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Do ask questions or, how we had a stereotypical conversation at a conference about being welcoming

I was recently at a conference I really enjoy, but had an interesting interaction that’s generalizable to any event, so here we go!

In front of the information table there was this tape reading “DON’T ASK DUMB QUESTIONS” and then below it, “RTFM.” Some friends had just come from a talk they found interesting, about detangling and debunking the “hacker archetype” and it was mentioned that those signs, in front of the information table of all things, were a great example of creating an unwelcoming culture.

Then my friend stood up! He said, well, why don’t we take down the sign? [RTFM] and before I knew it we were pulling up tape from the floor, and about halfway through, someone came over and asked us to stop, or rather, really, asked what we were doing. We said, hey, we saw this and we think it can be better, it’s not welcoming or helpful and this is what happened:

Them: Well, it’s an inside joke.

Us: We get it, it’s just not funny.

Them: Is this your first [conference]

Me: No, it’s not.

It’s like we’d hit exclusionary bingo! We were questioned for wanting to make the space better (1), we were told we just didn’t understand (2), and our validity in the space was questioned (3).

But it has a happy ending! Over the next few hours, we noticed that the floor had changed more. It, as of this story, looks like this:

do ask dumb questions in tape on the floor

So hooray! A little bit of culture hacking happened 🙂 <3

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