Update for the GrubStreet Community 10.29.21

Last Updated: 10.29.21

To the GrubStreet Community,
Our community experienced a cultural earthquake on the heels of the article “Who is the Bad Art Friend?” that was recently published in The New York Times Magazine. It has been a very difficult time for many writers in our community and for GrubStreet as an organization. The article touched upon a myriad of issues, including race, class, elitism, artistic ethics, and insider-outsider dynamics. We are grateful to all of you who voiced your concerns and shared your own experiences, and we thank you for the many messages of support we have received. We firmly believe that every challenge gives us an opportunity to learn and grow, and we are certain we will emerge a stronger organization for it.
The article and the documents released as part of the Larson v. Perry/Dorland litigation present a complex picture. We appreciate your patience as we worked to make sense of it all. We will attempt to address as much here as we feel is appropriate. 

We initiated an internal review to understand our role as an organization in this situation, where we do and don’t have responsibility for the various behaviors and their consequences, and to create a plan for moving forward. This has been a collaborative effort across the diverse leadership at GrubStreet which includes our Executive Leadership Team and our Board. Jennifer De Leon has stepped down from the board and Christopher Castellani was not involved in any deliberations or decision-making. Our guiding principles throughout this process are to adhere to GrubStreet’s mission, values, and commitment to racial equity. 
Our community consists of a multitude of writers who have their own writing life outside of GrubStreet. We strongly believe in artistic freedom and recognize that there is a broad range of opinion about what the ethical exercise of that freedom entails. Some of these issues have been raised in the Larson v. Perry/Dorland legal dispute, which is being adjudicated outside our purview in a court of law. Although the disputed story was not written or workshopped at GrubStreet, nor was the source material in question part of any GrubStreet class or community platform, certain documents relating to the lawsuit that recently came to light raise issues that are integral to who we are as an artistic community. 

We are a multicultural organization dedicated to providing rigorous and inclusive artistic training and craft tools to writers of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. We aspire to be a place of belonging where all voices and perspectives are respected, where individuals are seen fully as themselves and are not reduced to any particular aspect of their identity or lived experience. We have a responsibility to ensure that the actions of our staff and instructors are not in conflict with our values or mission. 

We also have the responsibility to safeguard the artistic standards expected in our classrooms. 
GrubStreet has very clear policies with regard to artistic behaviors among students in our classrooms. We have a plagiarism and appropriation policy. Every student receives a copy of these policies when they register for a class. These policies apply to all students in our classrooms and to the projects they are working on in those classes. 
Third-Party Review

As we said previously, we hired an independent third party to conduct a thorough assessment of our own actions, policies, and practices related to this matter and to bring an independent and experienced point of view. That third party was Locke Lord, a legal firm not affiliated with GrubStreet, with expertise conducting similar reviews. Part of their review focused on questions raised by members of our community and misinformation circulating about the handling of an HR complaint submitted to GrubStreet by Dawn Dorland in July of 2018. Ms. Dorland was teaching occasional online classes for GrubStreet from her location in California and doing manuscript consulting at the time of the complaint. GrubStreet took her complaint seriously and conducted a thorough investigation. The process was handled by GrubStreet’s CFO, who is also responsible for HR, in conjunction with outside counsel from two firms: Beacon Law Group, LLC, who regularly advise us on HR matters, and Fish & Richardson, who specialize in intellectual property law.

Locke Lord completed a comprehensive review of this matter over the past two weeks and has determined GrubStreet’s handling of the claim to be entirely professional and thorough. Further, Locke Lord found no issue with GrubStreet’s resolution of the HR complaint. 
GrubStreet Staff

The following staffing changes have been agreed to by GrubStreet’s executive leadership and Board:

  • Sonya Larson will be leaving her role as Director of the Muse & the Marketplace. Sonya has been instrumental in GrubStreet’s growth and success over the past seventeen years. In recent years, she led our Muse conference, facilitated our Boston Writers of Color Group, and improved our programming in countless ways. We are deeply grateful for all her varied and significant contributions to the organization.
  • Alison Murphy will be leaving her role as Director of Online Learning. Over the last eight years, Alison has worn many hats, most recently in helping us create, build, and grow our online, asynchronous learning platform. She has brought her many skills and talents to the constant innovations of our programming and been a strong advocate for our access and inclusion work. We are a stronger writing organization because of her work and we appreciate all her efforts.

We acknowledge that comments made by our Artistic Director of Stage and Convenings, Christopher Castellani, have caused distrust and concern in our community. You can read his message to the GrubStreet community here.

Additional Actions 

We are committed to doing better as an organization. Locke Lord is continuing to advise us by reviewing all of our internal standards to ensure that we strengthen or create policies as needed, including the development of a code of conduct for our staff and instructors. 

Our updated strategic plan was recently completed with the help of our community, and deepens our commitment to cultural equity, racial justice, and inclusivity. In the last few years, we’ve implemented new policies and practices to create a safe, inclusive, and more equitable learning environment, including new student and instructor guidelines, instructor training and accountability measures, staff working agreements, writer-centered workshop models, inviting cultural discussions in our classrooms, and more. However, there’s no denying that this incident has raised questions about lingering insider/outsider dynamics in our organization that we need to address. Toward that end, we plan to hire a firm with strong expertise in racial equity and cultural work to lead us through a process of examining our culture with an eye toward tangible impacts in the form of improved policies, toolkits, frameworks, training, and norms. We will do whatever we learn is needed to ensure that our culture is fully aligned with our mission. Our aim is to engage our community in this work, and we will be sharing more on the process in the coming months. 

Finally, we want to say that we’re deeply saddened by this incident and for the pain, break in trust, anxiety, and anguish that many of you have experienced. We are truly sorry for the ways in which we didn’t live up to our values as an organization. It is our responsibility as individuals and as an organization to actively build a community of support and inspiration, and it’s our hope that through the work ahead, we can regain the trust of all our members and move forward together in a positive and productive way. 
We are certain that our continued focus on our mission and our values will help us on that path, and we are ever grateful for your collective help and participation in that process.
With gratitude, 

Eve Bridburg and the GrubStreet Board

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