To DMG board of directors: Santo Aveiro-Ojeda, Natalie Zina Walschots, Sebastian Pines, Shel Kahn, Jayd Matyas, Corinne Crichlow and Celine Taillefer
A number of people forwarded me a damning thread about me by Izzie Colpitts-Campbell and assume they are speaking on behalf of the organization as executive director. So I want to respond to DMG, and share more details because your actions over the last year have been incredibly damaging. This public statement by Izzie perpetuates deep harm not only to me but to your membership. I’m emailing this to you, and also posting it publicly on my site.
In December of 2020, I made the difficult decision to resign from Dames Making Games, after co-founding it, and helping to provide it a home for 10 years.
It was an exciting, wonderful adventure, filled with laughter, tears and sweat. In community, we constantly re-examined complex topics of inclusion, privilege, and justice. It was life-affirming to be involved.
I gave everything I had to DMG. And, upon reflection, had a lot of trouble asking for the support I needed. I passed on most opportunities for self-promotion, asking other members and directors to present talks and programs on behalf of DMG. I turned down job offers and opportunities to chair industry events. I was in it exclusively to work for our members.
Asking for a contract
It's no secret the pandemic has had a high cost for arts communities. It contributed to the loss of our space, the scattering of our members, and the reimagining of our well-honed activities. In some ways, it felt like starting all over again. It was time to ask for more support. I asked the board of DMG to give me a contract for my role as ED.
I had been acting as full-time executive director, fundraiser, program coordinator, social media manager, site developer, facilitator, and process writer, almost entirely uncompensated for nearly 10 years by that point (I received a stipend of \$468.75 every three months). I wanted my efforts to be recognized for the future I was helping to build—even if it was financially deferred. Things had been set in motion that could mean operating grants and SSHRC program funding that, after years of waiting and working, could lead to a paycheque.
I made this request of the board of directors. And waited. And waited. And requested it again. I waited some more. It was never written. Apologies were made, expectations of continued labor were held. At one point, Izzie (then chair of the board) showed me their draft notes for my contract, on the back of their mortgage paperwork.
It still never came. And, on the day of the Damage Labs kickoff, a program participant expressed concern over my partner's involvement in the program. He had been co-ordinating the mentors – help I would often rely on to get through day-to-day operations when board members and other program directors were unable to help. The concern was that his presence would lead to participants compromising in the vision of their games. There was no concrete reason given for this, but he pulled out of his participation and I felt I lost significant support.
When I brought this up to the board, I was told that these concerns had been whispered about for years within the community. I was shocked: Not a single person had ever approached me and dozens of members sought out my partner's advice, including members of the board.
I was horrified and realized there were only two reasons why I hadn’t been told: Either people generally found this baseless, or it was believed and the only concern was that I would leave DMG and stop doing all of the free labour. A third option is that power dynamics were in play, but this didn’t stop Izzie from using their power as a director to make unilateral decisions.
Izzie assured me that people "know the difference" between two people (yet we are grouped together as a monolith in their thread!) and that I should trust queer communities to manage the nuances of these relationships. It didn't sit right. Either I was complicit in creating a space that didn't feel safe for DMG members or I was simply being taken advantage of.
I decided that it was time to move on, because the situation had become too fraught. I proposed to the board that I complete – and be paid for – my work for Damage Labs, resign from the role of executive director, support Izzie as interim director, and stay on for six months to help ease the transition of processes. This was accepted.
During those six months, I led sessions of Damage Labs, coordinated communication between the mentors and speakers, etc. I did it all with a smile, despite deep misgivings, for the good of the program. I used this time to transfer projects to Izzie and remove myself from DMG's day-to-day operations.
Post-DMG fund building
During that time, I met Eileen Mary Holowka through a mutual friend. She had contacted DMG about wondering how she could financially support the org, but was looking for help to develop and manage a fund so that it could grow into something that could support founders. I told her that I had resigned from DMG leadership and that I had a lot of expertise in this area. She thought it would be a great opportunity to work together and develop a sustainable way to support DMG and other orgs.
This was a huge opportunity and one that I had been building towards my whole career without even knowing it. We excitedly began to develop plans to present to DMG and other orgs, working with lawyers, accountants and industry advisors. I made no secret of this to the DMG board or its members, even announcing a survey that Eileen and I had put together for this very purpose and linking it within DMG's Slack.
About a week before I planned to present this to the board at a scheduled meeting, I suddenly couldn't connect to Slack. And my email stopped working. On another account, I received a terse email from a board member stating that I had stolen resources from DMG and that I violated DMG's conflict of interest policies. I was to ensure any remaining passwords were transferred to the interim ED and, this is the most painful part, that I was to not attempt any contact with the board or DMG community members ever again.
I sent an email anyway, pointing out that there’d obviously been some sort of mistake—I was in the process of presenting a plan that was going to bring significant resources to DMG.
I was told that those resources were DMG's to begin with and that I had taken them from the community. At that time, there had been no further communication between DMG and Eileen.
The feeling of being exiled and excommunicated from my community, friends, and support network, without warning, with zero conflict resolution process – by an org that prides itself on its safety processes – sent me into a spiral of anguish.
