about staircases and coffee filters.” Or you may think “What a quaint tale of introduction. Full stop.” It is both of these things. You know what else this is? Data. I’m an anthropologist coming to the lab from my university in Germany to study the scientists who work here. Everything I note down, all of my observations, every interaction is data for my masters thesis.
Kaitlyn sends me off with a well organized “Onboarding Packet.” I’ve got 9 items to complete including reading the living lab manual, watching videos, completing animal respect training and reading lit reviews by previous members among other things. I toddle off, pleased as punch with my first interaction with the lab. My mind is buzzing with observations, trying to remember every detail, every comment, organizing it in my head, and then on my computer hoping against hope I can convey these things vividly.
It’s Monday morning and I’ve got my first meeting with Max Liboiron, the lab director who I organized this whole affair with. I’m sitting in the lab. My mind cataloguing every interaction, every gesture, every idea discussed as I listen to Max efficiently plow through Natasha, Kaitlyn and Charlotte’s list of items to be discussed. “My, my.” I think to myself. “I am doing quite a good job being an anthropologist! Mhhmm. Look at all this gold I’ve already collected.” After logistics are attended to, Max settles down in a chair to my left.
“Ok, what do we need to talk about?” she asks. I say, “Let’s discuss our expectations for what I am doing here at the lab.”
We chat for a few moments and she innocuously asks, “Have you already been collecting data?” Proud of myself and my anthropological ways, I reply, “Yes, I have!” She replies, “That’s stealing”
My brain goes blank. I can’t comprehend what she said. I recognize the words to be English, my mother tongue… Yet, I don’t understand what they mean in this context.
“That’s stealing.” Max reiterates, likely repeating her words in response to my utterly vacant face. “You do that again and you’re out. You came in assuming entitlement to extract data and acted in a deeply colonial, imperialist manner. You thought you could come in here and take information from us without our consent. That’s harmful.” Her delivery of this news was not overtly aggressive, nor accusatory. She was simply explaining the fact of the matter.
“No!” I think at length, grasping for words that would make her understand. “No! No, not at all! I’m not stealing! I’m doing research!” I screech in my mind, the words clawing to escape my throat, so Max will understand. Please, understand. I wasn’t ready to concede that what I had said and done was wrong, or was out of alignment or was unethical. Because I couldn’t think straight. I felt like I was being attacked and was terrified and pissed and defensive and upset. Extremely upset. A tidal wave of emotions that I want nothing to do with engulfs my senses.
On the outside I sit, calm. Placid. Saying things like, “I hear you. I understand where you are coming from. I see where collecting data without consent is wrong.” I say these things, in the midst of my inner bedlam, as I can still ascertain these are my truths. And this is something, when all other certainty about my own values, ethics, and moral compass is suddenly very suspect. Yes, I can clearly understand that collecting data without consent is morally dubious… but I’m going to get consent… So, it is really that bad? I wrote a proposal so you already know what I’m doing, right?
“Here’s what you can do,” Max says, wrapping up my existential crisis with brisk efficiency, “You can issue a formal apology to the lab. That’s why we have a section on apology in the lab book. Then you can ask the lab what they want to do with the data you’ve already collected. I’ll facilitate that meeting so that if you start crying or laughing uncontrollably, I’ll take care of it. I’ll make a container for you. But you do the words.”
Out she walks.
There have been few instances in my life where I have truly been dumbfounded. This, I can assure you, was one of them. I scuttle off to lick my wounds on a bench in the shade of a tree outside the science building. I sit there and try to recapture my hold on reality.
“Ok, Lauren, my girl. Where are we?” This is my coping mechanism when things don’t go according to plan and I need to regroup, and regroup quick. What are the facts? The facts are, I started collecting data that I fully intended to use in my Master’s thesis from people I didn’t have consent to do so. Ok. This, my mind can understand. I have the background and the understanding of this verbiage to make sense of it. Now the trickier part. I am coming from a different country and culture and I am working on Indigenous lands in an Indigenous lab. I am of settler heritage from the United States coming to Canada via Germany. What was it Max said? Imperial… Colonial… Extractive… What are these words? I used to think I knew what they meant but I am deeply questioning that knowledge now. Over the course of the next two hours, I crafted an apology utilizing the lab book protocol that I was thanking my lucky stars for because it gave me a framework to articulate myself when my brain was struggling to find the words.
It’s 11:30a.m. on Tuesday August 6, 2019. I’ve had two hours to work on this apology, prepare myself for my introductory meeting and keep a check on the fact that I am on a razor’s edge. If I don’t walk quietly, move slowly, and speak softly, then I will disrupt my fragile emotional state and break down into a puddle of tears while attempting to deliver an apology. I sit before my brand new lab, breathing deep and staying with the trouble, as Donna Haraway would say. To tell you that my heart was pounding in my chest would be a gross understatement. I look down at the breast of my shirt wondering, “Can you actually see my heart thumping away in there?”
Max starts the meeting and we do a round of introductions. “I’m Lauren Watwood, I use the pronouns she/her. I’m a settler from Oregon, USA…” Max gives me the floor. I take a deep breath. “Before I dive into the collaborative research I’d like to do this summer,” I begin, then take a moment to look into the eyes of every single person seated at that table (and zoomed in via the computer) and say, “I stole from you. I am sorry.”
I acknowledged that I had stolen data. Though to me, the more egregious affront even than the fact of stealing (which I think we can all agree is typically a poor ethical choice) was the fact that I waltzed in assuming entitlement to that knowledge. I claimed what wasn’t mine to claim and never once questioned my methods. That is colonialism.
What I hope to impart to you, dear reader, is the journey I went through in order to radically shift tack on what I thought to be “right” versus what I now know to be true. I wish to share an example of what unlearning many years of higher education looks like in one swift punch to the gut.
My lab (and I am deeply grateful I can now count myself a member of the CLEAR when I started off on such rocky footing) was gracious. Far more gracious, humble and forgiving than they needed to be. We proceeded to discuss the matter as a team, they called me in rather than calling me out when I had done them harm. They demonstrated, in that exact moment, the embodiment of the values they hold so dear. Later, Max says “You made the perfect mistake. It was charismatic and had hard edges. We can point to it now and say this is what went wrong and this is how we fixed it. It’s a good story now.”
This story is shared with consent. Please don’t steal it: cite it! Watwood, Lauren (2019). “That’s Stealing, Settler.” CLEAR.