Yesterday, Sunday September 3rd, was the first day of workshops around ICFP – the first day of the conference week – and I noticed something strange: someone is using the conference notepads to leave small insulting notes about a specific university they hate.
The anonymous note says, slightly paraphrased, “The university of … is TERRIBLE, its research is CRAP and the teaching is SHIT”, with a surprisingly elaborate and cute picture of a pile of poo. I don’t know who the author is; they may actually have a valid criticism to make, but I don’t think this particular attempt is constructive or can lead to any positive outcome, so I just remove the notes when I see them – I found four in total.
The reason I write about this note is that I think it is good to know that, even in a community of pleasant, friendly, altruistic individuals, there are some people that can behave in terrible ways. Overall we are very lucky with the community of programming language researchers. But seeing only that good parts of our community would one unfortunate downside: if something crappy happens to you one day, it may be very difficult for you to understand or even believe what is happening, or talk about it.
One shouldn’t be afraid of opening up to people in an ICFP audience; they are a great bunch of people. But we should also recognize that in a 600-member audience, there will always be someone having a bad time and at risk of behaving in a completely inappropriate way. The pile of poo is evidence of this. If you ever encounter inappropriate behavior, you may report it to the organizers – they can usually be found at the registration booth. If you were even a victim of this inappropriate behavior, please realize that you are not alone and unique in that regard, that you have not done anything wrong, and talk about it to someone – don’t isolate yourself with this problem. (Conference organizers actually have to deal with this kind of things from time to time; they rarely talk about it in public, but they have experience dealing with these matters and I would personally trust them to handle these situations.)