SAA Annual Meeting Evaluation

Sign stating the following: "SHAME! SAA (logo) #MeToo #DavidYesner"
One of the signs that appeared in the bathrooms of the Albuquerque Conference Center on Saturday April 13th.

I’m going to post a more positive recollection of my non-terrible experiences at the SAA Annual Meeting sometime later this week, but as I just spent quite a while filling out the SAA’s laughably timed Annual Meeting Evaluation I wanted to take this opportunity to publish my responses to that evaluation form, in full. One would hope that the SAA Board will listen to the responses made by myself and others, but somehow I feel like much of what I said won’t make it into their planned self-review in the SAA Archaeological Record. The answers here are mostly directly copied from my Evaluation responses, but with some additions for clarity.

Open Question 1: What did you like most about the 84th Annual Meeting?

“The show of solidarity against the SAA’s egregious lack of action during this conference. I enjoyed seeing my fellow archaeologists denounce the SAA publicly, challenge the Board, and gather to protect survivors. “

Open Question 2: What did you like least about the 84th Annual Meeting?

“Dislike is not a strong enough word to express my emotion regarding the SAA Board’s actions during this meeting in regards to the presence of known-abuser and sexual harasser David Yesner. The SAA has failed its members. The Board has shown a blatant disregard for the wellbeing of Yesner’s victims/targets, especially those who were in attendance, and for the other victims and survivors who were at the Annual Meeting this year.

The SAA has also especially failed it’s Indigenous members. Not only are Indigenous women one of the most at-risk populations for sexual violence, but this year should have been a celebration, with Dr. Joe Watkins being elected as the first Indigenous President of the SAA since its first ever President Arthur C. Parker. This meeting should have been a place where Indigenous knowledge was prioritized and centered, not pushed aside as SAA members had to redirect attention to the abuser in their midst and the inaction of the SAA’s Board. The ‘#MeToo In Archaeology’ forum, the ‘Eliminating Cultural Resource Crime from Indian Country through Integrated Prevention, Investigation, and Prosecution’ forum, the ‘Protecting the Greater Chaco Landscape: Native Voices’ forum were all scheduled at the same time, and should have equally shared packed rooms and attention. Instead, the #MeToo forum was filled over capacity as a form of protest, and rightfully so, but at the expense of these other worthy forums.

While I am not upset that there was attention paid to the #MeToo in Archaeology forum, I am furious that attendance at that forum had to be wielded as a weapon against the SAA’s inaction and disregard for victims and survivors.

The SAA Board has also allegedly lied to other organizations in the course of this entire debacle. There are reports that members of the SAA’s board told the University of Alaska – Anchorage Chancellor that no formal reports had been filed as of Saturday the 13th of April. This is in direct contrast to their own lukewarm and insufficient statement on the 12th, as well as blatantly untrue.

Not only did three attendees directly involved in the Yesner situation file reports, but myself, and several others also filed reports and received acknowledgments of receipt. According to the SAA’s own Resource Guide for Addressing, ‘the SAA is dedicated to providing a harassment-free meeting experience for everyone, regardless of sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, ethnicity, religion, or age’ — does this not extend to the victims and survivors of David Yesner’s decades-long harrassment and abuse? Does the SAA not consider the prevention of Yesner– against whom 9 separate allegations of sexual misconduct have been found credible via a Title IX investigation at UAA– from attending the conference where several of his targets are also in attendance to be a means of ‘providing a harassment-free meeting experience’? It seems not.

One of the most egregious oversights, has been the lack of written acknowledgement of the developing situation. The tweet referenced above was the first of the very few written acknowledgements, and came well over 24 hours after Yesner was first spotted at the conference.

Then at 7:30 AM on Saturday April 13th the following three tweets were sent out:

None of these messages offered any clarification on the situation, nor did they indicate whether Yesner had been removed from the conference. They were self congratulatory and tone-deaf. At that time 3 of the women involved in the Title IX investigation had voluntarily removed themselves from the Annual Meeting, as they no longer felt safe there, and journalist Michael Balter had been removed and barred from participating in the #MeToo Forum as he had planned. Whether Balter’s actions were appropriate is beside the point; the SAA failed to adequately address Yesner’s presence, fulfill the requests of members to remove him from the meeting, and then, at the Business Meeting, doubled down on their willfully ignorant stance.

Dr. Sarah Rowe, who had, up to that point (like MANY of us in attendance) been asking for a cautious approach rather than fully denouncing the SAA, stood up to ask during the New Business portion whether there were any updates on the Yesner situation. Not only was her attempt to clarify the situation not fully addressed, but in response to her questions an SAA Board member stated ‘We’re meeting tomorrow to revisit our policy and people who have been targeted should tell us ahead of time’.

