CODE OF CONDUCT
Section I: OUR MISSION
VONA (Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation) is the only multi-genre workshop for writers of color. VONA centers and honors the traditions and aesthetics of writers of color to provide a space for their work and learning. Through our focus on this expanded definition of craft, VONA fosters the open and honest expression of personal and political writing often marginalized almost everywhere else. Our organization and writing classes engage the work of social justice and build a global community of writers of color.
Literature written by writers of color disrupts and redefines the traditional canon as it engages in the complex and nuanced conversations of the human experience. The perspective of people of color is best expressed through our creativity, strength, and collective wisdom. The literary world recognizes the necessity for voices centered in the cultures, imagination, and worldview of writers of color. VONA faculty and alumni are sought after throughout the world by publishers, agents, and readers. Their narratives document the lived experiences of people of color, providing us with not only a way to better understand ourselves and our role in the world, but also how we, through the written word, are able to create change. Change of mind. Change of being. Change of practice. Change.
Section II: OUR VALUES
We believe in the power and creativity of writers of color. Our shared purpose centers the lived experiences and individuated voices of people of color and our diverse cultures. We connect through our shared stories, strengths, struggles, and vulnerabilities. We are inspired by both those who have come before us and by those who will follow. We come out of communities of color and we support communities of color.
We believe in the traditions and aesthetics of writers of color. We recognize that we have a right to center our writing in our lived experiences and diverse world views. All members of our community have access to instructors who are renowned writers of color and accessible role models who promote mastery and build writers’ confidence. We create programs and rituals to uplift individual voices and recognize the power of our collective voices.
We are committed to the development of the excellence of writers of color; focusing on the unique combination of craft and respect for our backgrounds as people of color. Excellence is embedded in the selection of highly accomplished faculty, the admission standards set for participants, and the writing practices and feedback protocols employed in all workshops.
The VONA community is based on mutual respect across all organizational roles: board, staff, faculty, participants, and alumni. We value the organization and the work of those who are employed to execute the VONA mission. We appreciate and acknowledge our differences. As writers, we create an environment that welcomes relationship, engagement, deep listening, reflection, and constructive feedback. We recognize that learning is optimal when everyone feels safe enough to lean into their growing edge.
Integrity sustains the foundation of the VONA community. Clear expectations and communication regarding roles, responsibilities, policies, protocols, logistics, and fiscal accountability sustains VONA. In our workshops, integrity is maintained by respecting intellectual property, avoiding plagiarism, fulfilling obligations and workshop commitments, and maintaining boundaries regarding others’ personal information and stories.
We believe that literature can be an essential tool in the pursuit of social justice and racial equity. We believe that writers can pursue artistic excellence and social activism. We believe that we as writers can and must speak out and write about injustice and VONA can encourage and foster these voices. We do this work inside VONA as well as in the greater world.
Section III: COMMUNITY EXPECTATIONS
Our community expectations are anchored in our mission, vision, and core values; within and outside of our workshop sessions and other VONA related activities.
VONA will not tolerate occurrences of harassment, discrimination, or other forms of abuse. Harassment of community members on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, age, marital status or disability is unacceptable.
Staff, administration, faculty, volunteers, alumni, and participants are expected to adhere to this Code of Conduct and to all federal, state and local laws and regulations while taking part in a VONA activity or program. As an organization committed to building community, if anyone is found to violate any aspect of the organization’s code of conduct, VONA reserves the right to suspend or dismiss the individual from the program or activity. Also in the interest of supporting a strong community, when conflict or harm occurs, VONA staff, sanctioned by the Board, can invite all involved parties to engage in restorative justice processes to restore relationships and repair the harm. (See Section V: Restorative Justice Protocols to Build Community, Address Conflict, and Repair Harm)
III.a: VONA Board
- Establishes VONA mission, vision, core values, and community expectations; determines the processes for communicating the above with VONA Community members. Board members model community expectations.
- Participates in hiring accomplished writers of color with a well-recognized body of work to teach and mentor emerging writers of color.
