Our goal is for Omaha Code School to be a place where all people can learn and collaborate effectively with each other. Often, it takes more than just having an intention in mind to actually achieve a goal. This document serves as an introduction to how we can actively work to achieve our goal.
Why isn't the intention enough?
A large body of study extends and supports the simple idea that our actions often have unintended consequences, and sometimes those consequences can even be unseen by us.
An example of this is when people make jokes based on some stereotypes. The intention of the joke might have been innocent enough--perhaps to look cool or even simply to give others the joy of laughter. But an unintended and unseen impact of the joke could be that someone nearby felt hurt by the content of the joke.
If our goal is to be a welcoming place for learning and collaboration, then we should at least consider how such a joke--and how any of our words and actions--might affect the people around us.
Put another way, the intention alone is not enough because sometimes we say or do things that contradict our values and desires. Sometimes good people accidentally do things that hurt other people, and this is will always be the case--we can't be perfect.
But we can try to be better, if we're interested.
Trying to be Better
Here are some social rules that will help us achieve our goal:
"Did you consider...?"
It's natural for us to take pride in our work, so it's natural to feel some pain when we can't figure something out, miss something obvious, or simply do something incorrectly. Since we work in pairs or groups a lot, often we'll learn of our mistakes when another person tells us about it. This can be hard to take, especially as our own frustration grows.
So if you're giving someone else feedback, be thoughtful about how you give it. Three magic words to remember are: "Did you consider...?". Just begin feedback with those words, and your advice/correction will be softened a bit.
These magic words are definitely better than some alternatives we've heard over time, like "Why didn't you just...?" and "You could just...". In fact, the word "just" is rarely if ever a good idea when giving feedback. The difference between "Did you consider using an array?" and "Why didn't you just use an array?" is huge.
And if you're receiving advice/corrections, give yourself and your feedback-giver the benefit of the doubt. No one is trying to be malicious towards you, so try to be forgiving of your feedback-giver. Also be forgiving to yourself--learning this stuff is really hard, and you're doing fine. It takes time.
Don't be surprised when someone doesn't know something.
This applies to both technical things ("What?! I can't believe you don't know what recursion is!") and non-technical things ("You haven't seen the new Star Wars?!").
There's a lot of information out there. A person might have not yet come across a certain piece of information for various reasons.
If it's important for them to know that piece of information, you might offer to explain it to them or you might not--it's your choice. But either way, being shocked that they don't know something won't help them. It'll more likely make them feel embarrassed, and that feeling can interfere with their focus and learning throughout the day.
No subtle -isms.
This last social rule bans subtle racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other kinds of bias. This one is different from the rest, because it covers a class of behaviors instead of one very specific pattern.
Subtle -isms are small things that make others feel uncomfortable, things that we all sometimes do by mistake. For example, saying "It's so easy my grandmother could do it." is a subtle -ism. It's hurtful to the elderly and to women (You never hear people say something is so easy their grandfather could do it).
Rules will be broken.
These rules will all be accidentally broken at some point. Remember, good people accidentally do things that hurt others. It is not a big deal to mess up--you just apologize and move on.
If you see a rule violated at Omaha Code School (whether in person or online, in class, or at a class-related event), you can point it out to the relevant person, either publicly or privately, or you can ask one of the faculty to say something. After this, we ask that all further discussion move off of public channels.
So if you see a rule violated, we encourage you to choose one of the below options for responding:
- Inform the person who made the mistake that they broke a rule. Give them the benefit of the doubt, if you can. Examples: "Hey--you might not know, but that joke is sexist." or "Hey, it's okay that he's never heard of Star Trek--please don't act shocked about it."
- We think this is the ideal response for most mistakes. If you can, try to respond to the person directly and promptly. Remember that you can inform them in private later as well.
- Sometimes this kind of response isn't possible for some reason, or you simply don't feel comfortable speaking directly to the person but still want them to know about their mistake. In such cases, the below options are good alternatives:
- Send a private message via Slack to a faculty member. Let them know what you experienced, and they will take it from there.
- Just know that we might not be around our computers or able to view your Slack message immediately. So if you you feel a faculty member needs to be notified immediately, this last alternative will be appropriate:
- Find a faculty member in person and let them know you'd like to report that someone broke one of the social rules.
For others who observed the rule's violation, please don't pile on to the person who made the mistake. Similarly, if you don't see what could be hurtful about the comment that was made please don't interject "Comment X wasn't homophobic!" into a public channel. Instead, raise your concerns to a faculty member privately. We're open to hearing your opinions, disagreements, and questions.
Remember, if you are called out by someone for violating a rule, accept that your actions might have had an unintended consequence. It's easy to feel defensive in these situations, so following the below steps can help handle them more gracefully:
- Take a breath. It's okay--everyone makes mistakes. This doesn't make you a bad person.
- Apologize. If a person is informing you about a mistake you made that affected someone else, plan to apologize to them as well. That apology can be done in person or as a private message to them via Slack.
- Thank the person who informed you about the mistake.
- Reflect for a few moments to see if you can see things from different perspectives.
- If you're still feeling unsure of how you broke a social rule--or why it matters--that's okay! Get in touch with a faculty member. We're not angry folks, and our priority is for all of our students to feel supported.
More Serious Threats to Safety
Until this point, this document has discussed mostly unintentional mistakes which--while important--are not likely to cause someone to feel that their safety is seriously or immediately threatened. And whereas we expect the social rules to be broken, as such mistakes are a natural part of our personal growth, we do not expect our students or faculty to behave in a way that overtly threatens another person.
Please approach either Rahul, Sumeet, Alex, or Kathy if you've experienced any immediate or serious threat to your safety. In return, we promise:
- To take all harassment reports seriously.
- To respect your privacy.
- To remove the source of harassment. This begins with a warning to the offender, followed by physically removing them from the area if harassment continues.
You can reach us in person, via Slack (including private messaging), and via the contact information listed below:
- Rahul: firstname.lastname@example.org / 510-676-0701
- Sumeet: email@example.com / 858-774-1936
- Alex: firstname.lastname@example.org / 402-309-4296
- Kathy: email@example.com