Every year, the Skepchick Network and Freethought Blogs get together to host a science and skepticism track at CONvergence in Minneapolis over the 4th of July weekend. This will be my third year participating in programming, and every year it just keeps getting better.
CONvergence is one of my favorite cons to attend, for many reasons. Reason number 1, the big one, is that they work hard year to year to make things more and more inclusive and more safe, both in programming and social spaces. Melanie, our kickass track director, has worked incredibly hard to create a balance of science and skepticism programming that will appear to anyone. She’s taken feedback from a wide variety of strong *ahem, guilty as charged* personalities, who all aren’t shy about bringing up issues they see with representation and somehow taken all of that feedback and made it into a programming schedule that I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of. And that’s just the SkepchickCON panels. Looking at the rest of what the con has to offer, they’ve gone even further in trying to make science fiction and fantasy programming that not only avoids some of the pitfalls of typical convention programming (hello, straight, cis, white male gaze), but actively looks those challenges in the eye, says “hey, let’s talk about this issue”, and sits everyone down for an honest discussion about concerns. Over free giant bowls of soup from the Con Suite.
This is something rare in the convention world, as I’m sure I don’t need to explain to most people reading this. Most conventions are trying to change, but most don’t go quite far enough. Most use the excuse of not wanting to “stifle creativity” or “create an environment where people are afraid to talk to each other”. CONvergence, on the other hand, has designated its entire con as “Safe Space”, the convention hotel is practically papered with “Costuming is not Consent” signs, and all staff and volunteers are designated as people to go to if you have a problem. In the past two years of going to CONvergence I’ve only had two unpleasant interactions with people, and neither of those crossed the line. That’s fewer problems than I generally have in a half an hour at another con. And more importantly, I feel like I can go to any representative of CONvergence if something does happen, and have my problem taken seriously and addressed in an appropriate, sensitive manner.
So, enough rambling about how much I love CONvergence. What will I be doing there? Well, a little bit of everything! My schedule this year is somewhat eclectic, and I love it:
Friday, July 4th – 12:30pm – Plaza 1
Do you make art that nobody’s ever seen? Do you play music only in the safety of your bedroom? A team of artists from Mad Art Lab will discuss ways to get over your fear of failure and show you why you should be proud of even your ugliest creations. Panelists: Amy Roth, Ashley Hamer, Ryan Consell, Anne Sauer, Emily Finke
Friday, July 4th – 10pm – Edina
Bugs, rocks, bones, and more–licking is a common methodology in more scientific fields than you’ve ever imagined. Come hear the stories and get a taste (literally and figuratively) of the what and the why from scientists across multiple disciplines. Panelists: Bug Girl, Emily Finke, Matt Kuchta, Desiree Schell (mod), Anne Sauer
Friday, July 4th – 11:30pm – Bloomington
Doing stupid things to attract mates isn’t limited only to humans. From the peacock’s tail to the bird of paradise mating game, evolution itself makes animals go to ridiculous lengths for the sake of reproduction. Panelists: Emily Finke, Bug Girl, Sharon Stiteler, Matt Kuchta, PZ Myers
Saturday, July 5th, 2pm – Atrium 6
How do you get a planet with such bizarre seasons? What’s the biological explanation for giant wolves, mammoths, and dragons? How does genetics work on Westerosi? We’ll discuss all this and more. (Some spoilers possible.) Panelists: Nicole Gugliucci, Rebecca Watson, Emily Finke, Dr Rubidium
Saturday July 5, 8:30pm – Atrium 7
How accurate is the forensic science in TV shows, movies, and books? How do criminal databases actually work? What is the Prosecutor’s Fallacy? Can you get DNA evidence from crab lice? Scientists discuss the real science behind forensic investigations. Panelists: Amanda Leinbaugh, Emily Finke, Bug Girl, Dr Rubidium, Desiree Schell (mod)
Saturday, July 5, 11:30pm – Atrium 3
In the day of the 24-hour-news cycle, checking your facts before retweeting is crucial. And no, Wikipedia is not a good source. Panelists: Kathryn Sullivan, Jen Manna, Tyler Tork, Derek Mahr, Emily Finke
Sunday, July 6, 12:30pm – Plaza 2
Social justice doesn’t have to ruin your fun! We’ll discuss ways to be a literate fan of problematic media, from reality TV to video games, recognizing (rather than rationalizing) its problems, and still finding ways to enjoy it without getting defensive. Panelists: Rebecca Watson, Ashley F. Miller, Emily Finke, Courtney Caldwell, Amanda Marcotte
Of course, like any con, when we’re not doing panels, there will be all sorts of other things going on. Room parties are a *huge* part of CONvergence’s social scene We hold a nightly party in room 227, the Skepchick Space Lab, which is right next to the Freethought Blogs Sealab in room 228. We’ll be having mixology demos with Mad Art Lab resident mixologist, Anne Sauer, bioluminescence painting with Siouxsie Wiles, some fantastic drinks from our hardworking bartenders and all the fun!
A note on room parties: You don’t have to drink to enjoy them. Alcohol is available at most parties for a recommended donation or tip (and please remember to tip your bartenders! Tips are how many of the groups can afford to run a party room. It costs more than you think). But drinking is not a requirement. Most of the rooms have their bar areas on their balconies, and card at the door to the balcony, so under 21s can still hang out in the main room areas. We have several non-drinkers in our group, and you will not be ostracized for not partaking.
During the day, Skepchick will be hosting informal Salons in our party room – room 227 – for events we thought would make better small group discussions/activities rather than large panels. Stop by the room to check out the schedule!
Also: Costuming! CONvergence is a con that truly takes joy in cosplay. You don’t always see the huge builds and showstopping armors that you would at a place like DragonCon, but I’ve rarely seen such sheer delight in costuming of all levels. Everyone is appreciative of all costumes here, no matter if this is your first one or you’re a master costumer. I’m taking it easy for this year for costumes. By “taking it easy”, I mean I’m going to limit myself to only one or two costumes a day. I’ll be bringing my Hawkeye: Kate Bishop costume (Bro!), as well as a 90s Jean Grey/Marvel Girl (Because shoulderpads), Agents of SHIELD’s Victoria Hand and anything else I manage to finish up this weekend. (Such is the life of a costumer. If you’re not working up until the moment your plane arrives, you’ve probably forgotten to do something.) I know the rest of the Skepchick Network people have some fantastic group costumes planned as well.
Come visit with us! I promise, we don’t bite! (No, really we don’t. At least not people who haven’t given consent for biting. It’s against con policy. 🙂 )