- Selects the Executive Director and Program Director. Provides oversight of faculty, staff and vendors.
- Oversees grievance procedures that are filed against the organization.
III.b: VONA Administration/Staff/Volunteers
- Demonstrate a love for the organization and buy into its mission.
- Ensure that all staff and volunteers are trained to perform their tasks and responsibilities. Understand and follow protocols when issues arise and take initiative to recommend changes to the Executive Director.
- Maintain confidentiality: Do not share with those outside VONA administration and Board what happens in the workshops, personal information about workshop participants, or discussions regarding issues of conduct.
- Understand and follow the chain of command.
- Demonstrate a willingness to perform the tasks necessary to complete their responsibilities. Understands that getting the job done sometimes requires work that wasn’t previously anticipated. Identify and solve problems. Alert supervisors when they anticipate problems that require higher organizational levels of intervention.
- Address conflicts after the parties involved have tried to resolve them. When staff witness violations, they are expected to intervene.
III.c: All VONA Faculty
Engage and support VONA’s values of artistic excellence and the pursuit of social justice through activism.
- Value the focus on teaching writers of color. Use, primarily, the writings of people of color for their teaching texts.
- Conduct their classes so that the critiques are respectful. Introduce students to their expectations and instructions for critiques at the start of the class.
- Maintain professional boundaries with participants and staff. Treat students with respect. Be attentive to power dynamics in all interactions with participants, colleagues, and staff.
- Pay attention to body language and boundaries. Recognize and respond to clear signs from participants, colleagues, and staff. Err on the side of caution to respect and adhere to other people’s boundaries.
- Foster community and inclusivity. Model active listening. Honor and encourage a diversity of perspectives.
- Demonstrate commitment to their students by being organized and prepared for each class. Provide clear written instructions and assignments with reasonable deadlines, and adequate individualized critiques of students’ work.
- Attend all programmatic community events during the week of the conference
III.d: VONA Workshop Participants/Alumni
- Participate in all classes, arrive on time, and be fully present. Alert their instructor prior to class if situations prevent them from being present. Give their undivided attention to others during the workshop.
- Contribute to the workshop by reading and providing verbal and written critiques of each classmate’s work.
- Present their own work and do not plagiarize.
- Consider the needs of others. Share the time allotted and do not monopolize the conversation.
- Critique the work, not the person. Seek guidance from their instructor if unsure of how to critique the work of others.
- Actively engage in the VONA community. Believe in and support the mission and values of VONA. Attend community building activities outside of workshop time. Contribute to VONA, volunteer at events, share their gifts to sustain the VONA community.
- Treat all community members, faculty, staff, board members, and guests, with respect.
- Recognize the need for the VONA space to remain safe from physical and emotional harm. Endeavor to resolve conflict peacefully
Section IV. ADDRESSING INFRACTIONS: Interventions and Procedures
Verbal or physical attacks, sexual harassment, and all forms of bullying in physical and virtual VONA spaces are violations of this agreement and harmful to the community. VONA is an organization that is dedicated to providing opportunities to address harm and work towards repairing harm when all parties are willing to do so. VONA reserves the right to terminate the participation of any community member (Board, staff, volunteer or workshop participant) who commits harmful acts.
a: Types of activity that are acceptable between VONA Participants and Teachers
- Friendly conversation
- Clearly and sensitively saying “no” and declining unwanted hugs or advances
- One-on-one mentorship via phone or online platform
- Collaboration on projects
- Coming to meetings dressed as they would for the office or any other gathering that
- they would attend outside your home
- Respecting teachers, mentors, and staff boundaries on both personal and time availability
b: Types of activity that are NOT acceptable between VONA Participants and Teachers
- Any type of sexual contact or anything that could be construed as sexual, including massages, long hugs, or kisses
- Relationships that are defined as romantic, sexual, or intimate partnerships
- Selling or providing illegal substances
- Inviting individual workshop participants to private meetings accompanied with alcohol and other mind-altering substances while functioning in the role of instructor.
