…from Elmaz Abinader

May 15, 2018

Dear VONA Writers,

When we planned the workshop for summer 2018, we dreamed of a magical return to the Bay Area, back to where we invented the workshop and started providing opportunities for writers-of-color in 1999.

As we neared the workshop time, revelations about the environment of the workshop came to life, spurred by aggressive behaviors by a faculty member outside the workshop.

The community responded with questions, reflections and demands. We too stepped back to get a grip on how this developed, how we could be perceived as being negligent to a community we seeded and whom we hold dear.

We also examined our records, our memories, tried to cobble together a perception that tracked with what we were hearing. Our remorse and our sorrow for those who were intimidated, harassed, bullied or assaulted by anyone in the environment have underlaid all of our thinking, our activities. We know that the alums and others who have confronted us, who have made demands, are suffering as much as they are stepping forward.

We released our Code-of-Conduct, our Reporting Procedures and our hope for future steps that needed to be taken to secure the safety of VONA for all.

But, we also recognized that we couldn’t do this alone—a fresh perspective was needed and new actions had to be taken to bring hope to writers who need this community, who find their people here, who get mentorship and attention, who get support and solidarity.

You may be considering coming to the workshop, to being with the community, going forward; or you may be holding back, wondering if this is the place for you.

I am writing to give you some sense of our direction and our future plans. Please know that the effort does not end with these steps; they are merely a beginning of a multi-faceted effort.

  1. Partnership: we are working with a restorative justice consultant to strategize a plan to reduce the pain and harm caused to anyone, and to create a space in which there are no victims. The conversation is on-going, and more will be revealed as we complete the directions.
  2. Outreach: We have contacted #VONAFellowsSpeak and the NYC Alums to meet and discuss their concerns with us. We are listening and hope we can create some inroads.
  • Community Involvement: By the end of this week, we plan to have a community advisory board who will help guide the culture change at VONA with a focus around creating culture that works to eliminate sexual violence and misogyny with activities at VONA 2018 that are part of a larger strategic plan.
  1. Retrenching: Shay Youngblood has stepped in as the Fiction One teacher with a clear determination to serve the writers of Fiction One and create progress and community.
  2. Staff Training: Staff is being trained in awareness, sensitivity and facilitation of complaints or behaviors. They are given reporting practices that can be immediately implemented
  3. Refund Policy: In light of this atmosphere, we are offering
    Writers from Fiction workshop in Week One 100% refund, including deposit(after 5 days after announcement of Restorative Justice team in place cannot be refunded)

All others

Deposit only           50% refund

Tuition                   100% refund less PayPal fees

Housing                  100% less PayPal fees

*5 days after announcement of Restorative Justice team in place cannot be refunded

We are also offering participants who are requesting to withdraw the opportunity to defer their acceptance and their $200 deposits to a future VONA season. Participants will still have to submit a regular application, but they will be guaranteed a spot in one of their top two course choices.

  • Specific activities are also being planned at orientation to bring us to a place of safety and community.
  • Diem Jones and Elmaz Abinader have offered any member of the community, a meeting or discussion to listen to their perspective, help with decisions or to update them with our progress.

We have been working hard to present to you actions that are viable and significant; transformation is a process and planning it needs to be carefully considered. Some have interpreted this as silence; but it is, in fact, our being deeply involved in getting it right.

I am hoping this letter gives you some hope. I feel a personal responsibility to report to you and to the community. I also hope that with the community advisory board, you feel like you have a voice and some power in developing a transformed VONA.

Remember, I am available to listen or if you want to talk out your next step. Please write to me at and we’ll get the wheels in-motion.

Thank you for being part of the community. I will keep you updated as we have new initiatives in place.

And there are so many silences to be broken. Audre Lorde 

Elmaz Abinader

Board President

VONA/The Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation, Inc.




We are including on this page our codes of conduct and reporting practices and other materials to increase our accountability and to support our community in our mutual creation of a safe environment, free of harassment of all kinds


Document ONE: Anti-Harassment Policy

Anti-Discrimination, Anti-Harassment Policy / Code of Conduct

VONA/Voices, a program of Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation Inc., does not
tolerate any instances of discrimination, harassment, or any other form of abuse in
conjunction with any of our programs or activities. Respect and consideration for others,
are our core values.