It was compounded by the receipt of the most vitriolic, hurtful, and downright perplexing personal email from Izzie. It accused me of grooming them to feel worthless, for leaving when things got tough, and a litany of complaints that suddenly had them questioning our years-long professional relationship. It spoke from a place a deep hurt, but also suggested that I had kept them from opportunities. This is despite a wildly successful tech career, and me endorsing them to be the interim director of DMG – a role they said they wanted.
This triggered intense trauma from my past that was rooted in being gaslit, not believed, and abandoned in the face of further sexual trauma. It was so painful, so inconceivable that these people that I loved and supported for so long would exile me so suddenly and completely, that I suffered a severe mental health episode. I was admitted to CAMH’s Crisis and Critical Care Unit as an inpatient, and spent a month in intense treatment trying to regain my composure and erase thoughts of violent persecution resulting in my death.
I had left my partner in charge of my email at that time. Several weeks into my stay, an e-mail came from a different DMG board member. It had a conciliatory tone, said that there was a desire for me to be heard, and would I come to a mediation on Saturday at 1pm?
Izzie and the board were well aware I was in the hospital and wouldn't be able to attend such a thing. My partner responded on my behalf: That email inviting mediation would have been appreciated if it had come first, before excommunication. But now, because of their actions, I was in CAMH and not sure when I'd be coming home or if I'd ever want to engage in this conversation again.
Getting to a point where I could safely come home was a challenge I had never thought I'd have to face. Care from CAMH staff, my partner, his family, Eileen, and the portion of the Toronto video game community that I was involved with outside of DMG were incredibly supportive, helping in ways large and small. I felt and still feel enveloped by love.
When I finally returned home, it was several weeks more before I could communicate with anyone. I busied myself with working on the fund, but lived in constant fear that I would be attacked for simply moving on with my life, despite leaving DMG in the most connected, best funded, and focused position it’s ever been in. I was fearful that I would be attacked for something I overlooked.
I eventually responded to the second board member's email saying that DMG's lack of adherence to any kind of process, the very processes that were developed to ensure an organization of care centered on the needs of its members, made me feel extremely unsafe. I simply didn't trust that a real conversation would be had. Izzie had had weeks at this point to create an uncontested narrative of what had happened with the board, and I was not allowed to have any say. I told them how disappointing this was since my work was to ultimately benefit DMG, but that could no longer be possible under the current administration.
I made one more attempt to reach out to Izzie after that, to see if they would like to discuss their personal email. There has been no response.
I tried to move on. I launched Weird Ghosts with Eileen. Partnered with Gamma Space and an engaged community looking towards collective care and shared accountability for difficult questions around power dynamics. Began funding studios in different ways. All the while, looking over my shoulder for what may be an attack on my character or actions. Anxiety and depression is constant and I'm still in intensive outpatient care with CAMH.
Examining real dynamics
In Izzie's public assessment of our relationship together, they sidestep acknowledging the power they currently hold as a direct result of us working together: They are the director of a well-known, well-funded organization that is responsible for the management of funds and paying others – including themselves. Instead they speak of how entering into this privileged role was a great injustice. That's disingenuous given the support Izzie has received and continues to enjoy.
They also don’t mention how, as board chair in a comfortable financial position, Izzie kept me from establishing a healthy and valued relationship with the board by not providing me with a contract. Their lack of self reflection and acknowledgment of privilege makes it difficult to engage with their concerns in good faith.
Izzie doesn't acknowledge that I stepped down because I felt compromised and that I believed it would be a good opportunity to address the organization's own systemic issues and lack of engagement with its processes. Failing to recognize that also makes it difficult to engage with them in good faith.
I don't know why they chose not to have a conversation with me about these things in the first place, I only know that they were disappointed that we would no longer be working together. With that hurt, they decided to weaponize the board and the organization to satisfy their own emotional needs through severing me from my community and painting me as someone who extracted massive benefit from DMG at the org’s expense. They thought that was the best possible recourse and refused to use the tools and values publicly espoused by DMG.
I do not understand how years of support, helping them get hired as a technologist at TIFF, being a job reference for a management role at Shopify, supporting their artistic practice with space and materials, supporting their relationships with artists and academics (even at the expense of my own time and interests) and deferring nearly all public speaking engagements to Izzie isolated them from the community. I don’t understand how this support could be interpreted as abuse. They’ve never shared any specific incidents or situations, instead using the language of abuse privately and publicly in a way that feels incredibly manipulative and coercive. They had full autonomy in their life and through DMG – I never once interfered with it or had any power over them. In fact, as executive director, I answered to the board of which they were the president and chair.
But at the root of this, I believe this is all a symptom of the systemic effects of capitalism that communities fighting for representation are engaged with. How the invisible work of community organizers is devalued. How finding viable alternatives to funding is so critical to avoid our need to engage with those same toxic systems. I have to believe that this is truly at the root, because otherwise I would despair about how an organization I helped to build could be so very cruel.
In the end, it is the responsibility of the organization to authentically engage in restorative justice and have the difficult conversations it needs to thrive. I am absolutely too fragile to participate in that conversation with you now, but I know that to begin that work, it needs to start from within. I have been doing my part. Now, it's your turn.
– Jennie Robinson Faber