Not providing child care is a major barrier to access at any conference, especially one predominately attended by women and where the presenters are predominately women.
AWP Writer’s Conference Bills itself as “the most inclusive literary event in the United States,” but Offers Flimsy Reasons For Ignoring Hundreds of People—Mostly Women—Who Have Petitioned for Child care for Years
By Anna March, Co-founder of the Lulu Fund
AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs refuses to provide child care at its annual conference of approximately 13,000. This is a barrier to access for many writers and something people, mostly women, have been petitioning for and clamoring for annually. As the conference launches in Los Angeles next week, The Lulu Fund, where I am a co-founder, has been investigating the matter. The Lulu Fund works for racial, gender and class justice in the literary world, In service to our mission, Lulu questioned AWP about the refusal to provide child care at the conference, AWP board and staff stonewalled—by not responding at all, then after numerous follow-up contacts from The Lulu Fund sending an email that did not answer any of the questions we asked, and finally by providing misinformation.
Lulu has now formally and publicly asked AWP to do the right thing and begin providing child care at the 2017 conference.
Memo #1 to AWP Board and Staff: All those panels about social change and activism one sees at the AWP Conference, those are just for show, huh? AWP doesn’t support literary activism if writers are working to change AWP itself? Is that why you didn’t bother to responsd to our questions? I checked, my membership is in good standing, as it has been for many years. I’m about to attend your conference where I, as I do every year, sponsor a booth, host off-site events, and sit on panels for you for free, like all panelists do. (#’s 6 and #7 for me this year.) I’m also a member of the media and identified myself as such. Do any of those things warrant the courtesy of a response to my questions? How about all of them combined? If conference sponsors write in with thorny questions do you blow them off, too? I guess one way we can find out is for Lulu to ask them to start writing and calling and tweeting you about these issus and then writing articles, tumblrs, social media posts with your answers
Sandra Simonds, who, after years of efforts by various people to get AWP to provide child care, started a petition in 2012 to try to achieve this:
“Accommodating on-site daycare is important in order for participants with children to fully engage in the conference without the burden of securing child care off-site. Most of the participants coming to AWP are not familiar with the city in which AWP is held and do not know how far the off-site providers are from the conference location. Further, it would give peace of mind to participants to know that their children are in a facility at the conference itself. Whether these parents are part of a panel, reading, or attending the book fair, the more engaged participants are, the better the conference will be for the entire AWP community. For single parents, these issues become very important, as there is only one parent to deal with this responsibility. A great number of conference participants are parents who would benefit from daycare service and would be appreciative of it.”
While the petition was live on change.org, she wrote this update, “The [conference] director of AWP, Christian Teresi, called me on September 22nd and said that the cost of daycare would be $70,000 for the conference due to the expense of liability insurance.”
In 2011 on Facebook, AWP posted this: “AWP has been asked many times to provide on-site child care at the conference. We are sorry that we cannot provide this service at this time…” AWP can provide child care—they choose not to. .
In a public letter from AWP posted on its website, they say, “The Professional Convention Management Association(PCMA), the best resource for standards concerning the conference planning industry, recommends that an association providing conference child care should carry liability insurance to protect itself against a settlement costing $3 to $5 million.”
I learned via PCMA that the type of insurance they recommend for this is known as excess liability insurance. It is insurance for one-time events or special projects or other circumstances outside the regular business of the organization that might carry insurance needs that exceed its regular policy. Here is one of the plethora of nearly identical quotes from insurance brokers about this insurance. “Excess liability insurance is very affordable. You might think that excess liability insurance is expensive but it is not. It is actually quite inexpensive given the amount of protection you receive. Most excess insurance policies are sold in million dollar increments up to about $20 million. A $1 million excess liability insurance policy will cost you as little as $150-$300 per year and each $1 million additional coverage is typically less.”
