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Diversity Caucus Incident: Response from NESEA Leadership

by Rachel White

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

This message is to follow up on an incident that occurred last week, during the BuildingEnergy Boston Diversity Caucus.

The Diversity Caucus is an event designed for people of color, indigenous people, LGBTQIA people, people with disabilities, and women. It is organized by members of our community who volunteer their time to create a space for individuals to gather, share their stories, and build support, camaraderie, and community.

During last week’s virtual event, while one of the organizers, Maria Washington, a woman of color, was reading her opening remarks, she referenced Black Lives Matter. Participants could then hear a male-sounding voice coming from an attendee’s mic disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement. Maria showed strength and continued her remarks, calling upon the audience to remember why we need to work together to make a difference. The voice was then heard again, declaring that they were “sick of hearing about Black Lives Matter.” At this point, another caucus organizer removed the disruptive attendee from the meeting.

At the time, it was unclear if the person making the comments was aware that they were unmuted and derailing the event. Regardless, damage was done. In what was created as a safe place for underrepresented members of our community, including people of color, to gather for support and to organize, people experienced real hurt. We commend the conveners of the caucus for the leadership they showed in responding to the interruption in the moment, modifying the agenda to give participants time to process their responses together.

NESEA staff reached out to the attendee who was removed from the meeting to investigate what exactly happened. We learned that the comments were not made by the conference attendee who was signed on to participate in the event, but from someone else in the room near her who overheard Maria’s opening statement. Neither the person who made the remarks nor the attendee realized that they were unmuted and could be heard by the caucus participants. The individual who made the harmful remarks was not an event attendee and is not part of our community. While this additional information does not lessen the harmful impact of the incident, it does inform the way we are handling it. It also highlights how pervasive everyday microaggressions and acts of racism are and why the work of the Diversity Caucus conveners is so important.

If this was an attendee at an in-person event who started disparaging a speaker, or if this had been a case of someone intentionally unmuting themselves to speak against BLM, we would make it clear to them that they were no longer welcome at future NESEA events. In this case,  NESEA staff is looking into some approaches that will make virtual community events safer for all attendees.

Some steps to start:

  • Requiring attendees to register ahead with a valid email address, rather than allowing easy access to anyone with a meeting link
  • Requiring people log in with their first and last names and requesting attendees rename themselves with pronouns
  • Doing what we can to make sure the audience attends with their cameras on to increase accountability
  • More proactively using the “mute all” function, although this temporarily mutes the presenters

If you have additional ideas on steps we could take, please reach out. NESEA does not tolerate racist remarks or any other type of abuse during our events. NESEA proudly stands with Black Lives Matter, Maria Washington, and all of the members of our community who were impacted by the incident during last week’s event.

Sincerely,

Rachel White, NESEA Board Chair
Miriam Aylward, NESEA Executive Director, maylward@nesea.org
Florence MacGregor, NESEA Program Director, fmacgregor@nesea.org

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NESEA advances the adoption of sustainable energy practices in the built environment by cultivating a community where practitioners share, collaborate and learn.

Rachel White is CEO of Byggmeister Design/Build, a nearly 40 year-old residential remodeling company that is striving to serve as an exemplary steward of homes and to prepare them to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Rachel has been affiliated with Byggmeister since 2008, when she hired the firm to renovate her house. What started as an effort to reduce the energy and carbon footprint of her own home became her life’s work. Prior to joining Byggmeister Rachel taught modern Jewish history to adult learners. She holds a PhD in Religious Studies from Brown University and a BA in...

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