- Touching without asking permission, asking for hugs
- Sexual joking, put-downs or sarcasm directed at participants, mentors, teachers, or staff
- Verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. Verbal abuse includes any attack on one’s personality
- or character, or language used to harass or intimidate
- Undressing in front of mentor/teachers/participants/staff, or being present while they undress
c: Types of activity to be cautious about with VONA Participants and Teachers
- Sharing home phone number or address
- Sharing personal information on subjects such as personal drug use, sexual history, or history of abuse, except when the workshop or the work being critiqued is centered on this type of disclosure. Faculty and the workshop are required to come to community agreements discussing confidentiality around these types of disclosures
- Doing personal favors
d: Types of Behaviors that should be handled by VONA executive staff
- Violations to the agreement that involve verbal or physical violence.
- Any acts of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
- Staff or faculty misuse of their position to discriminate against or abuse others.
e: Informal and Formal Grievance Procedures
VONA has created these grievance procedures to ensure participants have a clear and safe process for seeking redress.
Please contact the Executive Director or Coordinating staff members to report violations via email or phone. Anyone reporting a violation will be contacted within 24 hours by VONA staff. Staff will record all identifying information and repeat it back to clarify understanding. Staff will summarize the issue and clearly identify what steps they will take to follow up. Staff will also identify steps the complainant can take, when appropriate. Staff will take action and share the outcome with the complainant. Staff will file the complaint appropriately and confidentially.
The complainant must submit a written complaint describing the incident, including the names of all parties, time, date, and all other pertinent details. VONA’s Executive Director will work with the Board president to identify an impartial Restorative Justice practitioner (RJP) to conduct an investigation of the complaint. After the complaint is investigated, the RJP will propose a restorative justice process to resolve the complaint. If all parties agree to this process, the RJP will work with them to resolve the harm. If one or more party does not want to participate in the restorative process, then the complaint will be referred to the Executive Director and Board of Directors to determine disciplinary action and/or accommodations. Community members in violation of the Code of Conduct may be asked to leave the community. If the Board’s decision does not satisfy the complainant, that person can pursue legal recourse.
Section V. Restorative Justice Protocols to Build Community, Address Conflict, and Repair Harm
Restorative Justice is rooted in the traditions of indigenous and First Nations Peoples. The foundation of restorative or transformational justice is based on strengthening relationships and building strong communities. It is based on these seven assumptions:
- The True self in everyone one is good, wise, and powerful
- The world is profoundly interconnected.
- All human beings have a deep desire to be in good relationship
- All human beings have gifts and everyone is needed for what they bring.
- Everything we need to make positive change is already here.
- Human beings are holistic.
- We need practices to build habits of living from the core self.
1.a: Community Building
VONA incorporates, practices, and reveres rituals and events that are designed to build community. Workshops, social media, and other VONA-sponsored activities are intentionally designed to build a strong community. VONA invites all community members to actively engage in these various community-building activities. VONA invites all community members to contribute to the sustainability of this organization. We invite all community members to participate in events and community discussions via social media. We encourage everyone to reach out to VONA staff to inquire about additional ways to support to community.
1.b: Addressing Harm and Mediate Conflict
All members are voluntary members of the VONA community. Community agreements are guidelines for maintaining a high level of respect for all members. All members are required to comply with the community agreements. Though VONA is not liable for interpersonal conflicts or disputes among community members, staff will work with a Restorative Justice practitioner and all involved parties to resolve any conflicts that may be disruptive to the learning or community-building experience. If community members experience or witness acts of violence and harassment, please notify the Executive Director, immediately.
1.c: Returning to the VONA Community
VONA operates under the guidelines of restorative, transformational justice. All human beings have gifts, and everyone is needed for what they bring. When members of our community are asked to leave because of harmful behaviors, that loss is experienced. If the harm has been resolved to the satisfaction of the person harmed and the wider community, VONA may invite the offending member to return to the community. This return to the community may include probationary restrictions or qualifications.
 Derived from and built upon indigenous teachings and other wisdom traditions, excerpted from Heart of Hope and Circles Forward by Caroln Boyes-Watson and Kay Pranis.