So let’s say that $300 is the cost for $1 million in coverage and there is no discount for the subsequent millions, so that would be $1500 for that insurance for AWP. Not $70,000 as AWP claimed. We asked about this discrepancy and AWP ignored our questions and several follow-up attempts The actual cost of this type of child care averages $15 an hour (less, generally, at conferences the size of AWP’s), paid directly by parents to one of the third party agencies that handle the entirety of the child care. There are no additional fees for AWP. Again, the $15 an hour would be paid by the parents, not by AWP. There would be no direct cost to AWP beyond $1500 for the insurance.
Memo #2 to AWP: So what’s that other $68,500 that Christian Teresi speaks of? Explain to us how we’ve calculated it at $500 @ChristianTeresi #Where’s the 68.5K?
But even if the $70,000 price tag is somehow correct – thought it’s hard to fathom how having talked to several professionals in the field. But let’s say it is and that somehow it is a cost to AWP, not one to be passed to the more than 10,000 registrants could easily absorb it every year. $7 per registration would take care of it. In the same letter from AWP, they say that in this “unsteady economy”, it is “not the right time to raise prices.” But it’s the right time to make it harder for parents, often single working mothers, to attend?
In the same letter, on its website, AWP said, “…the cost of one lawsuit could exceed the organization’s coverage. A single lawsuit could jeopardize the assets that AWP has built over the past 40 years and possibly bankrupt the organization. Given the litigious society in which we live, and given that, without national tort reform, there is no cap on the award from such litigation, this concern is hardly an exaggeration.” Tort reform! AWP actually blames a lack of tort reform for its failure to provide child care!
Obviously PCMA is not advising organizations to risk bankruptcy. Obviously, the industry standard for insurance coverage for this is $5 million, set because claims to exceed that would be astonishingly rare if not unprecedented. Obviously, it is statistically incredibly unlikely that AWP would be successfully sued at all if it provided a reputable, licensed providers. Even if it was successfully sued – meaning there would have to be a proof of negligence on the part of AWP or the concern that it might be better to settle – it is exceedingly unlikely that a lawsuit would exceed $5 million in insurance and bankrupt AWP’s approximately $3.5 million in assets.
In the letter on its site, AWP say, “Although there are few professional conferences of AWP’s size that offer child care, please be assured that we will continue to explore new ways to meet the needs of our constituents.” Odd. I found a dozen examples of conferences AWP’s size that offer child care, in about two hours of Google research and an hour of phone calls.
The AWP bylaws allows the board to, “appoint, from time to time, one or more committees.” We would be happy to offer a volunteer from the Lulu board to serve on a committee to be of help. I myself would be happy to do it, having done a fair bit of research on it now. I would hope AWP would welcome my expertise and commitment to helping them thrive. Not providing child care is a major barrier to access at any conference, especially one predominately attended by women and where the presenters are predominately women, facts AWP has widely promoted.
AWP is the largest conference of its kind for writers and a place where 13,000 of us spend lots of money and time – should be an inclusive gathering, not one where the powers give gobbledygook answers for why they can’t do something. It should be a place diverse, inclusive and working to get more so. It should be a place parents can manage to get to, knowing that they have child care.
I hope our community will get mad and loud and take some real action. Complain and keep complaining. Call conference director Christian Teresei at AWP and call him out on this. Tell the board you are outraged. Organize. Those of you with kids in LA, bring them to this year’s AWP, ditto DC next year. Have a parent’s hour at AWP where you protest. Contact the board members you might know and ask them to answer your questions and to answer the questions we’ve raised here. Write pieces about it. Take over social media with the points we’ve raised here and put some pressure on. But most of all, don’t forget about it in two weeks. There needs to be sustained pressure for change to come. AWP has demonstrated that they are willing to “resolve” an issue by tossing up doublespeak and misinformation on their webpage and going on. We the people must speak up if we want it to change. It isn’t going to change on it’s own. We need to create that change.
Let’s do it.
Anna March’s writing has appeared in The New York Times’ Modern Love column, New York Magazine, Tin House, The Rumpus and frequently Salon. Her essay collection, We Can Do It: Notes from a Feminist Killjoy and novel are forthcoming. Follow her on Twitter@annamarch or learn more about her at annamarch.com.