Yesner was not registered for the Annual Meeting, he was not presenting, he had not indicated in any way that he would attend. He was directed by the University of Alaska Anchorage to stay away from any current or former students, and is banned from their campus. Those who are victims and survivors of Yesner’s actions had no reason to believe he would attend the SAA, so why would they report anything ahead of time? Furthermore, considering the legacy of sexual harassment and assault in Archaeology that we are faced with today, it seems as if the SAA would be dealing with dozens, if not hundreds, of “pre-Annual-Meeting-reports” if the membership was to preemptively tell the SAA Board ahead of time about people who may attend and target them. I know I personally would have at least 4 names to report. Is this the system the SAA is suggesting, for this responsibility to be entirely on survivors and victims?

As I stated at the beginning of this, dislike is not a strong enough word. I am enraged. I am disappointed. I am sick and tired. I may very well be finished with the SAA altogether.”

Open Question 3: Will you be attending the 2020 85th Annual Meeting in Austin, TX?

“I am currently undecided whether I will be attending the Annual Meeting in Texas for several reasons. Based on the events of the past few days, I no longer trust that the SAA cares enough about its membership to protect them. I do not think I will be attending the Austin meeting unless the SAA Board does the following (after the full open letter drafted by Danielle Bradford and signed by over 1600 archaeologists, academics, and associated persons):

  1. Issues a full and unqualified apology to both the UAA attendees who were forced to deal with Yesner’s presence, and the membership at large.
  2. Refunds the registration fees and membership dues of the individuals who were targeted by Yesner and who were forced to leave the meeting
  3. Cover counselling costs for those impacted by Yesner’s presence
  4. Implements an across-the-board training system for all staff who will be present at the SAA Annual Meetings on how to react to issues of sexual harassment and violence in real time.
  5. Updates its outdated Sexual Harassment Policy, and, when that is done, actually follow said policy”

Open Question 4: Please feel free to comment on the meeting.

“Much of what I have already said constitutes my comments on this meeting, but I will end my survey by saying this: I am severely disappointed in the SAA’s Board. I am a graduate student who was attending their first SAA Annual Meeting. I should have been networking, seeing old friends, meeting new ones, attending panels and posters and forums, and having fun. Instead I spent much of my time worried about the safety of the UAA attendees who had to dodge their abuser in what was supposed to be safe space. I spent a great deal of time using my presence on social media to amplify the voices of those impacted and share information when the SAA refused to. I spent several hours crying, especially after attending the #MeToo forum. I originally was not planning on attending that forum because I knew it would be a traumatic and triggering experience, but I felt that, in order to show my support for the UAA attendees and to show the SAA how their inaction has impacted the broader membership, that I had a duty to attend. I am in a state where a short period of revisiting trauma, like attending this forum, will not destroy me. Not everyone at this meeting had that luxury.

And as for the poorly timed tweet that you sent out at 12:00 on April 14; this Annual Meeting is ‘one to remember’, but not for the reasons you may have hoped when you originally scheduled that tweet. The survivors and victims who were retraumatized by your egregious inaction and basic lack of human decency will certainly never forget this meeting. How dare you. Shame on you.”


Since I started editing this post in the airport in Albuquerque at 11:30pm MST on Sunday the 14th disappointingly few things have happened. The three attendees who were targets of Yesner have been forced to out themselves on social media and have, along with many others, been extremely vocal about the SAA’s lack of action. There have been articles published by Inside Higher Ed, KTVA, and Science Mag discussing the SAA and David Yesner situation. The SAA has also responded on their Twitter (and Facebook) page with the following statements.

As I told someone who had asked what the main takeaways from this event were; people are upset about the initial lack of response and the apparent absence of procedures or strategies in place to react to a situation like this. If those in attendance had been shown early on that there were steps being taken, if Yesner’s targets had felt supported and communicated with, if the SAA had been even slightly transparent about what was going on — a large amount of the backlash never would have happened. These apologies and acts of outreach have come a full five days after the situation was first made known to the SAA’s Executive Board. That is why we continue to be vocally upset — how can we trust that they will provide us with satisfactory responses or resolutions when they’ve taken so long to do the bare minimum?


EDIT AT 4:10PM EDT APRIL 16, 2019

Since posting this the SAA has issued another non-apology tweet, seen below.

Additionally, I’ve realized that I should make something very clear. When I variously refer to the “SAA Executive Board”, “Board of Directors”, “the SAA”, and “The SAA Exec” I am referring to the 3-4 individuals who are at fault for this ongoing situation, not to the Members at large and others who are in top administrative positions who had no knowledge of the situation until the public did.

Those who are were directly involved, and are seen by many as being responsible, are:

  • Oona Schmid – Executive Director (paid staff member)
  • Susan Chandler – SAA President (elected position, held office until Business Meeting on 4/12/19)
  • Amy Rutledge – Manager of Communications and Fundraising (paid staff member)
  • to a degree: Joe Watkins – SAA President (elected position, assumed office on 4/12/19). Joe’s inclusion in this list is more due to his position as Incoming President and the responsibility that entails. I will note that several people have pointed out a change in SAA communication one Joe took over as President on Friday, but still others have said this action was not enough.

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