Harassment of community members (inclusive of online interactions) on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, age, marital status or disability or genetic information is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Participants are expected to adhere to all federal, state and local laws and regulations while enrolled in any programs or activities of VONA/Voices. In the event anyVONA/VOICES officers, members of staff, faculty, interns, volunteers, or participants be accused and/or found to violate any aspect of the organization’s code of conduct,

VONA/Voices reserves the right to investigate, assess, review findings, and/or determine a final action regarding the person or persons involved. Consequences may include, but not be limited to, suspension, dismissal from the current program or activity, and/or ineligibility for all future programs and activities.

Policy on Sexual Harassment
It is the policy of VONA that no member of VONA/Voices community—faculty members, instructors, staff, administrators, contractors, fellows, workshop participants or third parties—may sexually harass any other member of the community. Sexual harassment violates the community values and principles of our organization and disrupts the living and learning environment for all. Sexual harassment is any unwelcome conduct of asexual nature, which includes, but is not limited to, unwelcome sexual advances; the use or threatened use of sexual favors as a basis for VONA/Voices program decisions; conduct that creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive environment; conduct that has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s activity in VONA/Voices programs; and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive to limit a person’s ability to participate in or benefit from a program or activity at VONA/Voices. Examples of sexual  harassment may include:
• Pressure for a dating, romantic or intimate relationship
• Unwelcome sexual advances, Unwelcome touching, kissing, hugging or massaging
• Disregarding “no means no”
• Pressure for or forced sexual activity
• Unnecessary references to parts of the body
• Remarks about a person’s gender, nonconformity with gender stereotypes, or
sexual orientation
• Sexual innuendoes or humor
• Obscene gestures
• Sexual graffiti, pictures or posters
• Sexually explicit profanity
• Stalking or cyberbullying is based on gender or sex
• E-mail, texting (“sexting”) and Internet use violates this policy
• Sexual assault or violence

If a complaint of sexual harassment is found to be substantiated, appropriate corrective
action will follow, up to and including separation of the offending party from
VONA/Voices programs and activities.

VONA/Voices prohibits retaliation against anyone for registering a complaint pursuant to this policy, assisting another in making a complaint, or participating in an investigation under this policy. Anyone experiencing any conduct they believe to be retaliatory should immediately report it to the staff person designated to receive such  reports.
If you believe you have been harassed:
• Contact the Workshop Manager, or other staff member designated to receive suchreports.
• Don’t blame yourself.
• Don’t delay reporting a problem.

If you witness or become aware of possible harassing conduct by others:
• Contact the Workshop Manager, Executive Director or other staff person
designated to receive such reports.

If you think you may have offended or harassed someone:
• Don’t assume others will tell you when they feel offended or harassed by what you
say and do.
• Examine how others respond to what you say and do.
• Change your behavior.
Name, Printed
have read, understand, and will comply with the above Anti-Discrimination, Anti-
Harassment Policy / Code of Conduct and Policy on Sexual Harassment.
_______________________________________ _________________________
Participant Signature: Date
Page 3 of 3

Document Two: Reporting, Investigating and Adjudicating Abuse

Reporting, Investigating and Adjudicating Abuse

If you believe you have been harassed, or if you witness or become aware of possible harassing conduct by others, do not delay in reporting,


Complainant: Individual who reports.

Respondent: Individual alleged to have violated the Code of Conduct.


  1. Complainant reports to the Workshop Manager.
  2. Complainant’s report is confidential insofar as only those who need to know–Examples include Workshop Manager, Executive Director and the Board of Directors.
  3. A hearing committee interviews Complainant and any witnesses.
  4. Respondent is notified of the report.
  5. The hearing committee interviews Respondent. Note: Of necessity, Respondent will know Complainant’s identity.
  6. In the case of conflicting reports, the committee decides who is more truthful. VONA’s standard is 50/50-plus-a feather in favor of the prevailing party.
  7. If the committee decides for the Complainant, a consequence will be imposed.The range of consequences is described in the Code of Conduct,
  8. VONA/Voices archives a written record of the report, investigation and outcome

in a secure, confidential location.